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Michelle Davies l The Journal Gazette

City on the move

Forgive Mayor Tom Henry for boasting a little bit. The occasion of his annual State of the City address Wednesday not only warranted a bit of bragging, it also gave Fort Wayne residents a reason to feel good about themselves.

Nearly 30 business expansions recorded in 2013. Four new businesses attracted to the city. Nearly 6 million visitors, spending $438 million dollars here. Announcement of a downtown development project that will transform an entire city block. New housing options downtown to lend more energy to the central city’s revitalization.

That’s news to warm even the coldest of winter days. The mayor’s contagious enthusiasm for projects in the year ahead even made road construction work sound inviting.

If Henry didn’t dwell on the city’s weaknesses, he at least acknowledged them, noting the past year was “a difficult year for violence in our community.” Fort Wayne set a record for homicides in 2013, with 45 deaths.

“We’re focused on reversing that trend,” the mayor said. “We must be a city where residents and businesses feel safe.”

Henry’s plan for accomplishing that goal could have been better defined, but he did mention some of its components. Police Chief Rusty York was named to lead the newly revived public safety director position and Deputy Chief Garry Hamilton was promoted to fill York’s position. A new crime unit targeting gangs and violent crime will be established. In addition, the city is adding 22 new police officers this year.

The new positions were made possible by revenue from an income tax increase that went into effect Oct. 1. The increase designates 0.25 percent for property tax relief and 0.10 percent to public safety, which will create new revenue for every taxing body in the county that provides public safety – the city, county and some towns and townships.

The mayor rightly acknowledged the public support that made the increase possible – or, at least, the lack of protest that allowed it. He also gave well-deserved credit to City Council for providing leadership on the measure, although Republicans John Crawford and Marty Bender and Democrat John Shoaff deserved to be singled out for their work on the fiscal policy study group, as did John Stafford, the former Community Research Institute director who matter-of-factly laid out the tax-increase case.

Henry did, however, share some credit with Allen County government. In praising the city’s weather response record, he acknowledged the partnership between city departments and county agencies that allowed for a “magnificent” response to heavy snow and frigid temperatures.

That partnership with the GOP-controlled county government hasn’t always been so smooth, of course, and the fact that Henry has fostered a good working relationship with county commissioners and other public officials undoubtedly has played a role in Fort Wayne’s progress in recent years. The collaboration also allowed for creation of Greater Fort Wayne Inc., an overdue merger of the county’s economic development efforts.

Fort Wayne residents only need to look at other Indiana cities to see we’ve been spared most of the painful effects of budget cuts. The mayor’s ability to tap the right people for tough jobs, as well as his willingness to work with other elected officials and the business community, allowed the city to move ahead as others suffered.

Henry earned the right to boast – provided he gets right to work on those continuing challenges.