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Big holes to fill

A welcome plan for needed city street fixes

Potholes? Be patient and prepare to watch your tax dollars at work.

Fort Wayne City Council voted Tuesday to give initial approval to a $30 million, eight-year loan to cover road construction projects. They are a visible, welcome result of the decision last year to raise the city’s income tax rate from 1 percent to 1.35 percent as part of tax increases and spending cuts creating about $13.5 million in new revenue. About $3 million will go toward city parks, $2.8 million will go to hiring new police and firefighters and the rest to streets and roads.

A public hearing on the bond is set for Tuesday, with final approval expected after the hearing. Proceeds will fuel a five-year plan to address a backlog of street projects totaling more than $50 million. Declining revenue from gasoline tax – the result of more fuel-efficient vehicles – and the effects of the statewide property tax caps have left Fort Wayne and other communities struggling to cover the cost of services residents should expect. The Indiana General Assembly eagerly pushed the circuit-breaker tax caps and has been slow to address the gas tax issue, leaving local government officials to handle the tough job of raising taxes.

Fortunately, Mayor Tom Henry’s administration and the Republican-controlled City Council were willing to take the heat, even without knowing a brutal winter was ahead. Residents should have even greater appreciation for Henry’s and the council’s courage in addressing the city’s responsibility to repair and maintain streets.

Declining revenue has meant the city could focus only on main thoroughfares, leaving neighborhood streets in disrepair. The current plan calls for 50 miles of asphalt resurfacing, 10 miles of concrete street reconstruction, repairs to brick streets and dozens of other improvements. About 300 construction jobs will be created – a welcome stimulus for the local economy.

The $30 million loan represents a compromise between city officials and council members pushing a pay-as-you-go approach to repairs. The administration initially sought a 10-year loan. The shorter term bridges the effort to lessen the city’s debt load and the need to make repairs as soon as possible. Revenue from the county economic development income tax will go toward the backlogged projects so they can be addressed in the next five years.

The $30 million is in addition to $13 million in annual road maintenance, including repairs to those dreaded potholes.

“You’re going to see orange cones everywhere,” the mayor said in his State of the City address last week.

Given the bumper crop of potholes already appearing, those orange cones will be a welcome site and a good reminder of tax dollars at work.