Sunday, November 29, 2015

Say No To the Mayor and Council Raises

At tomorrow night's City-County Council meeting, Prop 413 will be introduced.  If passed it would increase the salary of the Indianapolis Mayor and base compensation of Council members.  The Mayor would receive $125,000 per year, up from $95,000 - a 31.6% increase.  The Council would untether its compensation to whatever the Mayor makes and opt for a $16,400 base salary.  That would increase their base from $11,400 to $16,400 - a 43.9% increase.  Both receive other, smaller categories of compensation as well.

The press is reporting that this would put the Indy Mayor closer to the salaries of certain donut-county Mayors.  This does not convince me of the wisdom of the proposed raise.  $95,000 is still high enough to put bread on the table.

While we are at it, the Deputy Mayor salaries should be rolled back to pre-2014 levels, or just less than the Mayor makes.  While I often hear that those at the top positions in government need to be paid enough to keep them from moving on to the private sector - I find that is usually what they intend to do all along, and that they are using the government position as a key stepping stone, no matter the salary for those 'lean' years.

According to the US Census, fewer than 5% of Indianapolis residents made over $100,000 in 2014.  This "over $100,000" category is a catchall for the upper limit earners.  So, the Mayor and Deputy Mayors are not grievously harmed by receiving compensation less than $100 grand.  Methinks there are other reasons to be Mayor or one of his closest advisers - public service among them.

Mayor-elect Hogsett should ask that the increases instead be applied to an effort to bring all City-County employees up to a living wage as serving a greater good.  Combining the proposed increases for Mayor and Council with a rolled back Deputy Mayor compensation would provide well over $200,000 a year in seed money.

It is unclear how many city employees do not earn a living wage - and that ignorance in itself is not a good thing.  The lowest salaries listed in the budget ordinance do cover a living wage for a single person with no children - just over $20,000.  The living wage doubles with the addition of one child.  I doubt the city can afford that much as a minimum, but we need to have our City Government be a good employer, too.  That means we need to know where our employees stand, whether we are equipping them with knowledge and skills to move forward in life, and how to best compensate all of our employees.  We need to look at the reality of the job holders, too - are they entry level workers developing their skills for better paying jobs elsewhere, or are they on a career path that will become problematic as their families increase?

Every year, select employees get raises - usually those with union contracts and some with higher salaries who could earn more elsewhere.  In the near decade I have been following the budget process, only once was a comprehensive compensation review conducted, followed by raises to move some employees out of poverty wages.  Most every year, most employees get no raises.

This is an opportunity for Mayor-elect Hogsett to set a positive tone for his Administration - that all employees matter and that a living wage is a goal worth evaluating, setting and meeting for the City of Indianapolis.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Invisible Hand(out) of the (Taxpayer Financed) Market

The war between cities and regions to attract business development generated the handouts known as 'incentives', 'tax increment financing', 'abatements', and more - a virtual cottage industry in how to funnel taxpayer funds to well connected developers.  There are more noble goals in play at the same time, like, hoping for a catalyst to spur private sector investment.  But the subsidies don't seem to ever end.

We have seen this cottage industry begin to morph from incentives to entitlements - industries that are begging for land upon which to develop, still expect hefty abatements to "level the playing field" and they no longer even try to tie job gains with those tax benefits.

Now, quietly yet out in the open, there is another transformation happening - the perpetual enrichment of favored landowner through taxpayer funded inducements for development upon leased real estate.

The North of South/City Way investment of about $100 M of taxpayer money involved development of the housing/retail/hotel/fake tech park built on top of land leased from Eli Lilly.  How much cash flow that provides Lilly is - well - none of your damn business, Ms. Taxpayer.

While the land lease model worked out in City Way, it does not always go so smoothly.  The airport has been trying to lease prime real estate where its old terminal used to be.  It has prominent frontage along I-465 and enviable access, not to mention an already existing parking garage.  Plus the old building has been torn down and hauled away.  Height restrictions do play a role here, but there is also the ingredient of who would want to lease the land upon which to construct a building.  Even a fifty year lease will find a day when the tenant must either re-up the lease or move on -- and at what cost?  The only offer they have noted in public has been a casino complex - which I personally root for, but the point here is the paucity of interest.

