Private gifts give city a lift

January 26, 2009

State and local governments in Indiana aren't known for pouring tax money into so-called progressive causes. Private money often has to step in.

A shining example is the $15 million Gene and Marilyn Glick gave to the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, a $50 million alternative-transportation project that's getting most of its money from the private sector. And now the city has a new benefactor: The McKinney family is stepping up to support Mayor Greg Ballard's Office of Sustainability.

It's not clear yet how much money the city is getting from the McKinneys, the family that formerly led First Indiana Bank and has given money to a host of environmental causes. The city says the amount, which will come from the newly created McKinney Family Green Initiatives Fund, is substantial. Details are expected to be released as the family makes funding decisions on a project-by-project basis.

Among the initiatives on the city's wish list that the McKinneys could support: building more bike lanes and helping the city have at least one of its buildings comply with sustainability criteria established by the U.S. Green Building Council. The city's Office of Sustainability thinks the city can save money in the long run and set an example for other property owners by having a high-profile property -- the City County Building, for example -- comply with the federal standards.

The city is already taking inventory of private-sector sustainable projects and cataloging them on SustainIndy. org, a Web site it will launch this winter.

We applaud the McKinneys for their generosity and for recognizing that it often takes civic-minded individuals to get things done. That's never been truer than it is today as the city and state cope with revenue shortfalls caused by a vicious recession.

Mayor Ballard also deserves credit for making green initiatives a priority. And while he's focusing on the benefits of making the city greener, we hope he doesn't overlook one of our biggest environmental problems: indoor pollution.

A bipartisan group on the City-County Council is laying the groundwork for an ordinance that would close the loopholes in the smoking ordinance implemented in 2006. Clearing the air in bars and other establishments that are exempt from the existing ordinance is consistent with a city that wants to enjoy the economic and health benefits of a green environment. And the costs associated with such a change are minimal.

With elected officials showing leadership on low-cost initiatives and people like the McKinneys and Glicks picking up the tab for more expensive efforts, the city is in a position to make strides on the environmental front at little cost to taxpayers. 

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