Friday, March 30, 2012

TIF Study Commission Off To Rollicking Good Start

You simply must wonder what wrong turn your life took when you find yourself energized by the geeky, wonky, TIF-er-ific lecture/discussion that happened at last night's opening TIF Study Commission meeting.  That is the situation I find myself in this morning.

WCTY, our government channel was present, capturing it all for your viewing pleasure.  As of this moment, it has not been posted, but I'll post a link as soon as I see it go up. [Edited to add link to the March 27 meeting - click here]

The TIF Study Commission falls out of City-County Council Prop 70, which set its composition and broad agenda.  On the panel are Councillor Ryan Vaughn, Controller Jeff Spaulding, Councillors Steve Talley and Brian Mahern, Auditor Billie Breaux, Bond Bank Executive Director Deron Kintner, MDC President Ed Mahern, and State Senator Bill Crawford.  Kintner was absent last night and sent a 'proxy', but I am afraid I did not get her name.

Missing last night was the taxpayer perspective, which left me squirming in my seat and my head flooded with my own internal comments.

Much information was thrown out there.  Bruce Donaldson, Attorney with Barnes & Thornburg, gave a overview of what the law allows TIF to be set up for and how TIF funds can be spent as well as the process whereby a TIF district is legally established.  Deputy Mayor Michael Huber was up next, going through the TIF philosophy of the Ballard administration.  Jeff Spaulding joined in for more of the administration's perspective on why use a TIF over other means of economic development.  Taking up the rear and pretty much rushed due to the late hour, was the Director of the Department of Metropolitan Development, Maury Plambeck.  Plambeck went through examples of the variety of TIF districts we have in Indy.

More detail is assured for future meetings.  So, let your geek flag fly !

Here are some of my observations from the cheap seats.

Billie Breaux brought up one of the great points last night - since you can create TIF districts to help spark redevelopment or for general economic development - why do we seem to be doing mostly the latter?  This really struck me as pertinent.  There is evidence that using TIF for economic development only moves economic development from where it would occur organically, to a location of the government's choosing and profits a developer of the government's choosing.  It does not accomplish much more.  But, trying to turn around a truly blighted area, is a different matter.  We can identify and prioritize, if you will, the areas most in need of a catalyst to improve a blighted area.  For the rest, we all want development in our neighborhoods, and prioritizing is more open to political interpretation.

I mentioned it earlier and it bears repeating, missing was the taxpayer perspective.  A number of platitudes were uttered last night that we have all heard before.  They are the 'promises' of TIF districts that do not necessarily come to fruition and for which TIFs are not necessarily the best approach. 

Spaulding mentioned "a rising tide lifts all boats" - that is true up to a point.  The never ending TIF district, however, has built around it an imaginary retaining wall - so the 'tide' cannot escape to outside areas to lift the 'boats' found there.  Huber opined that expanding the consolidated downtown TIF to nearby neighborhoods is way to share the wealth within that district.  I say, pay off the bonds, dissolve that TIF and let us all partake in the wealth.

On the same topic, Huber said that the development in a TIF would not have happened without the TIF, so it benefits all taxpayers.  While that is debatable on its face, by ending a TIF you would definitely help all taxpayers.  It might be a few dollars per taxpayer, but the aggregate it stunning.  The TIF districts in  Marion County take in over $100 million a year in property tax revenue.  If those TIF districts were retired, it would set off some critical dominoes.  First, the tax rates throughout the County would drop.  This makes Indy more attractive to homeowners and business owners alike.  It also means that fewer people hit the property tax caps.  When fewer people hit the tax caps, more money flows to the taxing units like the schools, the library, IndyGo, and the City.  When more money flows to the taxing units, more services or higher quality services can be provided.  This increases the quality of life in Indy, again improving the attraction of our city for people to live and work.  And, lets not overlook the impact on the taxpayers for those property tax savings.  For some, it means a better chance to keep their homes or business, and for others it is disposable money left in their pockets that can be spent on restaurants or new equipment or new cars, etc, etc, etc.  Retiring TIF districts can fulfill one of the promises made when the TIF was created - that it will benefit everyone.  When you do not retire the TIF, it only benefits those within the district, since the rest of us are footing the bill for the necessary public services that they still enjoy but do not pay for.

Mentioned by Donaldson was the idea that the tax revenue coming from a TIF district before day 1 of the district, will continue to flow to the schools and library, etc, after the TIF is formed.  This is called the 'base'.  He noted one readjustment as the tax caps were initiated that allowed a new calculation for the 'base' of our TIF districts, so that the new laws would not impede the City's ability to pay off existing bonds.  He did not mention that this readjustment is done annually.  I have blogged on the base and the annual calculations that the Auditor must submit before (see "TIF Districts - Who Knew The Base Could Drop?") .  From 2010 to 2011, these re-calculations caused $43 million in property value to be moved from the base, into the TIF revenue.  That was likely due to the drop in property values caused by the bursting housing bubble and recession.  But, if you look at the forms, there is no way that the value will be returned to the base once the recession is over.  The forms leave you with a choice - either stick with the same base as last year, or let it drop to recover more money to pay the bonds of the TIF district.

