Friday, August 28, 2009

MDC to Hold Public Hearing on Abatement for 450 E. Market

The Metropolitan Development Commission is slated to hold a public hearing this Wednesday, September 2, on the proposed abatement for 450 E. Market Street. You may recall that this abatement is the central feature in a complex deal between the City and TM Miller Enterprises to rehab the old Bank One Operations Building into apartments and retail. Through the deal the City would become owner of the parking garage just north of the block TM Miller Enterprises would get for free.

Even if all goes as hoped for with the planned development, there will be a net loss of property tax revenues reaching over $1 million in the first two and half years and a net loss of property tax revenues of $43,000 each year after. In addition, the Capital Improvement Board stands to lose $800,000 per year in revenue from the surface parking lots it owns on the old Market Square Arena site, if the City gets its wish that a variance to avoid paving those lots is denied an extension. It is unclear how profitable the parking garage can be without the surface lots closure, driving customers to the garage. More on how these number are calculated in a later blog entry.

See here for a description of the deal. The hearing would begin at 1:00 pm in the Public Assembly Room of the City-County Building.

City-County Council Meeting - August 31, 2009

The City-County Council meets this Monday night. In addition to the all important public hearing on the various budgets now working their way through Council Committees, there are two interesting Proposals to be voted on and several that seem interesting that will be introduced and assigned to a Committee for consideration.

Up for a vote again is Prop 237, that would limit solicitation at intersections. This Proposal, sponsored by Councillor McQuillen, has been before the Council two other times.

Also up for a vote is Prop 292, that would reduce the pay of Township Assessors to the lowest allowed by State law. This Proposal was sponsored by Councillors Lutz, Mansfield, and McQuillen.

To be introduced on Monday are the following that struck me as interesting.

Prop 332 -- sponsored by Councillor Cockrum -- would join with the County Auditor and Treasurer in recommending that the Department of Local Government Finance allow property owners with a homestead deduction to pay their property taxes over more than two payments, beginning with the taxes coming due this year. -- referred to the Administration & Finance Committee which next meets on Tuesday night, but this Proposal is not listed on the public notice for that night.

Prop 337 -- sponsored by Councillor McQuillen -- would allow the Library to refinance three series of outstanding bonds which have an aggregate outstanding balance of $43,605,000 with a new bond issue totalling $48,000,000. No exact savings are mentioned in the Proposal text, but it does seem to suggest that the interest rate can be no more than 6% and it must be at least 3% lower than the rate on the current bonds. -- referred to the Municipal Corporations Committee which next meets on Thursday night, but this Proposal is not listed on the public notice for that night.

Prop 344 -- sponsored by Councillors Adams and Hunter -- approves two amendments to the agreement between DPW and United Water for the operation and maintenance of the wastewater treatment facilities and the wastewater and stormwater collection facilities. These amendments were approved by the Public Works Board in December, 2008, and February, 2009, and seem to have something to do with insurance and vehicles. The language is a bit indeterminate and I'll leave you to peruse the Proposal for yourself. -- referred to the Public Works Committee which next meets on September 17.

Budget Hearings - This Week Includes Full Council

The budget hearings include a public hearing by the full City-County Council this week.

Monday -- August 31 -- 7:00 pm -- Public Assembly Room -- full Council public hearing on all budgets, including those not yet heard by committees -- this will not be the meeting where a vote will be taken, but it is your chance to speak to the entire Council about any budget item that interests you

Tuesday -- September 1 -- 5:30 pm -- room 260 -- budgets for County Administrator, County Treasurer, County Commissioners, County Auditor, and Bond Bank and Debt Obligations

Wednesday -- September 2 -- 5:30 pm -- room 260 -- budgets for IMPD and IFD

Thursday -- September 3 -- 5:30 pm -- room 260 -- budgets for Capital Improvement Board and Airport Authority

Monday, August 24, 2009

Budget Hearings for This Week

Here is the schedule of budgets up for review this week:

