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The Journal Gazette

Friday, July 12, 2019 1:00 am

City plans $3.25 million on upkeep

Home repair among areas to benefit

DAVE GONG | The Journal Gazette

If approved by the Fort Wayne City Council, Mayor Tom Henry's administration will soon spend $3.25 million in new city funds to support neighborhood enhancements such as home repair and quality-of-life initiatives.

The money for the projects comes from funds distributed to the city from the state. It's the largest disbursement of additional income tax revenue Fort Wayne has ever received from the state, Henry said at a Thursday news conference. The city received $3.86 million from the state this year. The funds have already been transferred to the city, Controller Garry Morr said. 

The remaining unspent funds, which total about $610,000, would go into the city's cash reserves.

Last year the city received $2.01 million. The city does not receive a disbursement every year, city spokesman John Perlich said. 

“The state collects income tax from everybody all year long and then distributes it back to the communities,” Henry said. “The state notified us they were short in their distribution to Fort Wayne by that amount of money. It's unrestricted, unencumbered money, it's given to our community to invest as we deem necessary in various areas of need in our community.”

Henry said the extra money will be spent in neighborhood infrastructure, the city's Office of Housing and Neighborhood Services Homeowner Repair Program, the Commercial Facade Grant program, on opioid epidemic measures and a partnership with Easterseals Arc of Northeast Indiana.

Investing in neighborhoods and quality-of-life programs “will position us for future growth and success,” Henry added.

Under Henry's proposal, $1 million will go to a new program called Investing in Neighborhoods Now. Under that program, each of the city's four area partnerships would receive $250,000 for use in neighborhood improvements. Planning committees would be created in each quadrant to come up with project ideas. Area partnerships would then work with Fort Wayne's Community Development Division to ensure those projects comply with city regulations.

Another $1 million would go to the Homeowner Repair Program run by the city's Office of Housing and Neighborhood services. That program provides heating, air condition or roof replacements. The program typically receives far more applicants than it can handle, Kelly Lundberg, Housing and Neighborhood Services director, said. The program is typically funded using money from the federal government.

“This year, in a 5-month period we received over 500 requests for assistance and unfortunately we only had enough money to assist 35 of those,” Lundberg said. “With this unprecedented local investment in housing, we anticipate being able to help an additional 90 families in the next 12 months.”

Lundberg said the department will also use the funds to establish a zero-interest homeowner repair revolving loan fund, which “means this is a lasting impact that will continue to help homeowners through many, many years.”

The loan would be for seven years and will be similar to a program run earlier this year with federal funding, Community Development spokeswoman Mary Tyndall said. But because local funds are more flexible than federal dollars, income requirements will be loosened slightly to at or below 100% AMI. 

“Our staff finds that often residents qualify except for the fact that they might make $200 or so more a year than the 80% AMI,” Tyndall said. “Yet they still do not qualify for traditional bank loans or do not have the ability to pay back the loans with interest. This allows more residents with limited incomes to take part in the program.”

AMI stands for area median income and refers to the midpoint of an area's income distribution.

The department anticipates $100,000 coming back into the program each year in loan repayments, Lundberg added.

Tyndall noted that the loan program would work off of a list of residents who were pre-screened through the last loan program announced in February. 

The city's Commercial Facade Grant program will receive $250,000 to assist business owners who want to make improvements to the exterior of their properties. That program began in 2008 and will have assisted 100 projects by the end of 2019.

Henry's proposal also calls for $500,000 toward fighting the area's opioid epidemic. About $300,000 of that would help the Fort Wayne Police Department purchase new drug testing equipment. The equipment, officials said, will expedite the process “and provide more comprehensive results on substances present.”

“These other devices will complement what we're currently using and we'll be able to immediately know what drugs we're dealing with right then and there,” Capt. Adam Hunter, vice and narcotics division, said. “It's going to help us keep ahead of any new drug trend or drug curve that we're seeing.”

The other $200,000 would be given to The Lutheran Foundation for Allen County's Sober Living Pilot. That program, which launches soon, provides 71 new beds at three levels of care for patients in the criminal justice system who are battling substance abuse disorders. The program is the first of its kind and will be announced Friday, said Marcia Haaff, chief executive officer of The Lutheran Foundation.

A final $500,000 would go toward a partnership with Easterseals Arc of Northeast Indiana. Easterseals Arc assists people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The city funds proposed would be used to provide vocational and other job skills training.

“We know what the unemployment rate is here right now and people are struggling to find people to fill their very many openings,” CEO Donna Elbrecht said. “We're fortunate that Fort Wayne has really looked at going beyond the traditional people they would recruit to looking at people with disabilities. We also know we can do much more to help prepare those individuals to be successful employees out at the various businesses.”

Some of the money, Elbrecht said, will be used to develop learning labs with industries that are in demand of workers. Money will also be used to help keep families together through the organization's respite services.

“We know families that care for children with disabilities have higher incident rates of divorce, potential for neglect and abuse because of the stresses involved,” she said. “We are one of a few agencies that provide emergency respites when those situations pop up unexpectedly.”

It's not yet clear when Henry's proposal will come before City Council, but it could be introduced in the coming weeks.

dgong@jg.net