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Indianapolis mayor speaks at Gary Chamber luncheon

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard. |  Provided Photo~Sun-Times Media

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard. | Provided Photo~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 13, 2013 6:23AM



GARY — Public-private partnerships have been the lynchpin in not only ridding Indianapolis of $1.5 billion in debt, but generating between $400 million and $500 million in cash, said its mayor, Greg Ballard, Monday.

The keynote speaker for the Gary Chamber of Commerce’s monthly luncheon, Ballard, the state capital’s 48th mayor, said he realized fully that few knew who he was or for what he stood when he was elected six years ago. All he knew was that he didn’t want to just hold the title of mayor; he needed to do something.

So he set out to tackle three specific issues: the city’s Environmental Protection Agency consent decree, putting the water and waste water into a partnership with utility conglomerate Citizens Energy; and revamping the city’s parking meter system.

By convincing the EPA that the city could change the environmental issues put forth in the decree “faster and better,” for example, it was able to save taxpayers $800 million, Ballard said.

When Ballard took over, the city’s water and wastewater operations were $900 million in debt, he said. By allowing Citizens Energy to permanently absorb them, they were able to eliminate $1.5 billion in debt and generate between $400 million and $500 million

Leveraging federal money helped to establish Rebuild Indy, which has tackled the city’s infrastructure. At least 97 percent of that money has gone to fix roads, alleys, bridges and demolishing abandoned houses.

“In a year, we were able to repair two bridges. We’ve now done 27 bridges in the last two years, so not a year’s worth, but a generation’s worth,” he said. “During the economic downturn, we put a lot of people to work.”

Taking a cue from Chicago, Indianapolis also set up a 50-year lease agreement with a Texas company for its parking meters, taking $20 million up front to put into infrastructure. That deal has generated $2.5 million in two years.

Had the city not revamped its meters, it would’ve continued collecting 75 cents per hour, for a total of $339,000 per year.

“With the brand new technology, you can now extend your time at the meter by phone, and you can even find an open meter by phone,” Ballard said. “The city wouldn’t have (sought out the deal) by itself.

“We’re not borrowing money anymore. To get rid of a billion of debt is pretty darn good.”

Schererville attorney Cal Bellamy asked Ballard to respond to the accusations that Indianapolis gets the majority of the General Assembly’s favor. Ballard said he’s heard that, but the numbers don’t support it.

“The Fiscal Policy Institute says the City of Indianapolis and Marion County is a net donor to the rest of the state,” he said. “We donate way more out to citizens than we take in, so (the accusations) take me aback, but the revenue streams show it.”



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