Monday, August 24 -- 5:30 pm -- room 118 -- Department of Code Enforcement

Tuesday, August 25 -- 5:30 pm -- room 260 -- Information Services Agency/CIO's Office, County Assessor, Telecom & Video Services Agency, Building Authority

Tuesday, August 25 -- 5:30 pm -- room 118 -- Indianapolis Public Transportation Corporation (IndyGo), Indianapolis Marion County Public Library Board, Health & Hospital Corporation

Wednesday, August 26 -- 5:30 pm -- room 260 -- Marion County Public Defender's Agency, Department of Public Safety (excluding IMPD & IFD), Office of the Director, Emergency Management, Animal Care & Control Division

Friday, August 21, 2009

Notes on the Budget Hearings - August 20

Just some stuff I thought was interesting and not a list of the important issues discussed.

Last night the budget hearing for the Department of Public Works was on the agenda. The committee was chaired by Councillor Ben Hunter. The meeting went on an hour and forty-five minutes before it was time for public comments. Three of us spoke. Before the 2nd member of the public commented, Hunter noted that he should be aware a 'few of us up here have a commitment at 8:00'. I was the third speaker. Now, I have no problem with the length of time allotted for public comments, and I was actually done with mine when Hunter abruptly thanked me and Dave Sherman, head of DPW, as a way to cut us off.

Now, silly me, I just thought they were working so hard they actually had another meeting to attend yet last night. Until, that is, I saw the traffic backed up on I-70 at the Lucas Oil Stadium exit. Guess what started at 8:00 ? That's right, the Colts game. It must have been Council appreciation night. Hope they enjoyed the free tickets and the great seats and the swell food all paid for by the overly generous taxpayers.

[edited on August 24, 2009, to add: I received a private email from Councillor Hunter who explained that, although he did attend the Colts game, his reference to a 'few of us up here have a commitment at 8:00' did not include any other Councillors attending the game, rather they had different personal commitments. He specifically named Councillors Speedy and Adams as having the personal commitments to which he was referring, and he noted that he did not know of any other Councillor from his Committee that attended the game that night. The issue of free tickets to sporting events, especially in this time of CIB bailouts, is a particularly hot one. I was too overly broad in my assumption connecting Hunter's comment and the fact that the game began at 8:00. I'll be keeping this episode in mind for some time as I review my blog entries for assumptions vs. verifiable facts.]

Notes on the Budget Hearings - August 19

Again - not a list of the important items, just what struck me as interesting.

This one should be subtitled: Down the rabbit hole with Alice. Bizarre, odd, unnerving, curious, weird, and absurd.

After a long evening of budget hearings, the last one, for the Marion County Sheriff's Department, began. Rolled through the presentation and Council questions okay enough. Then it was public comment time. I rose and spoke first. Then, Paul Ogden, identifying himself as an attorney, began to comment on some of the numbers that were stated during Sheriff's Department presentation and also the practice of assigning violent offenders to Jail II in contradiction of the terms of the use of Jail II for non-violent offenders only. This is something Ogden has blogged about just recently -- see here. He later also commented on a contract for inmate phone service between the company providing the service and the Sheriff's Department - the money going into the Commissary Fund, which oddly enough, is not reviewed as part of the Sheriff's Department budget, even though money comes and goes into this Fund from service provided by the Sheriff and to expenses paid by the Sheriff.

Here's how things appeared from my seat in the very back of the room. A fellow in a suit moved to just ahead of the side door to the room, a move common when a person does not want to be missed by the Chairman of the Committee as desiring to speak. Good, I thought. More people giving input. I like it. After a moment, the fellow moved forward to about three feet behind Ogden. Again, not uncommon when the person in line wants to be sure they are seen by the Chairman who this night was Ryan Vaughn. After Ogden's first couple of points were made, this fellow was asked to answer for the Sheriff. He identified himself as Kevin Murray, also a lawyer. He moved very, very close to Ogden. Within inches. It was so close that it was, in animal behavior terms, a threatening distance. Several times he tried to stop Ogden from continuing his comments. He hovered just behind/beside Ogden while there was a second microphone just on the other side of where Sheriff Anderson was seated. A person who tries to bring forward information during public comment time should not be dogged like this fellow dogged Ogden.

