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Council balks at using Legacy for expenses

City controller says loan fund would be for dire emergencies

The Fort Wayne controller’s attempt to set up a fund that would allow her to borrow from the city’s Legacy Fund for emergency expenses met with stiff resistance Tuesday.

Despite Pat Roller’s assurances that any money borrowed from the revolving loan fund she proposed would be only for dire emergencies, City Council members made it clear they should be the ones to approve city spending.

The council voted 7-2 to reject Roller’s proposal. Geoff Paddock, D-5th, and John Shoaff, D-at large, were the only councilmen who supported it.

The proposal comes amid declining revenue for the city totaling nearly $3 million and a brutal winter that cost the city $2 million more in snow removal than budgeted.

In light of the unexpected cost of winter and lower income projections, Roller thought it would be a good idea to set up the loan fund, which would allow her to borrow up to $5 million at zero percent interest from the city’s Legacy Fund.

The Legacy Fund is money from the lease and sale of the city’s old electric utility

“The goal is not to use this,” Roller said, but she added that in some cases, the city might need to pay outside agencies or its own bills on short notice.

Hitting the city particularly hard are drops in the motor vehicle highway gas tax and the local roads and streets fund, with both funds bringing in about $1.1 million less than projected.

The proposal would have allowed council to forgive a loan if declining revenue resulted in an inability to repay it – a provision which did not rest well with some members.

Councilman Tom Smith, R-1st, was one of the most vocal opponents of the proposal. Spending Legacy money requires a six-vote majority from council, and it should remain that way, regardless of the use, he said.

He cited earlier discussions about how to use Legacy money and said the occasion for such a loan would require a “drastic” drop in revenue, something he did not foresee at this point.

He also balked at the idea of council being one step removed from spending decisions and of putting the power of such spending in the hands of one person. In the proposal, spending of borrowed Legacy money would be done with a written request to the Legacy fund’s trustees, not to the council.

“To cut us out of that loop – I must tell you, Pat, I consider that irresponsible,” Smith said, adding that if there is a need for funding, she should come to the council.

He and other council members also said Legacy money should not be used for operating expenses.

Feral cats

The council gave unanimous preliminary approval for a change in the city’s animal control ordinance to allow for the start of a trap-neuter-release program for feral cats.

The project would be a partnership of Fort Wayne Animal Care & Control, Allen County SPCA and HOPE for Animals clinic.

In the past 30 years, tens of thousands of stray or feral cats have been trapped and euthanized with little long-lasting results.

In fact, it wasn’t until three years after HOPE opened in 2010 that the city saw a 20 percent decrease of intakes for cats, resulting in 7,000 being trapped and 5,500 being euthanized. It was the first such reduction since 1980, according to Belinda Lewis, director of Animal Care & Control.

When stray populations are trapped and killed, Lewis said, it merely creates a vacancy for more strays to move into the area.

When neutered animals are returned to their habitat, they keep other populations at bay, and as more and more animals are neutered, the population eventually begins to decline because of decreasing birth rates.

Other cities across the state and nation have similar programs, including Indianapolis, which started in 2004 and has recorded a 37 percent decline in stray cat intakes.

Driving the proposed ordinance is the chance to get grant funding for the project. Madeleine Laird, executive director and founder of the HOPE clinic, said approval of the measure would create opportunities for significant grant funding.

“We’re talking about millions of dollars,” she said.

Any trapped feral cat would receive a visual health inspection and three-year rabies vaccine, be neutered and returned to where it was captured in a live trap, which Animal Care & Control provides residents for free.

Lewis said the animals would be brought to Animal Care & Control initially, but HOPE would take on the bulk of the responsibilities.