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County urges city to resist raising taxes

– The Allen County commissioners and the County Council have sent a strongly worded memo to Fort Wayne officials, denouncing their plan to raise income taxes.

County officials urged the Fort Wayne City Council and Mayor Tom Henry to “thoroughly examine all methods for reducing expenditures and controlling costs before any implementation of any income tax increase.”

“We simply wish we had been part of those discussions,” Commissioner Therese Brown said.

The letter was delivered Tuesday, Brown said. It addressed one of the options for raising revenue that has been presented to the City Council in the last few weeks by the Fiscal Policy Group.

Fourteen people are part of the city’s Fiscal Policy Group, tasked with identifying financial options for the city’s $5 million budget shortfall. The group was formed last year and is made up of City Council members and representatives from the banking, academic and corporate sectors.

No elected county officials are part of the group.

Regardless of the amount of increase, such action would leave residents who live elsewhere in Allen County with little or no representation, the letter said. About 70,000 people would be paying the same increase as the 250,000 people who live in Fort Wayne but would not receive all of the benefits and services associated with the increase, according to the county’s letter.

City officials have said the local option income tax would increase the public safety workforce and provide additional property tax relief for 250,000 city residents along with other county residents.

Although the county’s letter zeroed in on local option income taxes, that is but one of several options being reviewed to bring more money into the city, said John Perlich, spokesman for the mayor’s office. Since 2009, the city has lost $53 million in revenue as the result of property tax caps, he said.

Besides adopting local option income taxes, options include exploring annexation; moving fire protection fees from property tax bills to the City Utilities bill; adding a new property tax; revising the city employees’ benefit packages to better align with those in the private sector; and charging the maximum amount of property taxes the state allows, which the city has not done in more than 20 years.

Brown said the commissioners would welcome more dialogue with the city to discuss the issue before any decisions are made. The city is expected to make a decision in May or June, Perlich said.

Two open forums – on April 24 and May 2 – are slated for residents and businesses to discuss options for generating more revenue to the city, Perlich said.

City Council President Tom Didier read a portion of the letter at the most recent council meeting, but it was not discussed at length.