see here for Ogden's recap of that night's events

see here for the Channel 16 archive of the hearing -- click on "Public Safety & Criminal Justice, Part 2 of 2 --- Aug 19, 2009" and forward the video to about time stamp 11:30

Take a look at the video and come to your own conclusions. But, for my money, when a member of the public believes that there are things happening in a City or County Department that ought not be happening, they have every right to bring it up when the Council is considering allowing the Department to spend more taxpayer money. And a lawyer for that Department should not be allowed to stand so close or interrupt the speaker as was allowed that night.

Notes on the Budget Hearings - August 18

Again, not a list of the important issues discussed, just what caught my attention otherwise.

Administration and Financing committee was up again on the 18th.

Not on the notice of the meeting was Prop. 292 regarding the pay for Township Administrators, but that did not stop Councillor Pfisterer, who Chaired the committee, from bringing it to a vote nonetheless. The idea that the public might actually look at the published agendas that also serve as the legal notice of the meeting seemed to escape the logic of those who wanted to hear the Proposal again, right then. Only one person spoke to the Proposal itself, and that was Wayne Township Assessor, Mike McCormick. I spoke to the lack of proper notice and the public's ability to have input when it does not realize an item is back on the agenda for discussion and vote. Also related, the cc: list at the bottom of the Committee agenda did not list the Township Assessors as a courtesy, even though they are duly elected officials who otherwise would have received that courtesy.

During the public comment discussion by the Marion County Recorder, Julie Voorhies, it was mentioned that the Recorder's website has a link for property owners to sign up for email notice should any document be submitted for recording regarding their address. This is part of the effort Voorhies has put into fighting those who would try to commit the fraud of pretending to have purchased a property in order to obtain mortgage loans tapping the equity of that property. Here's the link so you can get notice for any activity on your home -- They are also working on a twitter notification system, but it is not yet up and running.

Notes From the Budget Hearing -- August 17

I'm only a little behind with my notes on things other than important issues arising from the budget hearings. (I'll speak to the important stuff in a later entry.)

Monday night was the Metropolitan Development Committee hearing night.

This committee was chaired by Kent Smith, one of the At-Large Councillors. Councillor Smith opened with a gracious welcome of the public to the budget process and mention of how valued public comment is with the committee and the Council in general.

First on the agenda was Prop. 323, which would sign the Council on as supporters of an abatement for Rexnord Industries. This proposal was introduced by Stephanie Quick of DMD and endorsed by Councillor Lutz, in whose District the project lies. Motion made. Second. Vote do-pass unanimously. Oops. Forgot to ask for that all important and valued public comment. Now, I found it humorous. My guess is that Councillor Smith is just new to chairing meetings and he usually doesn't have any public at any of his meetings. But, he did make a show of announcing the value the Council places on public input and then he didn't think twice about calling for it.

Moving on to the budget hearing for DMD. Maury Plambeck presenting, Councillors asking questions. Do I hear a motion to adjourn? Forgot to ask for that all important public comment yet again. Maybe next meeting Councillor Smith will remember.

Notes From Budget Hearings - August 13

A reminder once again, that this is not a list of the important issues discussed at the Parks budget hearing. Rather these are some asides that I found interesting.

For consideration that night, in addition to the budget, was Prop. 293, authored by Councillor Coleman, the lone Libertarian on the Council. The Proposal originally would direct "the Director and Board of Parks and Recreation to consider the sale of city golf courses", but was changed by Coleman at the hearing to propose a feasibility study of the value of the properties which would be completed by February 1, 2010. Lone he was when he came into the room. And, lone he was when he left after no public testimony was taken and the Proposal was tabled to a time uncertain, although hell freezing over might be a rough estimate.