So, dear reader, if you've gotten this far, I thank you for your perseverance.  Its geeky, nerdy, wonkish stuff to be sure.  But, TIFs can be a promise for a better future, or a drain on the rest of us, or a slush fund, or all simultaneously.  As taxpayers, as citizens of a City we all want the best for, we owe it to ourselves to get at least ankle deep in the topic and lend our guidance to our elected officials as they try to navigate the best course for TIFs in Indianapolis.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

First meeting of TIF Study Commission is tonight

The first meeting of the TIF Study Commission is tonight, March 29.  The meeting should run from 7 to 8:30 pm.  It will be held in the Community Room (#101) of the Illinois Fall Creek (IFC) Building (50 West Fall Creek Parkway North Drive) on the Ivy Tech campus that is on the north side of Fall Creek and west of Meridian Street.  Parking is available behind (north of the building) in the parking lot off of Capitol and 26th Streets.
The agenda is on page 3 of the pdf found on the Council's website (click here)

Here is a Google map - the IFC building is just west of the "A" marker:

View Larger Map

Frank Straub - The Timex Public Safety Director

I admit I only saw part of last night's marathon Public Safety committee grilling of Director Frank Straub live last night and viewed about an hour of the public comments this morning.  Today's IndyStar piece by Jon Murray focuses less on the meeting than a new direction for policing in Indianapolis (see "Straub plan concentrates IMPD patrols in Indy's most troubled areas").

I continue to believe that Indy needs new direction for its police department, but I am outside of my knowledge base to fully understand if Straub is the right man for the job or not.  I suspect most citizens are in the same boat as I.  I also hear more backlash because Straub is an outsider than any other point of critique.  I continue to support an outsider to lead our public safety.

I remember every few months before Straub was appointed, some police officer or a couple, were arrested for corruption or accused of brutality.  That parade should have given pause to all of us who want their protection, not their abuse of power.  I suspect nearly every other city would have had an investigation to see just how extensive that corruption was.  We did not.  So, I was content with bringing in an 'outsider' who would not be involved in the cliques that always operate in any human endeavor.

The arrest of officers and misconduct of officers has slowed considerably.  The best practices from other parts of the US are being brought here to help make IMPD more effective.  And, isn't that what we want?

Straub has some demerits on furnishing his office when the money could be better spent, and most recently claiming a budget deficit so enormous that stations would have to go dark - a matter that now is said to be under control, instead - and he is involved in poor relationships with key community leaders both inside policing and outside. 

With all of this, isn't it curious that IFD, which has not been a focus for reform, has also avoided the friction that centers around Straub when IMPD is mentioned?

I know most public commentary will be against Straub.  But, I am going to go against the grain here and stick with him.  Not because Straub is perfect, but because he has brought about some changes in IMPD that we have needed. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Fox 59's Heather MacWilliams Carries Decatur's Story

Heather MacWilliams, Fox 59 reporter, did an excellent job reporting on the impacts of the Airport's un-American attempt to shut down a legal private business on private property.  She interviewed four of us yesterday; Bob Cockrum, Chip Pierson, Eldon Rasmussen, and me.  Click the hyperlink above to view the broadcast version and full text.

The Decatur Township Civic Council has taken a position in opposition to the Airport's lawsuit that seeks to overturn the MDC approval of the Fast Park project.  Three representatives of the Civic Council, Chip Pierson, Paul Fox, and I, attended Friday's Airport Board meeting to convey exactly why we took that position.  I was given 5 minutes to make our case.  MacWilliams was in attendence and followed up to hear more from our group.

Decatur has suffered from being a neighbor of the Airport all these years.  And, as Bob Cockrum put it, "Enough is enough".

All Americans should be concerned with the Airport's attempt to kill a legal business that customarily locates next to airports simply because it might cut into their profits and simply because they have deep pockets with which to accomplish a long drawn out and expensive legal battle.  Their role is to provide aviation infrastructure, period.  And it is abhorrently un-American, anti-capitalistic, and anti-economic development, for government to say what legal, upstanding business can and cannot be built on legally zoned private property.

As MacWilliams' reported:
Decatur Township residents are fighting a lawsuit the Indianapolis International Airport has filed to block a privately owned parking lot at Ameriplex just south of Interstate 70.

"All we want to do is to be able to park some cars out here while people go to the airport," said Bob Cockrum, Decatur Township resident.Sounds simple enough but the Indianapolis Airport Authority wants it stopped.

"We're just trying to do what we think is in the best interest for the airport and the community," said Michael Wells, IAA President.
Well said filling in that spot would be in direct competition of the airport. But residents said without it, they have nothing.

"We don't have a place to buy a new book, a new pair of shoes or shirt in our entire township," said Pat Anderson, Decatur Township Land Use Chairperson.

By attracting those businesses, Anderson said it will bring in approximately $500,000 in property taxes they so desperately need.

