Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Time For A Free-For-All

I'm battling a cold right now and in a bit of a fog, so best I don't prove it with a blog entry.

But, if there is something you want to talk about - here's your chance.  The silly season of the election?  Budget pros and cons?  Georgia Street name or costs?  Have at it.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Comlux Hasn't Paid Property Taxes In 2011 Yet - Oopsie !

Now, if you or I didn't pay our property taxes, we'd be sweating each time the phone rang.  Hell, they got Capone on taxes.

But, if you are are a business in Indy and can make the right connections, the city will toss you a $6.5 million loan with the possibility that half a million of it will be forgiven if you manage to meet certain job creation targets. 

That's what happened with Comlux America, LLC, who will use the loan to help build itself a new, bigger, hangar on airport property.  The Airport also has a deal to acquire the hangar once it is built and lease it back to Comlux.  It apparently meant little that Comlux America, LLC, had not filed its required Form 103/104 to report its Business Personal Property (due by May 15, 2010) until after the May, 2011, property taxes were usually due.  Because of the late filing, the property taxes on the personal property are now due in November.  Presumably with a penalty added on.  Hopefully with a penalty added on.  As of today, the taxes remain unpaid.

As with all businesses that locate on airport property, they get a pass on real estate property taxes.  So, one might think that the City would at least require such a company getting a loan secured with TIF district proceeds to be current in the taxes it does owe.  Guess there really aren't any sort of minimal standards and there seems to be little due diligence on the part of the Ballard administration when it comes to handing out our money.  I am given to understand that at least some people knew of the unpaid taxes during the process to approve the deal.

The MDC voted in favor of the deal on December 5, 2010 (There are 9 voting members, but I do not have the exact vote).

The Economic Development Commission voted in favor of the deal on June 8, 2011 (There are 5 voting members, but I do not have the exact vote).

On July 13, the Economic Development Committee of the Council voted 5-0 in favor of the deal.  I even showed up to voice opposition to the use of TIF funds, but it never crossed my mind that they were behind in filing their business personal tax form, much less late in paying the taxes that would be due had the form been timely filed.

On July 15, the Indianapolis International Airport Board voted 6-0 to delegate authority to the Executive Director to approve the deal.

On July 18, the City-County Council voted in favor of this proposal (Prop 190, 2011) by a vote of 25 yes, 2 no (Councillors Ed Coleman and Brian Mahern), and 2 not voting (Councillors Doris Minton McNeil and Joanne Sanders).  While the minutes of this meeting suggest a somewhat extended discussion of the Proposal, nobody stopped to ask if the company was current with its tax filings.

That's a lot of people to get through.  Maybe it should become a standard question in the future, so that the overarching interests of the public are served.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sheriff's Budget Discussion - A Fine Example Of Open Government

I continue to slog through all of the budget numbers, and along with that, I have limited time to post on the blog.  Time constraints aside, I did not want my comment on the best budget hearing I've attended so far to go unmade.  So, here it is.

Last week I attended the public safety committee hearing on the Sheriff's budget.  There was a very good exchange of ideas and concerns aired, primarily between Sheriff John Layton, committee Chairman Ben Hunter, and Council President Ryan Vaughn - although others contributed as well.

Now there is no way I am privy to what gets discussed and wheeled and dealed behind closed doors.  This, though, was some of that but out in full public view - and it was reassuring as to the caliber of discussions that should be taking place as this difficult budget moves forward.

Sheriff Layton expressed his concerns that his department is falling further and further behind with, as he put it, unfunded mandates.  His tally was about $21 m to catch up; a number that included $1.5 m to fully fund the required pension payment.

Councillor Vaughn promised that the pension payment funding would get included into the budget before final passage by the Council.

The remaining exchanges involved ideas on how to trim back the deficit for the Sheriff and where additional funds might be found.  I should point out that all were not in agreement on the actual figure assigned to the Sheriff's deficit.  But, the discussion was civil, respectful, thoughtful, and rigorous.  All sides were listening and responding not to any politics, but to what was actually said.

It was a good night.  Real problems were outlined.  Real solutions were thrown onto the table.  The people's business was conducted in the open air for all to see.  And, that business was conducted in an elevated manner befitting our community.

I'm not trying to be patronizing here, but --  good job Sheriff Layton, Councillor Hunter, and Councillor Vaughn.  It was a fine demonstration to this citizen, that the people's business can be done well and in full view of the public.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Riveting Reading - Advance Indiana Reports From Plowman Trial

If there is a prize for excellence in reporting on blogs, I want to nominate Gary Welsh over at Advance Indiana for his riveting reportage on the Lincoln Plowman trial.

