Council passes plan to buy new vehicles, tear down Oak Tree Apartments

The often-bipartisan Indianapolis City-County Council cast a rare politically divided vote Monday night on a proposal that would, among other things, spend nearly $850,000 to buy new vehicles for city employees, including weights-and-measures inspectors and animal-care workers.

The proposal—which also included $1.3 million in funding for the city to tear down the abandoned and troubled Oak Tree Apartments on the far-east side—narrowly passed by a 13-11 vote with all present Democrats voting for it and all Republicans against it.

The debate on the proposal centered on whether Mayor Joe Hogsett’s administration should have planned for the cost of new city vehicles as part of last fall’s budgeting process. 

“Last fall, we on a bipartisan basis unanimously endorsed and passed this administration’s budget with the caveat we needed this to be the budget,” said Minority leader Mike McQuillen. “We didn’t want unfunded mandates.”

McQuillen said “occasionally emergencies arise,” but “shiny new vehicles” aren’t an emergency.

However, the Department of Business and Neighborhood Services, which was formerly known as the code enforcement department, said it is only planning to buy new vehicles because the department generated more money than anticipated from permits.

Because of higher collections, the estimated fund balance in the city’s permit fund is $21.3 million instead of $20.4 million as expected, said department director Brian Madison.

The department is planning to use $822,000 in the extra permit revenue to buy 28 new vehicles. A 29th vehicle will be purchased using a combination of the extra permit revenue and regular department revenue. Vehicles rated between fair and poor condition are targeted for replacement, and they will be spread across various department functions for use.

Republicans said the proposal showed that Hogsett’s administration was being financially irresponsible, with Republican Janice McHenry, saying “where does it stop?”

But Democrats responded that it was as a result of “conservative predictions” that it had the extra money in the first place.

“Making this investment is a smart move,” Democrat Blake Johnson said. “The theater of this, while impressive, is not accurate. This is [the result of] projected revenues that are higher than what was anticipated.”

Included in the proposal was also $1.3 million in funding to tear down the Oak Tree Apartments, which had bipartisan support, with Republicans unsuccessfully requesting the proposals be split. The apartment complex near 42nd Street and Post Road has been condemned by the Marion County Health Department and vacated by court order.

In 2018, a judge ordered owner Indy Diamond LLC to tear down the complex, and the owner is currently in contempt of court.

The city is trying to acquire and demolish the complex in order to get the site ready for future development.

Several community members spoke in favor of the proposal because of the inclusion of the funding to demolish the troubled apartment complex.  

Clare Pope, president of the Far Eastside Community Council, advocated for the proposal to be passed “by any means necessary.”

“The buildings are basically deplorable,” Pope said. “It is a health hazard. It is something that I don’t believe anyone here would want to have in their neighborhoods.”

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