"For us it's dollars and cents. It's our tax base. It's our future. It's trying to get those basics for our people," she said.

People like Eldon Rasmussen who has lived next to the vacant land since 1969.

"We'd appreciate getting some finer establishments in," he said.

However, he said, since anything put there could be considered direct competition for the airport, where does it end?

"Are they going to oppose us to put in a filling station because they are going to put in a filling station on airport property," Cockrum asked. "Enough is enough."

Decatur Township Parks Chairman Chip Pierson believes it all comes down to money.

"That's what it boils down to is their greed and they want to shut out competition," Pierson said.
The matter is going before a Marion County Judge. A hearing date has not yet been scheduled, but the residents are ready.

"We're not backing off. The airport has crossed a major line and they've just gone too far for us," said Anderson
If you haven't done so already, would you please visit MacWilliams' report and 'recommend' it and 'share' it on social media. We need to get our story out to as wide an audience as we can. Thank you in advance.

Monday, March 26, 2012

City-County Council Meets Tonight

The City-County Council meets tonight.  The one agenda item that caught my eye is Prop 68, which would change who gets to appoint members of the IMPD and the IFD merit boards to include the Council.  This proposal was sent back to committee last meeting so that the total number of members could be reduced from the original draft.  The intent certainly is a good one, but the meat of the discussion in the committee was the legality of the change, as State law sets limits that are open to interpretation.  From the March 7 Public Safety committee meeting, it almost seems like a 'damned if you do and damned if you don't' situation.  It appears that the current composition of the IMPD merit board may not be consistent with State law, much less the one proposed by Prop 68.

Being introduced tonight are a bevy of Mayoral appointments to head his Departments.  Being reappointed are Olgen Williams, Michael Huber, Maury Plambeck, Rick Powers, and Frank Straub.  New appointments are Jason Klath to the newly created Deputy Mayor of Education, John Williams for Parks, and Lori Miser for DPW.

Also being introduced is a smoking ban (Prop 136) - now containing compromise language on private clubs.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Mayor Removes Airport Director - Curiously Says Its About Economic Development

Anyone who had any reservations accepting the idea that nothing happens at the airport that the Mayor does not want to happen, need only look at the series of events that lead to the 'resignation' of John Clark as the Indianapolis Airport's Executive Director.

I first saw the news that Clark was out over at Gary Welsh's Advance Indiana blog, then the IBJ's news alert started circulating, and this morning I read more about it in the Indy Star.

Here are the dominoes.

December 16 - Michael Stayton, former President of the Airport Authority Board, announces he will step down, even though he still has two years left on his term.

December 31 - Mayor Ballard appoints Mike Wells to fill out the final two years of Stayton's term.

January 20 - Mike Wells elected President of the Airport Board at his first board meeting of this appointment.

March 10 - news reports suddenly appear of another year, more expensive trips abroad for John Clark and his top deputies.  Curiously, Mike Wells keeps using the word "I" instead of "we" or "the Board" in his statements that changes are coming.  For instance, the IBJ quotes him as saying "I'm making major changes to the travel policy".

March 19 - Wells announces immediate departure of Clark as Director.  Mayor Ballard is quoted as saying
"What I’m mostly concerned about out there is the economic development aspect of the airport,” said Mayor Ballard. "I think that’s been slow, much slower than I would have expected.
"It may have been the recession. It may have been all the economic downturn but I want to have more plans for development out there. That’s what I’m mostly focused on."
Those of you who wanted to blame Clark for announcing the cancellation of collective bargaining at the airport, which was delayed for about a month so candidate Ballard could bask in the light of a recent union endorsement - blame Ballard instead.  (see "Is Indy Airport Playing Politics For Ballard?")

Those of you who wanted to blame Clark for removing art from the airport in order to put up a garish electronic advertising screen, remember the timing.  On August 9, the removal is announced.  On August 24, Mayor Ballard swoops in to save the day.  Then, on November 30, right after the election, the art is removed.  Just in time for the 'holiday travel' season and the Super Bowl - where ads just might fetch a pretty penny.

Yes, anything the airport does leads directly back to Mayor Ballard - its a lesson John Clark has learned and its a lesson the public needs to learn.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Indianapolis Airport Stomps On Free Enterprise With Court Action

Airports are governmental units that oversee aviation infrastructure in this Country.  But, in the most un-American, anti-capitalism, move I can think of, the Indianapolis International Airport has decided to overreach that role and try to kill private development on privately owned land that is a compatible use - but one that poses a few dollars of competition to the airport.  Our airport is asking the Courts to overturn the recent MDC decision to modify the legally established zoning within Ameriplex that would permit the development of a Fast Park Ride & Relax facility (see "Yesterday's Zoning Case - Its About Far More Than a Parking Facility").

I got a copy of the document the airport filed with the Courts on Wednesday and uploaded it to Google Docs in three sections (Court Filing A ---  Court Filing B ---- Court Filing C).

I read the filing late yesterday afternoon and evening and thought I would wait until tomorrow morning to pen this blog entry.  But, I find my anger at my own government to be so great, that I sit here in my living room penning this in the wee hours of the morning instead.

