City-County Council OKs $24M in additional public works spending

The Indianapolis City-County Council on Monday unanimously approved a proposal to spend an extra $24 million on public works infrastructure projects, including an expanded street-sweeping program that will tackle streets that haven’t been cleaned in decades.

But some council members voted for the measure despite their previously expressed frustration that the proposal also would transfer $300,000 out of the city’s parking meter fund to eventually pay for new initiatives from Mayor Joe Hogsett that seek to curb homelessness and panhandling.

The plan for the city’s Department of Public Works includes an additional $14 million to spend on road and bridge projects that are part of the city’s annual infrastructure plan. It also spends an extra $3 million on the mayor’s neighborhood streetlight program, nearly $5 million for purchasing new DPW equipment, and $2 million for the street-sweeping initiative.

The expanded street-sweeping program will make a formerly outsourced operation into a Department of Public Works operation, allowing the department to hire 20 additional full-time employees.

“Areas that haven’t been swept in nearly two decades are going to see street-sweeping,” said Council Vice President Zach Adamson. “It’s an integral part of maintaining our existing infrastructure.”

Under the plan, downtown and Broad Ripple streets will be swept four times per week. Streets in the city’s combined sewer overflow areas would be swept twice per month, and major thoroughfares, trails and bike lanes, would be swept every other month. 

Combined sewer overflow areas are places where raw sewage combines with stormwater during heavy rains, causing a public health threat. Combined sewers exist in many of Indianapolis’ older neighborhoods near waterways such as White River, Fall Creek, Eagle Creek, Pleasant Run, Bean Creek and Pogues Run, according to Citizens Energy Group.

The sweeping program will be funded through a contract with Citizens Energy Group, by redirecting money from an existing private contract, and through the transfer from the city’s parking meter fund.

Citizens Energy Group will pay the city at least $725,000 annually for five years since it is responsible for maintaining certain infrastructure in combined sewer overflow areas. 

The city’s $700,000 annual contract with a vendor to perform current street-sweeping tasks ends in March, and those funds will be redirected to the program.

The rest will come from a $500,000 transfer from the city’s parking meter fund, which is expected to have an extra $800,000 in it later this year after city officials expanded fee-collection hours.

But the somewhat controversial part of the proposal is a measure that transfers $300,000 out of the parking meter fund to a county general fund to eventually pay for the mayor’s  anti-homelessness initiative. 

Typically, parking meter funds are dedicated to transportation infrastructure initiatives, not for social programs. 

State and local laws are “very specific on what can be spent out of the parking meter fund and homelessness is not one of them,” council CFO Bart Brown said at a Jan. 17 public works committee meeting.

But, Brown said, those codes also state that unused funds in the parking meter fund can be transferred to any general fund. 

Republican Jefferson Shreve and Democrat Christine Scales were among council members who criticized that move earlier this month.

Shreve suggested city officials did not initially realize parking meter funds couldn’t be directly spent on homelessness initiatives and said “I think we’re trying to come up with a workaround excuse.”

“We’ve made this so complicated and messy,” he said. 

Council President Vop Osili told Shreve that “the unfortunate thing is, homelessness and panhandling are messy.”

“It is not linear as I’m sure you would have liked, but if we are not intentional about funding initiatives that address an amazingly large problem then we’ll continue to face that,” Osili said. “If we don’t do it, then I think we [will fail to live up to the] expectations that our community has for municipal government.”

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