Last night the City-County Council voted to float $75 M in TIF bonds for the 16 Tech project.  Roughly $55 M would go to move water lines, power lines, and gas lines, and build a bridge and a park - all of which will make the land owned by IU Foundation, IU, Beurt R & Corena J  Servaas, the Benjamin Franklin Literary Medical Society, Health & Hospitals Corp. of Marion County, and Methodist Hospital much more valuable.  Yet, this land will be leased to eventual developers, not sold for the development.  But, it gets even better for these entities - 16 Tech Community Corp has been set up and will be funded by the rest of the bonds to the tune of just over half a million a year (with salaries ranging from $30,000 to $200,000) and their job will be to market the property to developers - so that these not-for-profits don't have to lift a finger or pay a single salary in order to cash in on the taxpayers' largess.

All that said, this one kind of amuses me.  I like the area in question getting a leg up and I like trying to promote biotech for the long run.  I do wonder, though, how viable the land-leasing model will be. In worst case, Mass Ave and Union Station and Circle Center Mall and the rest of the consolidated downtown TIF can all contribute to paying off the bonds.

I've wandered off the point of this post.  What we now have are the taxpayers being expected to fund a quarter to a third of all downtown development AND sustain abatements that need not include increased employment ALL THE WHILE our investments are quietly generating a perpetual revenue stream to well connected landowners.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

IHPC Delays Digital Billboard Decision

I just posted this entry on the IBJ's Indiana Forefront.  I would only add - many thanks to Councillors Joe Simpson and Zach Adamson for supporting the broader community interest by asking that the digital billboard variance be delayed until after the sign regulations are reviewed in a vigorous, transparent, and public process. ---

Last night, as reported by Hayleigh Colombo in the IBJ, the Indianapolis Historic Preservation Commission continued to October 7, both the building design and the digital billboard variance proposed for Mass. Ave.
I was in the audience, waiting to speak to the digital billboard variance on behalf of the Marion County Alliance of Neighborhood Associations.
From November to June, 59 organizations joined forces to move the digital billboard debate from behind closed doors to the appropriate public venue – the upcoming Department of Metropolitan Development review of the entire sign ordinance.  After all the meetings and all the debate, the Council agreed.
The proposed ‘digital canvas’ envisioned for the building that would replace the Mass Ave fire station needs a variance expressly because it would be a digital billboard.  They propose posting ‘sponsors’ information either on 20% of the space or 20% of the time.  Motion and sound would be allowed.
A continuance was proposed by two Councillors – Joe Simpson, whose current district includes the site, and Zach Adamson, who is running for reelection to the new district boundaries that will include this site – via letter to the IHPC.  Initially the Commission was moving toward a continuance until after the Council passes the new sign ordinance, presumably some time next year.  Then the developer and his representative asked for the October 7 date so they could discuss it with the two Councillors.
Continuing this variance request is wise for a couple of reasons.  The broad community deserves its hard fought and hard won vigorous public process that would decide if digital billboards are right for Indianapolis.  If lifting the ban was found in the community’s best interest, then issues such as how to measure and regulate light levels, size, motion, sound, appropriate locations, interactivity with the driving public, and other safety issues would be discussed and appropriate parameters would be set.
If the Mass. Ave. digital billboard variance comes first, it could create a precedent and set a standard that became the tail that wagged the dog.  That, undoubtedly, was why John Kisiel, Vice President of Clear Channel, was in the audience for 5 hours last night.  Kisiel has stated that he was assigned to Indianapolis by Clear Channel to open Indy up to digital billboards.
Let’s face it, the billboard industry is a litigious group.  They have shown they will take cities to court if they can find any chink in the rules or application of the rules.  Indy’s billboard ban has successfully weathered their attempts to gain variances and prevailed in the subsequent lawsuits.  Granting this digital billboard variance would demonstrate uneven application of the ban.  Given these are the waning months for the Ballard administration, who know whether the variance would be challenged.  As they did in other cities, the biggest mess being in Los Angeles, this would give the billboard industry just the opening they need to seek unfettered and unregulated access to Indy’s streetscapes.
Some will say this is only relevant to the Mass. Ave. neighborhoods.  But, given the dynamics at play in the digital billboard arena, the digital billboard variance is about all of our neighborhoods.

City Loses No Time Asking for Bids On Electric Fleet

Today's paper reports that just yesterday, Mayor Ballard and Council President Lewis signed an agreement over the new electric car fleet.  The 212 electric cars already delivered by Vision Fleet would continue to be subject to maintenance through Vision Fleet, but the remaining 213 would be put out for public bid.

Yesterday afternoon, the Purchasing Division put out RFP14-DPW-598
Four (4) Year Term Contract to provide an Electric Vehicle Program to the Consolidated City of Indianapolis - Marion County, through the Indianapolis Department of Public Works, Fleet Services Division
They wasted no time.