Adding insult to injury, the airport hired zoning attorney Brian Tuohy to flash this figurative middle finger to the community.  Tuohy has been working to kill the Fast Park project for months for his previous paying customer - the Indy (really Plainfield) Park Ride & Fly facility west of the airport.  Doubtlessly laughing all the way to the bank, this national chain of unimaginative parking lots now has our airport covering its bills; taking up their effort to kill off competition.

The filing is a sing-song repetition of zoning minutia that seems written for the appreciation of a near catatonic person rocking in a corner.  It mystifies me how a zoning attorney of so many years of experience as Tuohy, could include so many items that misstate the actual facts about the zoning within Ameriplex and the MDC's authority to modify the site plan associated with that zoning; zoning, by the way, that was legally and undisputedly established for this particular block in 2008.  The nut of the airport and Tuohy's argument is that the MDC cannot modify a legally established zoning category called 'commercial special' or 'CS' for short.

For those who have been so lucky in life as to not be familiar with the geeky aspects of zoning in Marion County, CS is a common zoning category for industrial parks and strip malls.  It was designed to allow flexibility in the design of what is on the ground and what will be developed as a mixture of intensities and types of businesses.  This court filing attempts to kill off airport competition from the private sector on private property, and they do not care that they put all CS zoned property in Marion County at risk in the process.  Such is the unmitigated greed of our own government here in Indianapolis.

The airport claims that they stand to be harmed by the loss of parking revenue.  The 800 pound gorilla, whose ONLY authority is to provide aviation infrastructure, now wants to stop an off airport parking facility that the airport estimates will cut into the airport's profits by about $4 million a year.  While I use the word 'profits', it is really that the airport wants to be able to lower what it charges the airlines to use the taxpayer provided aviation infrastructure.  In a worse case scenario, it MIGHT cost each passenger using the airport one extra dollar for a round trip ticket.  That scenario ignores the fact that a huge fraction of the airport's use of the runways is cargo, not passenger, flights.  It also ignores the fact that the airport is growing and much of the Fast Park business will come from that expansion; perhaps shaving a miniscule degree off the arc of that growth curve, not actually cutting the dollars now taken in by the airport from those passengers who park their car on airport property.

Airports all over the country have off airport parking.  I even Googled Moscow's airport once, and they have off airport parking that provides an option to the flying public.  This attack on free enterprise - this overreach by government - this expansion beyond its mandate - this attack on my home community and all of central Indiana - comes ironically from a Republican President of the Airport Board who is a developer himself.  Mike Wells is an owner of REI, which develops large properties all over the area, many of which must use the CS zoning designation.  He is so eager to exact this revenge on the taxpayers and free enterprise, that he is willing to put his own developments at risk.

I'll go into all of the zoning techno-geek layers in future postings.  But for now, know that a major precedent is being set here in Indianapolis.  That is the unilateral declaration of a monopoly by our government for a business that is compatible with the function of providing aviation infrastructure, but which does not require the government to be provided.  It is an attack on our capitalist system that even the Russians do not deem necessary.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Brian Mahern Comments On Disaster Bonds for No-So/City Way

Today's paper had a letter to the editor from none other than Council Vice President, Brian Mahern.  In it he takes the Ballard administration to task for using disaster relief bonds for the North of South (aka City Way) project instead of for, well, disaster relief.  Here is part of what he had to say:

The City Way complex consists of a luxury hotel, high-end apartments and swanky retail shops. Its developers benefitted from two forms of disaster aid, which were created in response to extensive Midwest storm damage in 2008, despite no logical reason to do so. 
Both $70 million in low-cost disaster relief bonds and a $6 million disaster relief grant were used to fund the private City Way development at a site untouched by storm damage. Meanwhile, affordable apartments like Falcon Pointe on the Far Eastside are still being slowly repaired from tornado damage four years later without so much as a penny of disaster aid. 
Mayor Greg Ballard’s effort to funnel precious public disaster aid to a fancy Downtown development while ignoring the legitimate recovery needs in outlying neighborhoods is inexplicable and unconscionable. One can only hope that the next round of aid for the more recent tornado victims in Southern Indiana is used solely for their benefit.

Public Safety Budget 'Shortfalls' Meeting

I was unable to view all 5 hours of last night's Public Safety committee meeting where claimed shortfalls in the Sheriff and IMPD budgets were discussed.  I have to carve out some time to view it from the WCTY archives.  Jon Murray, IndyStar reporter, has an article in today's paper.  Murray reports that Frank Straub, Public Safety Director, now claims a $15 million shortfall that extends beyond IMPD.  Personally, I remain sceptical of Straub's claims, while Sheriff John Layton made an excellent presentation at last year's budget hearings that convinced me back then.  What I did catch last night was primarily the Sheriff's budget issues, so I really need to hear what Straub had to say before etching my gut a priori feelings in stone.

With all that said, I hope the following did come up last night.

