Friday, February 08, 2013

Ballard Using Fire Safety As Excuse For Extorting Money From Indianapolis Businesses

Mayor Greg Ballard is looking for a few more tax dollars to pass out to his corrupt pay-to-play buddies so he's developed a scheme under the guise of fire safety to extort an annual self-inspection fee of $25 from all business owners, or else a fire inspector will be sent to your business and bill you an inspection fee from $50 to $150. Yesterday, every single tenant in the Chamber of Commerce Building where my office is located received this shakedown letter from the Indianapolis Fire Department's fire marshal chief, Fred Pervine. Here's some what Mr. Pervine included in his extortion letter:
Effective January 1, 2013 the Indianapolis Fire Department ("IFD") will begin to collect fees for initial fire inspections. IFD is required by state law to establish an inspection cycle for all structures within our jurisdiction, except where the interior of private dwellings. The purpose of the inspections is to promote compliance with fire safety laws.

The inspection fees are based on the square footage of the structure. Your property/structure has been identified by the Fire Marshal as being eligible to participate in the Self-Inspection Program. If you decide to participate in the Self-Inspection Program you will pay a $25.00 annual inspection fee. Standard fire inspections conducted by IFD range from $50.00 to $150.00 . . .

In order to participate in the Self-Inspection Program you must complete the Self-Inspection Form, which accompanies this letter, and return it to IFD no later than April 5, 2013. If your Self-Inspection form is not properly and timely completed your property/structure will automatically be scheduled for an inspection by IFD and you will be subject to standard fire inspection fees based upon square footage adn additional fees, as specified in the Payment Information section on the back of this letter . . .  
The Payment Instruction Form contains a warning that you will be socked with a 20% collection fee if you refuse to comply and either complete the self-inspection form and pay the $25.00 or the higher fee required if IFD performs an inspection of your premises. You are also threatened with re-inspection fees of $80.00 if you fail to comply with any violations IFD determines you have failed to remedy. If you choose to self-inspect, you are required to sign a form under penalties of perjury. This is Mayor Ballard's way of telling you that he needs all the tax money we pay to support fire services to hand out to his political cronies. Tell him he can take his extortion letter and shove up it his ass. The idea that tenants in a multi-tenant office building who have no control over the building's public safety systems would be sent this shake down letter shows just how far this corrupt mayor has drifted from the campaign platform upon which he was elected in 2007. Stop stealing our tax dollars for your political cronies so you can fund city services honestly with the taxes we already pay, Greg!

UPDATE: It turns out that this backdoor tax increase on Indianapolis businesses was carried out in Proposal No. 300 sponsored by Councilor Vernon Brown (D), an Indianapolis fire department batallion chief, which was adopted by the full council on November 22, 2012 with 23 voting yes and 4 voting no. Only Councilors Cain, Cardwell, Lutz and Sandlin voted against this backdoor tax increase. Councilors Brown and Hunter were absent for the vote. Here's the offending language of the ordinance:
The fire prevent chief may implement a self-inspection program for monitoring compliance with fire safety laws. Property owners or primary lessees that are eligible, as determined by the fire prevention chief, for the fire safety law compliance self-inspection program shall adhere to the requirements of such program as implemented by the fire department and shall be subject to the fee provided in section 131-502 of the Code.
The self-inspection program applies to "property owners or primary lessees." Clearly, the fire marshal chief is carrying out the new program in violation of the ordinance. How the hell can you subject single-office tenants in a multi-tenant office complex to this requirement who clearly aren't "primary lessees." My reading of the law would subject a tenant to the self-reporting requirement only if the lessee is the primary occupant of the building. If there are multiple tenants in a single building, the ordinance I would argue was intended to place the self-reporting duty on the building's owner, not the multiple lessees.

I also learned another interesting fact. IFD requested information of building owners on their tenants without disclosing to them the purpose of the request. Building owners believed that they were simply helping IFD have information in a database to aid it in the event of a fire or other emergency. They were not told IFD intended to subject their tenants to an annual reporting requirement accompanied by an annual self-inspection fee of $25.00. The committee report made no reference to the ordinance being adopted for the purpose of raising additional fees. "The proposal, sponsored by Councilor Brown, amends the Code to add fees for inspections by the Indianapolis Fire Department for compliance with fire safety laws," read the Criminal Justice Committee report read by Councilor Mary Moriarty Adams. According to the new fee schedule included with the adoption of the ordinance, the $25.00 fee applies to "Self-inspection by property owner for compliance with safety laws. It doesn't even reference lessees. The ordinance adds other tiered fees ranging from $50 to $150 for: inspection of a structure with less than 3,000 square feet; inspection of a structure with more than 3,000 square feet but no more than 10,000 square feet; inspection of structures with more than 10,000 square feet. There is also a new $80.00 re-inspection fee and a new $100 fee for inspection of fire protection systems for which plans and specifications have been submitted. It doesn't take much number crunching to figure out that this tax will hit businesses to the tune of several million dollars annually at a minimum. It probably is larger than either of the two tax increases just passed by the council to benefit the CIB.

