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Gary City Hall

Gary City Hall

Government by shell game won't repair the dire financial straits of a foundering Gary.

It will only make it worse in the long run.

That should be the public assessment of the apparent half-baked scheme some city leaders have conjured to sell their public safety building at 555 Polk St. under the guise of generating emergency revenue to make ends meet.

Without that revenue, Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson's administration argues the city could run out of cash on hand to pay bills within months.

But the proposal seems more complicated and perilous than a simple play for revenue.

The shell game being proposed should give any thinking taxpayer pause.

Calling it a last-ditch effort, Freeman-Wilson's Chief of Staff Dayna Bennett told members of the Gary City Council Finance Committee last week that the only solution is selling and then leasing back the public safety building.

The sale and lease-back would give the city time to implement a “financial recovery plan," Bennett argued.

But several council members were right to be skeptical.

One ordinance under consideration would allow the city to enter into a lease agreement with the Gary Building Corp., a nonprofit entity created decades ago for the sole purpose of owning and leasing facilities to city government.

That nonprofit went defunct when the state canceled its registration but recently was revived, with its board comprised of two members of the city administration and a Gary resident.

Under the plan, the city would sell the building to the corporation for $40 million, and in turn, the corporation would lease the building back to the city.

Borrowing would be required to make the whole deal work.

The city of Gary supposedly would set aside local income tax revenue, currently being used to pay debt and operational expenses, to repay the bond debt.

This shell game should not pass the smell test of good government.

The plan appears to be a scheme for the city to buy the building from itself, lease it back to itself and borrow and then pay off bonds to do it.

Any plan that involves bait and switch should sound an alarm in the minds of all taxpayers.

What isn't confusing is that Gary has been a financial disaster for many years.

Cooking up sale-and-lease schemes isn't going to induce any long-term solutions for that disaster.

It will merely allow the city to fake its way through another shell game, belaboring and exacerbating the real problems.

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Members of The Times Editorial Board are Publisher Christopher T. White, Editor Marc Chase, Deputy Editor Kerry Erickson, Assistant Local News Editor Crista Zivanovic and Regional News Editor Sharon Ross.