FORT WAYNE – The city of Fort Wayne had a great year in 2013, Mayor Tom Henry said Wednesday, but that was only a start, and there is more to be done.
Delivering his annual State of the City address at Grand Wayne Center, Henry said the strides Fort Wayne has made are creating a jewel, but he challenged listeners to do more.
Look for opportunities to volunteer, spend some time mentoring a child, help a neighbor, he said. Invest in our future. Use your time, your talent and your treasure to make a difference.
The crowd of about 200 – as usual, it was heavy with city employees – frequently interrupted with applause as Henry read the speech off a teleprompter while sporting new glasses.
Addressing the city’s record number of homicides in 2013, Henry cited the promotion of Garry Hamilton to police chief and announced the creation of a gang and violent crime unit in the police department.
The unit will work to reduce criminal gang activity, investigate crimes and gather intelligence on known and suspected gang members, Henry said. That truly has been the biggest problem in Fort Wayne.
The unit will begin operating this month, he said.
Residents also saw a tax increase in 2013: Property taxes and local income taxes were raised in an effort to make up for revenue cuts due to property tax caps and to provide the money to fulfill a backlog of road projects left underfunded by falling gas taxes.
It took strong leadership to make meaningful changes. We did what great cities do when difficulties arise: We came together, Henry said. We’re the only city in Indiana to have a true fiscal policy plan.
Those increased taxes will result in 50 miles of asphalt resurfacing and 10 miles of concrete street reconstruction.
Like never before, you’re going to see orange cones everywhere, Henry said to audience chuckles. I know what you’re thinking, but these cones are a good sign for Fort Wayne.
This month, the City Council will consider taking out an eight-year, $30 million loan to speed up the construction projects so the backlog can be erased in five years.
City Councilman Tom Smith, R-1st, said he was glad Henry addressed the murder rate but wished the mayor had touched on all the housing initiatives.
It’s obvious the city is in very great shape, Smith said. He talks about (Fort Wayne) being the pride of the Midwest, and I think that’s true.
City Councilman Russ Jehl, R-2nd, was more succinct in his response.
The State of the City is an opportunity to brag about Fort Wayne, and the mayor certainly did a good job doing that, Jehl said.