Also of interest was that notice of this meeting erroneously stated 5:30 pm as the start time, a half hour late. Those who double checked the time with a phone call arrived on time. Several stragglers, came in for the 5:30 meeting. Presumably they were mostly interested in speaking to Prop. 293, as they left when Councillor Gray mention it had already been discussed and tabled. I don't know what the Committee would have done, but the notice error, had it been called out by a member of the public, could have legally caused a delay in the meeting, as proper notice is required 48 hours in advance of any Committee or Council meeting.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Budget Hearing Schedule - Week 2

Here are the budgets that will be reviewed this week. Please note that there are two committees meeting simultaneously on Monday (tonight) night.

Monday -- 5:30 -- room 118 -- Noble of Indiana, Marion County Fair Board, Regional Health & Mental Health Centers, Marion County Cooperative Extension Service -- if you are looking for the Guardian Home budget, this is the place it would have been if it hadn't been zeroed out.

Monday -- 5:30 -- room 260 -- Department of Metropolitan Development

Tuesday -- 5:30 -- room 260 -- Office of Mayor, Office of Corporate Counsel (City Legal), Election Board, Voter Registration, County Recorder, County Surveyor

Wednesday -- 5:30 -- room 260 -- Marion County Prosecutor and Child Support Division, Circuit & Superior Court, County Clerk, Marion County Sheriff

Thursday -- 5:30 -- room 260 -- Department of Public Works

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Notes from the budget hearings - August 12

Here's what piqued my interest in last night's budget hearings. Again, this is not a list of the important things discussed.

Under the proposed budget for 2010, City Controller David Reynolds has proposed depositing $16M in the City's rainy day fund. If I heard right, this $16M is from County Option Income Tax revenues. Councillor Bob Cockrum inquired about the rules governing on what the rainy day funds could be spent. In particular he wanted to know if that $16M could be taken from the rainy day fund to be spent on a 'municipal corporation'. The Capital Improvement Board is a municipal corporation.

Notes from the budget hearings - August 11

Here's what I found interesting on Tuesday night at the Administration and Finance committee hearing. This isn't a complete description of the important things discussed, just some 'outliers' that piqued my interest.

Besides the budget hearings for that night, there was consideration of Prop. 292, which would reduce the Township Assessor salaries back to the levels they had in 1980. As you recall, the Township Assessor positions were eliminated last year - Decatur's by State Legislative fiat, and the remaining 8 by referendum. The State Legislature had called out Marion County's Township Assessors to be paid a salary until their term of office was up. But, the Council was given the authority to drop the salaries back to the 1980 levels. Evidently this came up last year, introduced by Councillor Vaughn. The 1980 salaries varied by Township from $19,470 to $27,500. So, in fairness, the Council compromised and made all the salaries $27,500. The proposal was reintroduced this year as Prop. 292 by Councillor Lutz, to drop all to their 1980 levels despite the differences. The committee considered a motion to table - that failed. They considered a motion to amend to raise the County Assessor salary to that of County Treasurer and Auditor - that failed. And, finally, the motion to move Prop. 292 to the full Council with a do-pass recommendation - failed for lack of a majority. It stays in committee and will be considered again in the future.

From the discussions for the Council office budget, there was this nugget. They are looking forward to redistricting, which is done after every US Census to ensure about equal population Council districts. This can be the genesis of gerrymandered safe districts unless the Courts intercede like they did in the early 2000's. The cost of the redistricting is to be spread over the 2010 and 2011 budgets. The hit for 2010 is estimated at $270,000 with an equal amount expected to be requested in the following budget. I smell pork. But, maybe its just the State Fair.

Heads Down - Break's Over

There's an old joke that I won't be able to tell well. Something about some bad guy going to Hell and the Devil gives him three choices of 'rooms' in which he can spend eternity. One is your typical vision of hell - fire and brimstone; screaming and suffering. The next is different, but of equal torment. The third room is full of feces with the eternal sufferers wading about waist deep. Stinks to high heaven, so to speak. So, the bad fellow decides this is the room for him. Just as he climbs in, a voice come over the loudspeaker - "Okay folks. Heads down. The break is over."