I have to ask, though, where is the public discussion on how many electric cars we should have, what attributes those cars should have and to whom they should be assigned?

Most certainly, the $45,000 lifetime cost per car was outrageous, and I am quite glad that the Council took a hard stance against the deal, if for that reason only.   Equally outrageous was the way the Mayor's office yet again circumvented the proper procedures - whether simply to avoid scrutiny by the Council and the public or to assure the award went to the favored company, or both.  Both of these have been stopped in their tracks, which is half a loaf.

Council discussions over filing the lawsuit against the Mayor have divulged other issues including problems with charging the cars overnight in the homes of those assigned the cars and lack of truck space for heavy arms that police officers want to carry.  The last one I still don't get - the cars were supposed to be assigned to administrators who don't really need a peppy car to get them to the scene.  So, whether more than this category of officers got the electric cars or these administrators just want to carry assault rifles, I don't know.

For me, it is not just about the Mayor's office circumventing proper procedures, and probably the law, its about them doing it so often that Vision Fleet has simply become a poster child for "The Ballard Way".  It is shocking to see how Ballard's time in office has devolved from him being a champion of transparency to being a manager of insider deals kept from the light of day, surreptitiously funded with moneys not appropriated for the purpose, and protected by a 'just say no' attitude to releasing public documents.

In any case, if you are interested in leasing the City 213 electric cars and taking care of them for 4 years, get your proposal in by October 2.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Board of Public Works Approves $6 M Expenditure for Blue Indy Infrastructure

Blogger Gary Welsh over at Advance Indiana has been following the Blue Indy contract with the Ballard Administration (see here and here for the latest).

He reports that on Tuesday the Public Works Board voted on putting $6 M in a Region's Bank escrow account for Blue Indy to draw down - refusing to take public comments when he requested time to speak.

I have embedded the WCTY broadcast of the Blue-Indy escrow account section of the meeting below.

From what was said at the Board meeting, the Ballard administration is pooling the $6 M from three funds - the parking meter fund, the city's cumulative capital projects fund, and the rebuild indy fund.  Whether this allotment of funding sources is a last-minute maneuver on the administration's part, or was buried in the budget from the get-go is not clear.  From testimony by Bart Brown, the Council's CFO, it is clear that the Council did not know of this project and to its thinking, did not appropriate funds for it.

What also is left up in the air, is whether the administration cancelled or postponed other projects in order to have enough money to pay the $6 M tab - which is evidently due by Sept 1 according to testimony on the details of the contract in response to a Board member's question.

The 2016 budget for the Department of Public Works is up at tonight's Council Public Works committee meeting - beginning at 5:30 pm in room 260 of the City-County Building.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

CIB Meeting - Pacers Agenda Item

Here is the 18 minute clip from WCTY's broadcast of yesterday's CIB meeting - the portion where the Pacers deal for use of CIB land for 40 years (with an option for a 10 year extension) was 'discussed'.

The vote was whether or not to pursue negotiations for an agreement, based on the general points to which the Board had access. Presumably it is the same list of points published in Mary Milz' peice yesterday on WTHR.

Most questions were asked by City-County Council President, Maggie Lewis, who sits on the CIB due to her position on the Council.  She asked great questions, but most were referred to a Pacers press conference supposedly being held in the next few days - so left unanswered.

Please note, that the Board President, Earl Goode, referred to "individual briefings" on the particulars.

It is too bad that the public does not have access to what the general terms will be, as there is nothing posted on the CIB website, nor was there any presentation to inform the public.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Pacers to Get 40 Year Deal - Taxpayers Only Got 10 Year Deal

I'm still getting up to speed, but Mary Milz, WTHR reporter, is telling us that the CIB voted to move forward to ink down a deal with the Pacers' on their proposed $50 M training facility.

Under the deal, the Pacers would get the land east of the Fieldhouse, now used for parking, for $1 a year for forty years, and 240 additional parking spots in the Virginia Street parking garage for free.

Meanwhile, the 2014 Pacers agreement with the CIB only has the team guaranteed to stay in town for 10 years (9 more at this point).

Milz' report includes what appears to be a handout from CIB meeting this afternoon, sketching out the rough terms of the deal.

If the Pacers leave town before the 40 years are up, the CIB may purchase the training facility building for a preset price, or the then-operable market price, whichever is greater.

My first question is, why would the CIB give these terms to the Pacers for 40 years, but only extract a ten year commitment to keep the team?  Sounds like the Pacers are (oh gasp !) getting a better deal than Indy taxpayers once again.

I'll have to wait for the WCTY taping of the meeting to get logged into the archives to hear more.