In the discussion of the Sheriff's budget, I hope someone asked :

1) why Wishard could not go back to the old system and pay the costs of arrestee care that occurs within their walls?  Health & Hospitals takes in over $109 million a year in property taxes and I don't see why we can't get some of that back.

2) at a minimum, why can't Wishard provide services free to those individuals who would qualify, had they not been arrested?

3)  when are Wishard and the Sheriff and IMPD representatives meeting to work out a better system of who really needs to be taken directly to the hospital upon arrest?

On the IMPD budget, I hope someone asked:

1) when will the $3.8 million from the CIB for super bowl expense be turned over to IMPD?

2) how much did it really cost IMPD and the rest of Public Safety for the Super Bowl?

3) why doesn't the CIB repay IMPD the $32 million it was loaned (according to former Council President, Ryan Vaughn) ?

4) how come you could make it on far less in previous years, but this year you just have to set records for expenditures?

5) how come at budget time you said character 3 was short by $3.5 million, but now your estimates are that it is at least $10 million short?  How did you mis-estimate the budget need by that much?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Don Stinson Announces Retirement

From a press release dated March 14, 2012...

MSD Decatur Superintendent, Don Stinson, announced his retirement at Tuesday's board meeting.  The retirement is apparently effective June 30.  The Board immediately and unanimously voted to put Dr. Debra Sullivan as his replacement.

This says yet again to the Decatur community, that the Board does not care what you think.  Every other Superintendent replacement has an open, community involved, search.  Since Sullivan has been the steward of debatable educational improvements all these years as Stinson's right arm, it bogs the district down with stale old ideas.

The agenda did not advertise the Superintendent vote, so Decaturites had absolutely no chance to weigh in.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

MSD Decatur Still Doesn't Care About The Laws

The MSD Decatur had some significant issues brought to light in the latest audit by the Indiana State Board of Accounts.

Kara Kenney, ace reporter for WRTV, is reporting on the audit today (see "Audit Questions School's Pricey Tips, Late Fees").  The audit covers the two year period from July 1, 2009 through June 30, 2011.

The SBOA finds that the Decatur School District yet again spent more money than the School Board appropriated and more than the State Department of Local Government Finance approved.  The School Board, true to their rubber stamp ways, amended the appropriations after the fact, but the DLGF would not.  The SBOA audit shows that in 2010, under the so called leadership of Don Stinson and Jeff Baer, the district overspent three funds to the tune of $2.4 million (see p 44 of the pdf).  It is against the law for a governmental unit to spend more than is appropriated at a public hearing that follows specific notification rules.  Of course, the only news publication that the district publishes in is the low circulation Mooresville-Decatur Times, keeping prying public eyes from even the slightest information.

The audit also uncovered what has to be the most lame brained goof up in recent memory.  After purchasing property, the district did not alert the Auditor's Office of that ownership, AND PAID PROPERTY TAXES for 3 1/2 years !  It gets worse in that they paid late penalties for two of the payments.  All for a grand total of $338,935.41 in taxes and penalties THAT THEY DID NOT HAVE TO PAY ! (see p 42 of the pdf) They are now trying to find a way to get the money back.

The property in question was purchased in November, 2006.  This very well might be the infamous former Concentra building property (now the Southwest Pavilion) across Kentucky Avenue from the High School.  This property appears on the Marion County Assessor's website under the old owners' names and with a total Assessed Value of nearly $3.4 million.  You will remember that they bought this property without a single appraisal - another violation of State law (see "Decatur School Board Broke State Law in Purchase of Property")

Speaking of late penalties, the audit also reveals that the district paid penalties and interest totaling $13,771.48 to the State because of a late payment of withholding taxes.

The audit found the district did not reconcile bank statement with their records, an old complaint found in earlier audits - insufficient documentation of travel expenses, another repeated complaint - insufficient documentation of Average Daily Membership (ADM - the number upon which the State determines the amount of money a district will receive for the year) - overdrawn negative balances in two funds - and a $232,820 public works project that was not properly put out for bid.

If anyone in Decatur Township still thinks that the Don Stinson or the rubberstamping School Board care how our tax money is spent, then they will never accept reality.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Budget Problems for Public Safety?

I noted in the last of my blog entries on the 2012 City-County budget, that there were some time bombs in it (see "2012 Budget Is Done").  Well, looks like notice is being paid to an 'emergency' in public safety.  Television news has reported on matters arising in the March 5 meeting of the Criminal Justice Planning Council (view the meeting for yourself in the WCTY archive, WRTV, WISH,  and FOX).  Council President, Maggie Lewis, has called an emergency meeting of the Public Safety committee for Wednesday, to discuss the budget shortfalls with Marion County Sheriff John Layton, Public Safety Director Frank Straub, and City Controller Jeff Spaulding.

A few folks have asked me about these claims, given that I followed the budget so closely for the past few years.  So, I slogged through the minutes etc from budget time, and I will recap what I can.