At this point, Welsh has a report for each of the two first days.  Day 1 ("Prosecutors Say Plowman Claimed He Controlled All Zoning Boards In Marion County")   Day 2 ("Plowman Trial Evidence Shows the Sleazy Side of Indianapolis Zoning")

I highly recommend you read them in their entirety.

As everyone knows, former City-County Councillor Lincoln Plowman is on trial for accepting money in return for helping land proper zoning for a strip club.  An undercover FBI agent was posing as the guy who wanted to open up the club.

The case is opening up a view from the inside of the Boards of Zoning Appeals and the Metropolitan Development Commission that I have never seen in the 15 or more years I have worked for my neighborhood group in zoning and variance matters.  It is the seedy side long suspected, though.

Plowman instructs the FBI agent on what is called 'board shopping'.  Variance petitions are assigned randomly to one of the three Boards of Zoning Appeals - specifically to derail board shopping.  But, you never know why a transfer to another Board is really being requested.  Here's this part of Welsh's report [note that references to "Cam" are to Cameron Clarke, who used to be a local zoning attorney, and who was recommended to the FBI agent by Plowman as a good choice for hire in the strip club matter]:
The agent worries that he's going to be spending a lot of money and wants some assurance the zoning matter will be taken care of. "Well, all the Zoning Boards are changing at the first of the year," Plowman said. "But you're going to know somebody?", the agent asked. "Oh yeah," Plowman reassured him. Plowman then said he would focus on just one of the three zoning boards and will "make sure that Cam gets it on that Board." Here's how Plowman explained it would work:
You know, for example, if--uh, there's three zoning boards. Say our friends are on board two--and, and , and your case gets assigned to board one, we need to clue Cam--now, first of all, even though we may have friends on board, zone board two, doesn't mean it'll be a sure thing. But, better. So, if he gets assigned to board one, he'll just say, you, I'm unable to make that day on board one, is there, can we go to board two?
Plowman explains to him that there are five members who sit on each board and three votes will be needed for a favorable zoning decision. "If I've got a couple of my buddies up there, or even if I don't, you know, a month, or a month or two before the--we know we're going to--you know, we'll know, there's going to be a timeline," Plowman explained. "So, a month or two before we go, I'll take one, I'll take them out to dinner, one at a time." The agent wonders if a dinner is going to do the trick. Plowman says it will help to have people testify in favor of the zoning request as well. The agent asks if Plowman's friend Jason Gaines will be able to help out. Plowman explained that Jason, who was sitting on the MDC, would likely be leaving the board at the end of the year because of how much time it consumed, even though "he likes the limelight" of serving on the MDC. The MDC would only hear the case if a re-zoning was required as opposed to a variance, in which case one of the zoning boards would hear the case Plowman explained.
Public trust is a fragile thing.  Public trust in zoning and variance matters is going to take a hit with the revelations coming out of the Plowman trial.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Nepotism In Decatur Schools

I have posted the beginning of a much longer list of family members of School Board members and administrators who are employed in the Decatur School district.  The list is in the text box on the top left of the blog page.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Robbing The Downtown TIF - How Will The Feds Feel About It?

Plans are to rob $38.5 million from the consolidated downtown TIF district, in order to make ends meet for the City in 2012 (see earlier blog entry "Oy Vey! They Are Robbing The Downtown TIF District - AGAIN !").  More details came out during a Council committee meeting week before last.

Turns out that they are not only eyeballing the $38.5 m this year, but have gone to the trouble to determine that another $20 m should be 'available' for the taking in 2013.

The mechanism for extracting the money from the TIF is simple - they just tell the MDC, "by the way, we didn't tell you at the time, but all that roadwork we have been doing downtown, well, it was just a loan to you.  So, give us the money.  We'll figure out how many years we've been loaning you money right after we figure out how much money we need."

If standing the TIF laws on their head isn't enough fun, maybe the powers that be on the 25th floor can rattle the State and Feds up with some details of their loan deal with the MDC.  By that I refer to this administration's intention to declare they are owed not only the City money that was contributed to road projects, but is actually owed the money contributed by the State of Indiana and by the Federal Government through transportation dollars or stimulus money, as well.  Now, I'm not a lawyer, but it sounds like the City is content to launder Federal and State matching dollars for transportation infrastructure projects and turn it into operating dollars.

Wonder how the State and Feds will feel about that?  I sure hope somebody in the Ballard administration thought to ask that question.  Just so one or both don't come knocking at our door in a year or two, wanting all of that money back.

Friday, September 2, 2011

IMPD Budget Shows 5% Cut

The introduced 2012 budget is curious in many ways.  Some of the anomalies will surface in this blog entry.  The topic for this morning is the fact that the 2012 IMPD budget is 95% of the 2011 budget - and why I care and why I don't care.

