Peterson bites the bullet 

Mayor Bart Peterson unveiled a sweeping proposal to fight crime and raise taxes last week. The mayor addressed a room packed with a who’s who of city movers and shakers as well as near Eastside neighborhood residents at the Boner Center’s new facility on East 10th Street.

The proposal, which will raise the Marion County income tax rate by 0.65 percent, taking the city’s current tax rate from 1.0 percent to 1.65 percent, is intended to address a number of issues that have dogged the city for years and become critical liabilities in light of a spike in violent crime that began in 2006. The increase would translate into $16 more a month for a person making $30,000 a year; $27 more per month for those making $50,000; and $54 more for those making $100,000.

Saying that Indianapolis has “declared a war against crime” and needs more money to fight it, Peterson called to increase funding for public safety by $90 million. Thirty million dollars of this total would fund pensions for the city’s police officers and firefighters hired before 1977, an outstanding obligation that analysts agree threatens the city’s budget and has compromised its credit rating.

Another $30 million will pay to maintain crime fighting and criminal justice efforts begun in 2006, including the funding of new prosecutors and public defenders, the Crime Lab, maintenance of the new night court and three other new courts and continuation of “street-level enforcement” teams in high crime areas.

Almost $12 million will be dedicated to hiring 100 new Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers by the close of 2008. And $10 million will fund new police and firefighter contracts.

Peterson acknowledged that Indianapolis has a history of underfunding public safety. “Administrations and City-County Councils have worked hard to avoid a day of reckoning,” he said. “We also placed the avoidance of tax increases at the top of our priority list.”

But Peterson pointed out that Indianapolis has grown dramatically over the past 20 years. Saying that, “In a bigger city, the opportunities are bigger and the problems are bigger,” Peterson added that, “Our criminal justice system has been undersized for the number of arrestees who move through it.”

This is the second time that Peterson has made a major proposal intended to address the city’s need for increased funding to fight crime and deal with the unfunded pension issue. Late last year, the mayor proposed a plan that depended upon significant cooperation from the state Legislature. But that cooperation never materialized.

“I know this income tax increase does not come at a good time,” said Peterson, who is running for a third term as mayor against a Republican challenger, Greg Ballard, who has made crime his major issue. Alluding to the fact that people in the city and state are bracing for what may be a major property tax increase, Peterson then quoted Teddy Roosevelt: “The best thing you can do is the right thing. And the worst thing you can do is nothing.” Peterson concluded by saying, “Let’s do the right thing. Let’s act. Let’s take back our streets and save our children.”

The City-County Council will consider Peterson’s proposal later this month. The council’s four at-large members, Rozelle Boyd, Lonnell Conley, Ron Gibson and Joanne Sanders, have already endorsed it. A public hearing will be held at 5:30 p.m. on July 16 at the City-County Building.

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