First, a few notes about the Criminal Justice Planning Council (CJPC) meeting.  The Marion County Sheriff's budget issues was an agenda item.  Sheriff John Layton talked about the same things he discussed back during the 2012 budget hearing (see the minutes from the September 7, 2011, Public Safety committee meeting) - unfunded mandates for Wishard services and the City-County building security contract with Securitec - amounting to a $12 - 15 million shortfall annually.  In September, Sheriff Layton spoke also of the nearly $10 million owed to Corrections Corporation of America, who runs Jail II.  These were due to ballooning costs for inmate medical care suddenly being charged by Wishard in 2010 and 2011, and not covered in the contract with CCA.  This backlog was taken care of by Prop 2011, 365, which appropriated $9.9 million to be paid to CCA for the outstanding balance.  In addition, a $1.5 million payment to the pension fund was fully addressed at budget time. Still the 2012 budget held unfunded mandates for Wishard charges, the Securitec contract, health insurance for employees, and contractual raises that would account for Layton's $12 - 15 million shortfall.  Rather than waiting for a bailout that may not come at the end of the year, Layton is considering pulling his staff from Wishard and stop transporting those in jail to the Courts, saving overtime payments and better matching his resources and obligations.

Now, some of what went on at the meeting was pre-arranged and may very well be motivated by party politics.  Nonetheless, Sheriff Layton's budget story has not changed, and he was up front back in September about all of this.

IMPD's budget may be different, however.  At the CJPC meeting, it almost seemed that Dr. Straub was piping up with new information, so as to not be left out of any re-budgeting efforts.  He said he might have to shut off the lights in some districts by the end of the month to compensate for an immediate hole of $10 million in character 3 appropriations.  Now, character 3 covers 'other services and charges', as opposed to personnel costs.  Straub did not give specifics other than saying the FOP wants new cars as half of the police cars have more than 100,000 miles on them.  If you know me at all, you know I am unsympathetic about a perceived need for a 3 year vehicle replacement plan - especially when times are as tough as they are right now.

The 2012 budget for IMPD seemed to be 1% less than the 2011, but, as I noted at the time, previous budgets were supplemented at the end of the year, making the cuts more like 5% (see "IMPD Budgets Show 5% Cut").  As I noted at the time, this did not give me much heartburn since it appeared that the IMPD budgets were padded, as they never seemed to spend as much as they requested.  Still, there was the upcoming Super Bowl, with IMPD costs of unknown magnitude (and still unknown), as well as a -$4 million placeholder that, to my knowledge, never was settled before the passage of the budget.  These placeholders were insidious, and are the 'time bombs' I was referring to in my posts about the budget.  These were the total amounts of cuts that each department or agency had to include in their budget.  But, many kept the negative number in their budget, without specifying whether personnel would be cut or if contracts would be curtailed or some other allotment of the cuts would be structured.  This left the questioning by Councillors quite impotent.  They would review the adequacy of the items that appeared fully funded.  And when attention was drawn to the large negative placeholder, there was no discussion about the realistic impacts on the budget items before them.

I did review the minutes of the September 21st meeting of the Public Safety committee, which was the hearing for IMPD's budget.  At that time, Straub did mention, on questioning by Councillor Aaron Freeman (page 7 of the pdf), that there was a $3.3 million shortfall in character 3.  The most jarring item, though, is found on page 11 of the pdf. The Council President, Ryan Vaughn is noted as saying
that IMPD has loaned over $32 million to the CIB on a contingency basis.  In addition, Director Straub has gotten over 120 grants, but these grants are contracts, and some of them come with unfunded mandates of over $2 billion.  He said public safety cannot be run on a contingent basis.
That's real money in exceptional sums.  There is a need to find out more about this topic, for sure.

The meeting of the Public Safety committee is this Wednesday at 5:30 pm.  The CJPC voted to have a budget solution proposal for Public Safety by the time it meets in April.  We will see what comes of all this, but we need to keep in mind that the City does not print money nor have the authority to raise taxes more than the State Legislature allows.  A solution may be in the offing, as $10 to $20 million could be pried from fund balances this year.  But, little fat, if any, is left for 2013, which is said to have a $50 - 70 million shortfall looming - and I can believe that.  Structural changes to the City's budget may be needed soon, if not this year, as the fund balances are slim, the rainy day fund is gone, the consolidated downtown TIF can't be relied upon a 2nd time, and the stimulus funds are no longer being offered.

Options are limited.  We shall see what comes of the attention being paid to the Sheriff's and IMPD's budgets.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Is Anyone Really Surprised? Parking Meter Deal Nets Less Than Expected

Its not like the Ballard Admininstration truely sold the residents of Indianapolis on the desirability of leasing our parking meters to an ACS group for 50 years.  Its more like they forced it through simply because the Republicans held the majority on the Council and they could.

Still, they made representations.  Turns out, those representations didn't hold water, even for the very first year.  Is anyone really surprised?

Jon Murray did an excellent job of running through all the numbers he could get his hands on in this morning's IndyStar ("Indy parking revenues fall short of projections") - the ACS group, ParkIndy, will not open their books so that the public, or even Mayor Ballard himself, can review the numbers for accuracy.