Why I care is easy - Because Mayor Ballard, in his introduction of the budget to the Council, said

The 2012 budget proposal reflects my commitment to public safety. I’ve proposed flat line spending for all public safety and criminal justice agencies, which together consume 85 percent of the 2012 general fund budget.
This is Mayor Ballard's fourth budget, and the fourth time that the facts did not support what he told the public and the press.  I care because I believe that the public has a right to know the truth at all times.

Why I don't care about the 5% decrease is more involved in how IMPD has approached budgeting in the past and what that likely means for the introduced budget.

Lets start with the 2012 budget for IMPD that is under consideration by the Council.  It calls for a total of $192 million.  For the current 2011 budget, IMPD got $199 million, plus it was just appropriated an additional $2.7 million through Prop 171 (see "The Public's Right To Know - Dragging The Super Bowl Expenditures Out Into The Open"), for a grand total of $202 million.

So, simple math -- the difference between the current 2011 budget and the proposed 2012 budget amounts to a 5% cut.

I must stop here to mention one of the 'anomolies' that I alluded to.  That is the use of placeholders to represent budget cuts that have been demanded by the Controller, but the Departments have not yet decided exactly where to fit into the line items.  This was the case for the Parks budget, with a -$1 million line item.  It was the case for the Superior Courts, with a more modest -$21,000 line item.

For the IMPD budget there is actually a -$4 million placeholder that has not been distributed into the various line items.  Will it go into salaries, supplies, third party contracts?  At this moment, nobody in the public can really know.  We'll have to wait until September 21, when they will hand out changes in the line item budgets just before the Public Safety Committee meeting starts.  And then we have to hope that, unlike Parks and the Superior Courts, officials have actually made the decision on where to allocate the cuts.

There is another interesting line item that I just don't know how to interpret.  That is the line item for 'lease and rental of equipment'.  The 2010 actual spend on this line was $2.4 m, the 2011 adopted budget for this line was $8.5 m, but the 2012 introduced budget for this line is -$733,287.  Curious.

And last on my 'anomalies' list, there is no footprint in the introduced IMPD budget of any portion of the $4.2 m 'donation' from the CIB to cover super bowl expenses.  The overtime line item actually drops from $7.2 m to $6.5 m.

So why don't I care that the IMPD budget is being cut by 5%?

First, this is the second Ballard budget where revenue drops, and the first where real cuts of significant amounts must be made.  I mention in my last post (see "Is The Sale Of City Assets The Real Reason For This Year's Budget Chrunch [sic]?"), that the drop in tax revenues is relatively modest and handled by the 6% reduction requested of all non-public safety departments.  The real hit to the budget appears to be another $50 million, and stem from the sale of the sewer utility and the parking meters.  So, even though I disagreed with those sales, they still must be dealt with in this and future budgets.  In my opinion, that means that we must make cuts in all departments and not spare some, especially those with the largest dollar appropriations and therefore the most wiggle room.

Second is the apparent practice of IMPD to pad its budgets significantly.  If you look back through the last few years' budgets you find this:

2009 budget
In 2008, a budget for 2009 was adopted for a total of $222 million
In 2009, while the next year's budget was introduced, the projected spend for IMPD in 2009 was noted as $192 million
In 2010, the actual 2009 spend was reported as $187 million - a full 15.8% less than the adopted amount

2010 budget
In 2009, a budget for 2010 was adopted for a total of $210 million
In 2010, while the next year's budget was introduced, the projected spend for IMPD in 2010 was noted as $208 million
In 2011, the actual 2010 spend was reported as $196 million - a more modest 6.7% less than the adopted amount

The third reason is the Hummer I saw parked near City Hall one day with IMPD logos on it and an additional decal thanking the crooks for the car.  I assume it was forfeited as property obtained through drug trafficking.  But, come on boys (and girls).  Did you HAVE to keep the Hummer, or did you just want to drive around in it?  These are tough times and all of our public servants should abandon ostentatious and unnecessary displays of opulence.  I know this is a petty reason on my part.  But, keeping that car and trying to justify it on the car itself was petty on the part of whoever made that decision.

With these large budgets, a million is less than a percent.  But, it is real money that can be used elsewhere and not tied up in a game of pad the budget.

We'll have to wait for the updated line item expenditures to see where IMPD officials allocate the $4 million in budget cuts, over and above the nearly $6 million cut already distributed among line items, to be sure where the fallout will be felt.  At that time we can all decide what we think is fair and prudent cuts for IMPD in a particularly bad year for the budget.