Just Monday night the City-County Council voted 15-14 for what they called a two year bandaid for the Capital Improvement Board.

This morning - maybe 2 and a half days later - the Star runs a piece about the CIB needing MORE MONEY ! The 'end times for downtown' campaign was so successful, they have extended its run.

Heads down Indy. Break's over.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Getting By On Only $65 Million More

Wow !! I was all prepared for a tight budget for 2010, what with the tax caps coming on and the City needing to pare something like $30M from its budget due to those caps. I listened to Mayor Ballard's budget introduction last night and heard about some federal stimulus dollars; not bad to soften the blow, I thought. I jotted a note that the Assessor consolidation would 'save' $2M - they promised $3M and I'd still like to see that $3M - but for 2010 I can live with $2M. I heard about salary freezes for all but union negotiated contracts and about 300 employees who make below poverty wages. I make a note to look up the poverty level so I have a better picture. But, nonetheless, that seemed commendable, given the tight, perhaps bleak budget picture. The Mayor spoke of having to bridge a $40M shortfall as the tax caps came online. Tough job. I'm beginning to think an 'attaboy' is in order.

Imagine my surprise just a while ago, when looking over the budget numbers in preparation for tonight's first budget hearings, I see that 2010 revenues are expected to exceed those for 2009 by a whopping $65 Million. Wow !! You can bridge a lot of gaps with an additional $65 Million. In all fairness, $24 Million of that is additional money from the State and the Feds. Still, its not like the City is sliding toward catastrophe because of the property tax caps.

Here's how the revenue numbers look - rounding to the nearest million dollars:

City/County Revenues2009 Projected
2010 Introduced
Licenses & Permits1114
Charges for Services196220
State & Federal Grants and Taxes254278
Sale and Lease of Property21
Fees for Services108
Fines & Penalties57
Misc. & Interest2219
Debt Service Subsidies22
Other Financing & Transfers10
Trust & Agency Receipts60

Even with the property tax caps coming in full force for 2010, total tax revenues increased by $27M. So, considering the stated $30M shortfall due to the caps, the remaining tax revenues must have soared by a stunning $57M. Even with all the name calling and denunciations going on, former Mayor Peterson's tax increase continues to save Mayor Ballard's bacon. The claim of having to bridge a $40 M shortfall due to the property tax caps is pretty clearly hyperbole and not the whole story.

The 'End Times for Downtown' Ad Campaign Scores

It was nip and tuck last night, but in the end, the 'End Times for Downtown' campaign waged by Mayor Greg Ballard, CIB President Bob Grand, and Council President Bob Cockrum, won 15-14.

Voting aye on Prop. 285 to raise the hotel tax, increase the Professional Sports Development Area, and accept a $27 M loan from the State with no plan on how to repay same, were:

Jackie Nytes -- D
Virginia Cain -- R
Jeff Cardwell -- R
Bob Cockrum -- R
Susie Day -- R
Ben Hunter -- R
Bob Lutz -- R
Barbara Malone -- R
Janice McHenry -- R
Mike McQuillen -- R
Marilyn Pfisterer -- R
Lincoln Plowman -- R
Kent Smith -- R
Mike Speedy -- R
Ryan Vaughn -- R

In an ungainly hand-off to the next sitting Council and the next sitting Mayor, this Council action will necessitate the 2013 increase in two less popular taxes; car rental and admissions taxes.

Meanwhile, Councillor Nytes' Prop. 331, which creates a 5-member panel to promote even more money for the CIB bailout to come from the donut Counties, passed unanimously. Nytes said the aim was to find a permanent solution, even though there will be no study of what the real problems with the CIB have been. This was no game changer.

Councillor Lutz began a front court press for more money to go to the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association, even though that was supposedly taken off the table as part of the game plan.

