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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

Grass-roots group to work against local tax-hike proposal

Justin Stevens
Justin Stevens
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Wednesday, May 17, 2017 08:58 am

Americans for Prosperity couldn't keep the Legislature from increasing the state gasoline tax this session, but the conservative group is hoping to have better luck with a proposal to pay for riverfront improvements by boosting local income taxes.

AFP, which advocates small government and free markets, was expected to announce its opposition at a Wednesday press conference, which In-State Director Justin Stevens said would be followed by a grass-roots campaign to educate the public and influence members of City Council, who could vote on the proposal sometime this summer.

"At a time when we have already seen other tax increases, including the gas tax, a city wheel tax, state (auto) registration fees and other things, this would be an added burden on taxpayers," Stevens said. "If the city wants (riverfront development), it should find a way to to it through the regular budget."

Elected officials scheduled to join Stevens at the press conference included City Council members Paul Ensley, R-1st; Russ Jehl, R-2nd; and Jason Arp, R-4th. There are nine members on council, meaning the support of five would be needed for passage.

As The News-Sentinel first reported last month, Mayor Tom Henry and some other council members have indicated support for a higher income tax in order to fund phases two and three of the riverfront project, along with improvements to sidewalks, alleys and other infrastructure. The riverfront project's $20 million first phase is largely funded, but additional phases could cost $100 million, Stevens said. The local income tax is currently 1.35 percent and could legally be increased to as much as 3.75 percent. An increase of 0.15 percent would generate about $13 million a year, according to the Allen County Auditor's office.

John Crawford, R-at large, has advocated an increase because "When I ran the last time, I was all for riverfront development. But if you want something, you need a revenue stream."

Stevens said he had not analyzed Fort Wayne's current budget, but said he is confident "there is some fat to be cut" if money is needed for the riverfront.

AFP represents as many as 70,000 people, Stevens said, and will follow up the press conference with thousands of phone calls.  "We're going to be active and vocal" against the proposed increase, he promised.

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