Unigov points to the following controlling state statute, which does not on its face appear to allow for a self-inspection program:

IC 36-8-17-8
Inspection program; reports
Sec. 8. (a) A fire department serving an area that does not include a city may engage in an inspection program to promote compliance with fire safety laws. Upon the request of an owner or a primary lessee who resides in a private dwelling, the fire department may inspect the interior of the private dwelling to determine compliance with IC 22-11-18-3.5. The fire department shall maintain a written report for each inspection. These reports shall be made available to the division upon request.

    (b) The fire department serving an area that includes a city shall inspect every place and public way within the jurisdiction of the city, except the interiors of private dwellings, for compliance with the fire safety laws. Upon the request of an owner or a primary lessee who resides in a private dwelling, the fire department may inspect the interior of the private dwelling to determine compliance with IC 22-11-18-3.5. Except as otherwise provided in the rules adopted by the commission, the fire chief of the fire department shall specify the schedule under which places and public ways are inspected and may exclude a class of places or public ways from inspection under this section, if the fire chief determines that the public interest will be served without inspection. The fire department shall maintain a written report for each inspection. The fire department shall submit monthly reports to the division, on forms prescribed by the division, containing the following information:
(1) The total number of inspections made.
(2) The total number of defects found, classified as required by the office.
(3) The total number of orders issued for correction of each class of defect.
(4) The total number of orders complied with.
(c) A volunteer fire department may carry out inspections under this section only through an individual who is certified under IC 22-14-2-6(c).


Had Enough Indy? said...

I don't remember any fees going before a Council committee - as I believe they must. It could have been hidden in the details that were not readily available to the public. If they were part of the budget process, they were a hidden part of it.

As we have been told, state law dictates that fees charged can only be used for the services provided. If you do your own inspection, I should think the fee would have to be limited to the cost of ink, paper, and postage of your notification letter.

Unigov said...

Hi - can you cite the state or municipal code the fire chief refers to, that enables collection of a $25 fee from businesses ? I'm curious what the law says.

(Keep up the good work !)

SW Lane said...

Aren't you glad you weren't offered a position within this sleaze-bag's administration?

I wonder what the Retired Marine Corps Officers Organization has to say about Ballard's performance in and out of the Corps?

SW Lane said...

Well Hell..let's not stop about animal control assess a $25 self reporting fee on pet vaccinations and registrations..maybe the police department can assess a $25 self reporting fee on car licensing and registration.

Aren't these parasites who work in local government bodies like Brown supposed to be eliminated? And the At-Large positions?

Unigov said...

The Indiana Code does not allow for self-inspections.

Had Enough Indy? said...

So, bottom line -- do the businesses in IFD's district have to take this to court to have the fee overturned?

CircleCityScribe said...

SW Lane:

I think it's clear that Ballard faced forced retirement from The Marines, as he exhibits NO signs that he recognizes leadership taught by any military organization in the USA.

Remember: "Corruption is as Corruption does." -Then ask a Grand Jury to look into Ballard/Straub's $18 Million dollar bumble with taxPAYER money....who got the money? What was the connection? Why weren't codes followed? Why wasn't the matter reviewed by the Corporation Counsel? -A lot of "irregularities" by a two who the people have just cause to submit to The Grand Jury.

Had Enough Indy? said...

This ordinance was not thought trough. Have to wonder how much money has been collected on false pretenses.

Unigov said...


1) The state statute doesn't mandate annual or even periodic/repeated inspections - just one inspection. The City thinks this enables them to schedule inspections annually, but that's not the intent of the state law.

2) The state law doesn't enable collection of fees for inspections, which should be covered by taxes paid for fire protection.

In other words, the City and IFD have ignore state law, and set up a scam requiring an annual payment for a service that's intended to be covered by existing taxes.

Gary R. Welsh said...

And the IBJ has a story today where Ballard continues to insist that he won't charge the charter schools an adminsitrative fee for the millions of dollars a year his office is incurring in expenses overseeing them despite the fact that state law clearly allows him to do so since our city taxes are not to be used for that purpose. He has city funds to spend overseeing the charter schools but not public safety because the people behind the charter schools contribute big money to his campaign committee.

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