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Council OKs $30 million loan for roadwork

– The effort to address the $50 million backlog of road repairs Fort Wayne needs will get a $30 million boost.

City Council members voted 7-0 Tuesday to borrow $30 million for road projects over the next five years. The loan will be repaid in eight years using County Economic Development Income Tax money.

Members Mitch Harper, R-4th, and Glynn Hines, D-6th, were absent.

Councilman Russ Jehl, R-2nd, had criticized the idea when Mayor Tom Henry’s administration proposed it in the fall but changed his mind when the term of the loan was changed from 10 years to eight.

The loan was a compromise between council members’ wish to stop borrowing and their desire to fix the streets as fast as possible.

“Five years of projects with an eight-year payback is a tight window,” Jehl said after the vote Tuesday. “The light at the end of the tunnel is pay-as-you-go.”

Jehl said the loan is fiscally responsible – his own plan, offered as an alternative to raising income taxes, included some borrowing – and fulfills the city’s responsibility to maintain infrastructure.

“The status quo was we were spending $5 million a year on roads when what we needed was $15 million just to keep up with basic maintenance,” he said. “That clearly was not sustainable.”

With the income tax increase approved last summer, annual road spending will go from about $5 million to about $13 million. On top of that, the $30 million loan will allow the city to repair an additional 73 miles of concrete streets and resurface 75 miles of asphalt streets, as well as replace miles of sidewalks and install curb ramps.

Council members gave the loan preliminary approval a week ago and final approval Tuesday after a public hearing. No one from the public spoke at the hearing.

Jehl also announced the creation of an ad hoc snow day committee for council members to examine the city’s response to a near-record winter.

“It’s just to see are there any lessons that can be learned from this winter that will help us in terms of public safety,” he said.

Other snow committee members are Geoff Paddock, D-5th; Marty Bender, R-at large; Tom Smith, R-2nd; and John Shoaff, D-at large. Because the committee has five members, its meetings will be public to conform to Indiana’s Open Door Law.

Members said they had heard nothing but compliments about the city’s response to the snow, but they want to ensure there’s nothing more that can be done.