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Forums, Funding & Foregone Conclusions

I attended Tuesday’s “public forum” at Greek’s Pizzeria in Westfield to listen and participate in a discussion regarding the Mayor’s Grand Junction plan. Fairly certain I may have looked like Linda Blair from the Exorcist with my head wildly spinning at the moment the Mayor mentioned the many miles of Westfield’s linear parks (since we were just told in December NOT to count these as parks in consideration of the $15 million-dollar Township Bond), I questioned whether the forum was to discuss Grand Junction or simply its funding mechanism. It seems the plans for Grand Junction are a foregone conclusion and the only question being brought forth to City Council this Monday, March 11th, is whether to approve the bond issuance and subsequent appropriation through Local Income Tax funding.

The feedback I received from one council candidate is that people seem to believe, “if they can’t see it then they don’t believe they will feel it.” Is the old saying, “What you don’t know, can’t hurt you,” really true in Westfield? Local Income Tax is collected from every wage earner. In Hamilton County, municipalities pull in a lot of money through LIT; so much so, that the entities are now engaged in a battle for the monies. Blaming our neighbors to the south for the great disparity created by Carmel’s historical debt, has led to the argument over who’s taking the other entity’s LIT revenue stream. This is just the point. The constant revenue stream is predicated on income in a thriving economy but should we (or any city in Hamilton County) experience another economic downturn that requires the use of that money, Westfield will find itself in a bind. A big, big bind.

In 2018, $3.2 million-dollars of Westfield’s LIT revenue paid for fire service. With no increase in the budget, that leaves approximately $10.3 million-dollars available for other payments out of the general fund. Now, LIT dollars cannot be saved in a rainy-day fund; the funds must be encumbered. Westfield has used those remaining monies toward paying for Grand Park and going forward, will look to spend it on Grand Junction. What happens if that revenue is significantly decreased? Where will Westfield find the money to pay for Grand Junction and are you left holding the proverbial bag for not standing up in opposition of this project? Whether you believe it or not, the costs of this project are being taken from you, the taxpayer, because when appropriations are made for one project, they are consequently taken from another.

Westfield has a lot on its promised plate. In addition to Grand Junction and the upkeep of Grand Park, we’ve been told to expect State Road 32 to widen east of US 31 to East Street. We’re expecting 191st to be widened for Grand Park traffic and the Monon Trail Pedestrian Overpass is underway. Registered golf carts from Bridgewater will soon find their way to the downtown area and the Mayor confirms all trails will converge in Grand Junction with expansion of the Midland Trace Trail. The “towers” project made its way back on to the Department of Public Works agenda recently; a myriad of roundabout projects remains active; as well as, substantial infrastructure projects needed to design, construct and complete the “Wheeler Road/Grand Park Boulevard” project.

In conclusion, as one of the public forum attendees questioned, “Can we afford another “build it and they will come” project in Westfield?” The funding formula for local income tax changed many years ago, but the idea of eternal indebtedness in terms of sustainability, despite the general relief a municipality gain from it, seemingly has not. What a great disservice these beliefs are to the taxpayer and they should go against the grain of any good fiscal conservative. Reach out to Westfield City Council and tell them to vote "no" to funding Grand Junction through YOUR LOCAL INCOME TAX.

A note about the author: Marla Ailor is a 20-year resident of Westfield Washington Township, in addition to being a wife, mother and student. She ran for Township Trustee in the 2018 GOP Primary and lost to the incumbent. In that same year, she joined several other like-minded HamCo on the board of the Fiscal Conservatives of Hamilton County PAC.

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