FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA) — Days after an ABC21 Digging Deeper investigation shined a light on the lack of sidewalks near public schools – a $70 million problem the city says will take more than 10 years to fix – the topic is firing up the Republicans running to challenge the mayor.
Thursday night, businessman and political outsider Tim Smith says ensuring children have sidewalks on their way to school would be his top priority if he is elected mayor – and he believes he can get the job done a lot faster than the city’s current pace.
“Job number one for the mayor is to keep the citizens safe,” says Smith. “It has to start with the children, and it has to start with the children on their way to school.”
But his opponent Councilman John Crawford doubts that Smith could accomplish that without raising taxes.
Smith says if he becomes the mayor, he could find $70 million within the city’s existing budget to make sure students have sidewalks on their way to school. And he says he could do it in less than 10 years.
Well, it’s a $240 million budget,” says Smith. “We have found millions and tens of millions for other projects. How about we find some of that and re-divert it for the safety of our children walking to school.”
Crawford disputes that idea.
“It’s delusional unless you tell me where those cuts are going to come from in the rest of the budget,” says Crawford.
Crawford, who is running against Smith in the Republican primary, defends the city’s current plan to address the lack of sidewalks in no bus zones. It’s a plan that will take more than 10 years to complete, and one that Crawford points out is partially funded by a recent tax hike that Smith was against.
“Six million dollars worth of sidewalk repair is being done this year with that tax he said he was opposed to,” adds Crawford.
Crawford went on to say that more than 70 percent of the city’s budget is allocated for its police and fire departments, leaving little room to make significant budget cuts.
“It’s easy to say I want more,” says Crawford. “But you have to say where it’s coming from.”
“Tom Henry and John Crawford have been in it together for the last three tax increases,” responded Smith. “Of course that’s the way they think about it.”
Crawford says he isn’t afraid to disagree with Mayor Tom Henry, but says he sees eye-to-eye with him on this particular issue.
“I will always take the side of whoever is right,” says Crawford. “The plan for the mayor doing the sidewalks right now is consistent with the amount of funding we have.”
“I don’t think raising taxes should be the default step every time local officials need to do something,” says Smith. “They need to deploy what we do all the time. What successful businesses do is they find a way to fix problems within budgets.”