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Indianapolis mayor wants tax hikes to hire more police, fund preschool to help fight violence

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INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis' mayor proposed tax increases Wednesday to hire 280 additional police officers over the next four years and help respond to the city's surge in violence by targeting links between poverty and crime.

Mayor Greg Ballard said the plan wouldn't be an overnight fix for the capital city, which with 80 homicides so far this year could be on track to rival 1998, when the city saw a record 162 killings. But the mayor said his plan would help address some of the root causes of crime in the city, in part by expanding preschool access and fighting the high school drop-out rate.

Ballard is asking for a .15 percent increase in the city's public safety income tax, which would boost the tax to .50 percent. That amounts to about $5.32 a month for the average household in Indianapolis, where the median annual income is $42,063, and will enable the city to increase its police staffing to 1,677 officers by 2018, the mayor's office said.

The proposal mirrors a recommendation from a bipartisan panel formed by the City-County Council, which will consider the plan on Aug. 18.

Ballard also proposed eliminating Marion County's homestead tax credit to fund a $25 million plan to expand preschool access for children in low-income families, from 700 children to 1,300 annually, in a partnership with United Way of Central Indiana. Ballard said ending the tax credit would cost homeowners an average of about $22 a year, or $1.84 a month.

"We could put that money to good use for our children and our city as a whole," he said while announcing his proposals to a packed crowd of city and community leaders at the old City Hall.

Ballard also hopes to raise another $25 million in state, federal and philanthropic funding to double the preschool dollars to $50 million. He noted that numerous studies have shown that attending preschool increases youngsters' chances of graduating from high school, attending college and leading successful lives.

PHOTO: Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard speaks about the city's current violence crime rate, at the city's old city hall in Indianapolis, Wednesday, July 30, 2014. Ballard is seeking a tax increase to pay for hiring more police officers as part of a wide-ranging response to the city's recent surge in deadly violence. (AP Photo/The Indianapolis Star, Robert Scheer)  NO SALES
Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard speaks about the city's current violence crime rate, at the city's old city hall in Indianapolis, Wednesday, July 30, 2014. Ballard is seeking a tax increase to pay for hiring more police officers as part of a wide-ranging response to the city's recent surge in deadly violence. (AP Photo/The Indianapolis Star, Robert Scheer) NO SALES

City-County Council President Maggie Lewis, a Democrat, said she had not seen the proposal but was pleased that the Republican mayor was embracing the push for getting additional officers on the streets. She said she was willing discuss increasing the public safety tax but remains opposed to cutting the county's homestead tax credit, arguing that doing so would hurt homeowners struggling to keep their homes.

"I think everything is on the table. Let's have a conversation but we're going to have to roll up our sleeves and tackle this together," she said.

Ballard also said Wednesday that he has ordered a study of the high expulsion and dropout rate in the county's public schools, which last year saw about 1,800 students expelled or leave school, putting them at risk of criminal activity.

"Many children who have been expelled or dropped out are being sentenced to a life of crime and poverty on the streets. They just fall off society's radar, only to re-emerge wearing handcuffs. This cycle must stop," he said.

Ballard also wants to tighten the city's curfew ordinance for youths ages 15 to 17, and said he would continue lobbying state lawmakers for tougher sentences for gun-related crimes.

City police estimate that one-quarter of Indianapolis' murders this year would not have happened if Indiana had a 10-year minimum sentence for such crimes, because the alleged offenders would have still been in prison, the mayor said.

The Rev. Charles Harrison, president of the faith-based Ten Point Coalition, said he supports Ballard's plans because they would help address "complex issues that impact several generations."

"This plan makes sense for our children, neighborhoods and our city," Harrison said in a statement.

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