Murray reports:
The first year of Indianapolis' 50-year parking meter lease brought doubled rates in some areas as a tradeoff for a wholesale upgrade of equipment and the convenience of paying by credit card or smartphone.
Was it worth it?

New financial data provided by the city shows its share of revenue from the vendor in 2011 -- nearly $1.4 million, or 30 percent -- fell well short of the city's own projection of $2.1 million.

And the city didn't end up seeing the full amount: After the vendor subtracted $286,000 in charges to compensate for the city closing metered spaces, often for RebuildIndy road construction work, the city pocketed $1.1 million.
The budget for last year relied upon revenues of $2.4 million from 'charges for services' and $1.8 million from 'fines and penalties' for a total of $3.2 million - a far cry from $1.1 million.  That budgeted amount was not just a gravy account, as $3.8 million was being used to help fund IMPD that year.  (2011 budget - Prop 2010, 234 -- p 22 and 59 of pdf)

The budget for 2012 reflects the drop in revenue the Ballard administration fully expected from the parking meter contract.  Instead of the roughly $3.2 million revenue budgeted year before year earlier, the 2012 budget only anticipated $1.25 million from 'charges for services' and $0.5 million from 'fines and penalties' plus a bit more for a total of $1.8 million.  (2012 budget - Prop 2011, 241 -- p 25 and 62 of pdf)

Mayor Ballard, however, tries to low ball the profit to the City prior to the sale of the parking meters :
Ballard cites an $87,000 profit for 2010 -- the last year before ParkIndy's contract began -- but that figure overstates the tightness of the margin. It reflects the spending of some proceeds on street improvements.

Looking only at that year's operating costs -- $3.2 million -- the city pocketed a modest $600,000 profit, according to Darrell Fishel, an assistant public works administrator for the city.
Murray mentions the street improvements, for which $327,200 was appropriated that year, but his report does not bring up the $1.75 million that went to IMPD that year and what actual police ticketing costs were.  (2010 budget - Prop 2009, 321 -- p 22 and 56 of the pdf)

ACS/ParkIndy made out well from what numbers Murray could get:
The vendor, ParkIndy -- a trio of local and national companies led by Dallas-based ACS, a Xerox company -- kept more than $3.5 million.
 Mayor Ballard also cites the $20 million up front payment made by ACS/ParkIndy as part of the deal.  Murray has new information about that money, as well.  In a side panel in the paper version, Murray shows the following expenses paid from the $20 million (my wording):
$6.4 m - Broad Ripple Parking Garage
$5.9 m - road and infrastructure repairs downtown
$3.5 m - transition and advisor costs covering the parking meter deal itself
$3.8 m - to IMPD
The transition costs included $2.9 million to pay the high priced lawyers who cut and pasted the Chicago deal and those who were hired to be proponents of the sale and market the sale to the public (unsuccessfully, I might add).  The last charge, to IMPD, may sound familiar.  Above I noted that the 2011 budget called for $3.8 million to go to IMPD from the parking meter fund.  With the budget under pressure, the parking meter fund doubled what it usually sent to IMPD.  But the Ballard administration is now spinning it to be "reimbursement to IMPD for assisting with parking meter enforcement going back several years".   Shameless.

So folks, of the $20 million up front fee, all you really got was the Broad Ripple Parking Garage boondoggle.  Oh well.  Easy come, easy go.

Murray's article quotes City-County Council Vice President, Brian Mahern:
Mahern was among vocal critics who noted many large cities have modernized their meters by borrowing or striking shorter-term contracts. 
"We should have just worked with a vendor to provide us the service for a fee," he said, "rather than granting somebody an equity stake for what is a basic service."
Absolutely right.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Good Public Policy Sets Up Tug Of War Over Council Rules Of Procedure

Councillor Ben Hunter authored Prop 44, which was introduced at the Council's January 30 meeting.

This Proposal was good public policy and deserved an open conversation as to its pros and cons.

Instead, it was quickly and indefinitely tabled at the February 21st meeting of the Rules Committee.

Prop 44 is simple.  It adds the following language to the ordinance covering the constitution of Council committees:
(c) Any councillor who is employed by another agency of local government, whose budgets or salaries are subject to action of the City-County Council, shall not be appointed to, or eligible to serve on any committee which regularly considers the budget or salaries of the agency which employes such councillor.
Given that public employees are legally allowed to serve on the elected bodies that oversee their own jobs, at least for a while longer, this proposal serves the public interest, by restricting such a public employee/elected official, from holding undue influence over their supervisors.

My review of the Council committee appointments would suggest that only Councillor Vernon Brown would be affected at this moment by this proposal.  If anyone knows of another Councillor serving on the committee that oversees their day job, please let me know.  Councillor Brown serves on the Public Safety and Criminal Justice committee that oversees his day job with IFD.  It would not harm Councillor Brown, who serves on five other Council committees, to forgo this committee.

