Joanne Sanders, a Democratic council member sponsoring both proposals, said the goal is to respond to public calls for more restrictions on tax abatements and tax increment finance districts, which drew fire this year from critics outraged by skyrocketing property taxes.
"The purpose is to get more input from the public," Sanders said. "They give taxpayers the opportunity to have a direct voice on TIFs and tax abatements."
She said neither is an attempt to take authority away from Ballard. "I don't think this is anything about the new mayor," she said.
I think if you discussed these ideas with any of the core group of supporters who made Ballard's victory this year possible, they would agree that these are both good ideas. Indiana makes it easier than most states for local governments to borrow money, often financed by property tax levies, without a vote of the people through a referendum process. And the unelected Metropolitan Development Commission is given enormous power to pick and choose winners in the tax abatement game. Members appointed to this commission often have blatant conflicts of interest which are never disclosed to the public before a tax break is awarded to a business.
Mayor-elect Ballard, through a spokesman, indicated he does not support passage of the proposals before he takes office. "There was a referendum on this issue on Nov. 6," Ballard said in a statement in response to the proposals. "I expect council Democrats to abide by it." I agree there was a referendum on this issue, but I don't find anything in these proposals to be inconsistent with the lack of accountability and public input into these types of decisions which upset property owners complained loud and often about during the election. It seems to me the proposals shed more light on public financing and allow for more public scrutiny. What's wrong with that?
And if you really want to get your blood boiling, check out Brendan O'Shaughnessy's latest report on the central library project fiasco, telling us the library's budget will be a mess for years to come. Here's a bit of what he reports on what this unelected Board has done to your wallets:
After the $103 million project went two years and $50 million over budget, the City-County Council refused to allow any tax increase for the expansion and what some members called a Downtown "Taj Mahal."
As a result, the library system had to absorb a nearly $5 million cut from its $29 million operating budget in 2008. That debt service is projected to last through 2023. The library is scheduled to pay nearly $22 million in interest costs alone for the bonds to finish the project. To compensate, the board dipped into its reserves for the 2008 budget and would have to again in 2009 to avoid service cuts.
Board President Louis Mahern said the reserves would be diminished by 2010 and the library system would face a $3.5 million budget deficit.
"We have to fix the hangnail now or face open-heart surgery in a few years," he said.
Adding to the budget squeeze, the new building will cost $6.2 million per year to run, compared with $3.5 million for the interim Central Library. Most of the difference comes in utility costs and staffing for a space more than double in size.