The Public continues to pay the price of admission, only to be relegated to the cheap seats.

All sports dynasties come to an end. But, the one led by the CIB gains more and more tax money every year and has receives no critical review for job performance. When it fails, the claim is made that it is only because the taxpayers were not generous enough, not because the whole thing is a Ponzi scheme that has gotten out of hand. The action last night was as shameless as the Pacers charging the stands to beat up a spectator a few years ago.

Bad sports metaphors aside, the citizens of Indianapolis deserve a plan to make downtown self sufficient and to reset priorities that make downtown work for the whole County, not continue the practice of the whole County working for downtown.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Council Meeting Chock Full Tonight

Tonight's City-County Council meeting will be an interesting one. Click here for the agenda.

For consideration by the Council acting as a committee of the whole are two new proposals.

Prop 309 -- by Councillor Bob Cockrum -- calls a meeting of the Marion County Income Tax Council for August 25 at 5:00 pm in Room 260 of the City-County Building to discuss whether the tax rate should be adjusted.

Prop 331 -- by Councillor Jackie Nytes -- creates a council task force to research and develop a long-term regional solution to the funding of the Capital Improvement Board (CIB) of Managers and its related entities -- the task force would have two Democrat and two Republican Council members and one appointee of the Mayor and would represent the Council at the General Assembly and before the contiguous Counties on matters related to a long term financial solution to CIB funding.

Coming before the Council once again is Councillor McQuillen's Prop 237, banning solicitation at intersections.

Two biggies tonight -- Mayor Greg Ballard will introduce his 2010 City-County budget and the full Council will vote on Prop 285, which increases the hotel tax by 1%, accepts a $27M loan from the State, and expands the Professional Sports Development Area to capture an additional $8M a year, all proceeds to go to the operating budget of the CIB.

Proposals to be introduced tonight include:

Prop 292 , authored by Councillors Lutz, Mansfield and McQuillen, that would reduce the Township Assessor salaries from $27,500 per year to $19,470 for Decatur, Franklin, and Pike -- $23,364 for Lawrence and Perry -- $25,960 for Warren, Washington, and Wayne -- while Center Township Assessor gets the full $27,500. WOW !!!

Prop 293, authored by Councillor Coleman, that would direct the Director and Board of Indy Parks to consider selling all golf courses owned by the City.

Prop 303, also authored by Councillor Coleman, that would require the internet posting of all contracts with any unit or board of the City or County government, or any municipal corporation, within 7 days of the execution of the contract - with a search feature for accessibility.

Prop 310, authored by Councillor Cockrum, that would direct the Council's votes on the Marion County Income Tax Council to increase the County homestead credit from 8% to 8.0086% and keep the county option income tax rate at 1%, keep the additional county option income tax at 0.27%, keep the public safety income tax rate at 0.35% -- choosing not to reduce those taxes.

Introduction of the various budget ordinances. I have posted links to the proposed budget ordinances for the municipal corporations in a side bar, and will add the City-County budget data and ordinance once those links are made live on the City's website.

Budget Hearings Begin

Tonight begins the annual City-County budget process, with the introduction by Mayor Ballard of his budget to the Council. Hearings will be held by all committees of the Council for 6 weeks, followed by a vote by the full Council in late September.

The hearing schedule for the week is as follows:

5:30 pm -- Tuesday, August 11 -- Room 260 --
2010 Budget Introduction by David Reynolds, Controller, City of Indianapolis
Budget discussions for Office of the Mayor, Office of Internal Audit, Office of Finance and Management, and Office of Corporation Counsel

5:30 pm -- Wednesday, August 12 -- Room 260 --
Budget discussions for County Coroner, Forensic Services Agency, Community Corrections, and Metropolitan Emergency Communications Agency

5:00 pm -- Thursday, August 13 -- Room 260 --
Budget discussions for Department of Parks and Recreation

I will post links to the budget data in a sidebar once it is up on the City's website.