Here is an except of the minutes of the February 21st meeting of the Rules committee :
PROPOSAL NO. 44, 2012 - amends the Code with respect to council rules for committee appointments

Councillor Gray moved, seconded by Councillor Lewis, to “Table” Proposal No. 44, 2012. The motion carried by a 4-2-1 vote, with Councillors Lutz and McQuillen casting the negative votes and Councillor Brown abstaining.  [Mahern, Barth, Gray, and Lewis voted 'aye']

Councillor Hunter stated that he understands the protocol that there is no discussion on a motion to table. However, typically a sponsor of a properly introduced proposal who comes before a committee as a non-member of that committee is usually afforded the courtesy to speak on their proposal before it is tabled. He said that it would have been nice to have been informed of the intention to table the proposal without comment before he wasted the gas money coming down to appear and present his proposal.

{Clerk’s Note: Councillor Mansfield arrived at 5:34 p.m.}

Chairman Mahern said that since the proposal has been tabled, there is no further discussion to be had.
Councillor Lutz said that there is no argument that the motion to table does not allow for further discussion. He added, however, that it would be nice in the future, as a common courtesy, that if the intention of the committee is to table a proposal without comment, that the sponsor of the proposal be informed so that they are not wasting their time.

Chairman Mahern said that if he had received any indication ahead of time that the proposal would be tabled, he would have let Councillor Hunter know, but there is no way for him to predict the intentions of the committee.
There is a little bit of gamemanship going on here from both sides.  This proposal could have been introduced any time in the last few years when Councillor Hunter's party held the majority and there would have been no threat of tabling.  Additionally, the Republicans on the Rules committee, Councillors McQuillen and Lutz, moved that the very next proposal on the agenda be tabled in retaliation.  Nonetheless, Prop 44 is good public policy and the public deserved at least an open discussion of its merits.

Now, Councillor Mike McQuillen has authored Prop 106, introduced at the last Council meeting.  This proposal would require that any introduced Council proposal be set for a public hearing within 30 days of the introduction (although the actual hearing date may be within 45 days of introduction), and that the item may not be tabled until after the sponsor of the proposal and the public have had a chance to make comments.

This is a good procedure for the Council to follow and it deserves to get an airing when the Rules committee has it on their agenda.  In the end, it should not be the back rooms where these decisions are made, but in full sunshine and public view.

TIF District Policies to be Scrutinized

Monday night also saw the unanimous passage of Prop 70, a proposal by Councillor Brian Mahern to form a commission to study TIF Districts in Marion County and report back to the Council with policy recommendations.

Not all appointments are yet known, but of the 8 study commission members, the Chair will be Councillor Steve Talley, with Councillor Brian Mahern, County Auditor Billie Breax, City Controller Jeff Spaulding, and Bond Bank Executive Director Deron Kintner as members.  Still to be named is one member of the Republican caucus of the Council, one member of the Metropolitan Development Commission, and one member of the Indiana General Assembly.

You can view Councillor Mahern's comments to the Metropolitan & Economic Development Committee of the Council by clicking here and moving to time stamp 1:21:00.

Briefly, though, he said that there are 30 TIF districts in Marion County, with a combined debt of about $1 billion.  These TIFs have taken in hundreds of millions of property tax dollars.  Although they are initially set up for a 30 year term, refinancing of the underlying bonds has caused extensions of their terms.  All of this is without a comprehensive view of how TIFs perform and how they affect other property tax revenues - especially the impact of tax caps on revenues received by the different units of government.  The commission is expected to issue an interim report by April 30 and a final report by June 30.

In what may be a coordinated effort, the two pending expansions of existing TIF districts (Prop 15 and Prop 16) have been tabled by the Metro & Econ Devel Committee.  It would, indeed, be better to understand TIF districts and how to safeguard the taxpayers as well as actual economic development, before moving forward with these extensions of TIFs.

Meetings of the commission will be public and public testimony will be taken.  More on the schedule once it is available.

Six Councillors Stand Up for the Taxpayers

On Monday night the full City-County Council took up the issue of whether or not the North of South (aka City Way) boondoggle warranted a Certified Technology Park status (see "Taxpayer Fleecing for NO-SO (aka City Way) Continues").  Six Councillors stood up for the taxpayers of Indiana and Indianapolis and voted 'no'.

The six were Democrats Adamson, Brown, Gray, Hickman, Mahern, and Oliver.

All remaining Councillors, with the exception of Hunter and Mansfield, who were not present, voted in favor of declaring shops, hotels, and a few apartments, with their attendant minimum wage jobs, the very high tech jobs we need to be attracting to our City.

To view the discussion, click here and then scroll down to Prop 66 under "all items".

Councillor Brian Mahern began with a statement, in which he clearly outlined the lack of an actual high tech component.  He also mentioned the $98 million financing for the City's loan to the developer was with Federal 'Disaster Relief Bonds', which just might have been put to good use in Southern Indiana about now.  Excellent point.

Councillor Zach Adamson, who voted against the boondoggle in Committee, also made a statement - saying outright that "Designating City Way a CTP is dishonest and would further add to justify the distrust the public has in its elected officials".  Exactly.

So, from one taxpayer, thank you to all six Councillors.