Mayor Tom Henry announced his support of a proposed bill that aims to boost state transportation funding and provide an alternative method of funding to cover school and public transportation costs.
Senate Bill 478, which is under consideration in the Indiana General Assembly, would allow a redevelopment commission to provide revenue to a school corporation's transportation fund from property tax proceeds, which are allocated to the redevelopment commission in a tax increment financing (TIF) allocation area.
Property tax caps, which the state legislature approved in 2008 and voters added to the state constitution in 2010, have begun forcing school districts to cut bus transportation. Last month, the Fort Wayne Community Schools board voted unanimously to approve a plan that eliminates bus service to an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 students.
“Children in our city deserve to have safe and reliable transportation to and from school,” Henry said Tuesday. “We must be willing to invest in our future to provide opportunities for children to grow and succeed through education.”
TIF districts are an economic development stimulus, used to attract businesses to move to a specific area. Property tax revenues generated within a TIF district can be captured and used for improvements within that district. In Indiana, TIF districts can be formed by a county or municipal government through a redevelopment commission. There are 20 districts in Allen County, including BAE Systems, Summit industrial parks and the ongoing Ash Skyline Plaza for example.
SB 478 specifies that the amount of revenue that may be provided to the school corporation may not exceed the amount of property tax revenue received by the redevelopment commission that is attributable to the school corporation's transportation fund tax rate. The proposal would also require approval by the legislative body of the unit that established the redevelopment commission and by the redevelopment commission.
Justin Brugger, the city's redevelopment director, explained the TIF districts and how schools will benefit at the mayor's announcement Tuesday.
“Whatever's collected when the TIF district is created continues to pass through to the city, the county, each school district, the special districts like Citilink (public bus service provider) and the (Fort Wayne-Allen County) Airport Authority so then when one of these geographic areas is established and we build roads and sewers to facilitate economic development and a building goes up, for example, the building generated additional property taxes. ... Once the infrastructure is paid for then the TIF district turns off and all this is (generating) more revenue than before because of the improvement. The money we are talking about here, while it's collecting and as the assessed value is increasing, would go to the school and a fraction would go toward the transportation budget,” he said.
The bill also supports public transportation in general. On Thursday, The News-Sentinel reported on the funding challenges that face Citilink despite the increased use of public transportation.
Public transportation ridership is up statewide, increasing 15 percent 2004-13. However, just over 1 percent of Hoosiers regularly use public transportation to get to work compared to 5 percent nationally. Sixty-six transit agencies serve 82 of the state's 92 counties, up from 18 systems in 1978 and 39 in 1997, according to the Indiana Citizens Alliance for Transit.
SB 478 has been passed by the Indiana Senate and has been sent to the Indiana House of Representatives for consideration. The bill was introduced by Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne; Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville; and Sen. Ryan Mishler, R-Bremen. Rep. Bob Morris, R-Fort Wayne, and Rep. Martin Carbaugh, R-Fort Wayne, are the bill's sponsors.
If the bill receives final approval, Fort Wayne Community Schools would be required to petition the city of Fort Wayne to request the additional funding. Henry said if the legislation passes, he will call on the Fort Wayne Redevelopment Commission and Fort Wayne City Council to make the necessary approvals at the local governmental level.
While, city government does not have jurisdiction over schools and aren't involved in decisions made by FWCS, the administration said it is committed to being a partner in finding solutions to challenges. In addition to possible TIF assistance for next school year, the city said it will increase school zone signage, paint additional crosswalk markings, increase the number of crossing guards, increase police patrols near schools and make sidewalk and street lighting enhancements through a long-term planning and construction process.