LOOKING FOR ANSWERS IN CITY-COUNTY CONSOLIDATION

Like many other Allen County taxpayers, I am anxious to get a better understanding why a number of city and county leaders–now including Fort Wayne’s mayor–are endorsing the concept of unified government for Allen County and the City of Fort Wayne.

What is consolidation expected to accomplish? What would be combined and how would it be organized? How would it work? How would it enhance economic development? Would it mean higher property taxes or could taxes be reduced? Would city ordinances apply to all of the county?

Now that the Indiana legislature has provided a mechanism to permit local government units to combine without requiring state approval, it appears the Fort Wayne–Allen County Consolidation train is about to leave the station. The engineers and conductors–political leaders and the media– seem confident that it will gain a head of steam. But the question is: Will the county’s voters climb aboard?

At this stage we don’t have sufficient information to make an informed judgment–only sketchy, high-level consolidation ideas. While proponents talk of efficiencies and improved services, “a better quality of local government”– there has been little to suggest unification would result in tax savings. Mayor Richard suggested he is not sure that any savings would result.

While the County Commissioners are more cautious, several members of the County Council are on record as strongly supporting the idea of consolidation. But at the February 16 meeting of the County Council, when each of its members reported on prospects for savings by combining city and county departments, they concluded the opportunities are few.

Summarizing their review of 29 units of county government, council president Paula Hughes said: “There is not as much overlap [with city departments] as was thought.” It turns out that numerous city and county departments with similar functions have already been combined. Of the remaining county departments, few have a city counterpart. What’s more, over half of the county’s operating budget is dedicated to the county jail, county courts, and the criminal justice system, which are not duplicated at City Hall.

County Council vice president Paul Moss stated: “There is a huge misconception out there in terms of the amount of overlap between city and county government and quite frankly I had that perception to a certain extent as well.”

Another justification for unified government is the promise of a better economic development process under a combined framework. But how would the blending of governments facilitate development? What kind of economic development is envisioned–attracting new industries with hundreds of new, high-paying jobs? Preparing more sites for development? Constructing more public buildings and county-taxpayer-underwritten projects? We need to learn the expectations for economic development and form an understanding of what new dynamic would spur the anticipated economic renaissance.

Questions like these need to be answered as the discussion of consolidation unfolds. Before citizens can gain understanding to make an informed decision, detailed information and proposals need to be openly discussed and reviewed.

Fred Warner is the challenger in the Republican primary for Allen County Council, District 4, which represents southwest Allen County. He wrote this article for The Waynedale News. His views are regularly updated on his website, www.fredwarner.info.

The Waynedale News Staff

Fred Warner

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