Monday, December 03, 2007

Council Dems Have A Pair Of Good Ideas

If the City-County Council Democrats had pushed ideas like this before this past November's election, they might still be in charge of the council. One proposal would allow the council to take advisory votes on proposed tax abatements for businesses before the Metropolitan Development Commission, an unelected body, can approve them. Another proposal would require an advisory referendum before the city could borrow money by issuing bonds or tax warrants. City-County Councilor Joanne Sanders explains to the Star's Brendan O'Shaughnessy the purpose behind the two new ordinances:

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.


Anonymous said...

Your take on the council proposals is interesting.

If they're such good ideas...can't they wait until January?

A rushed meal never tastes good. This has the flavor of retaliation.

Thirty biggie.

Anonymous said...

"Retaliation"? Hardly.

There will be a new council in 30 days, and with the exception of those who ran unopposed, were voted in on a mandate of change.

If the public had had a chance to give input on some TIFS, etc, I doubt if there would have been such a large turnover in incumbents, most of who were self-serving and arrogant.

Personally, it gives me ammunition to my idea that Ballard is nothing but a puppet being pulled by unseen strings, if he of all people(mandate of change/accountability) is to condemn this idea. Tim Durham, being the puppet master, perhaps?

Sir Hailstone said...

Keep in mind also - if its not approved by December 17th the proposal disappears.

Anonymous said...

the ideas Sanders proposes are of themselves laudable, but if you read the fine print, having on ly 10 council members decide to block a TIF is nothing but self serving political gimmickry. I see this, if passed, overturned in January and re-written with a majority TIF block. Sanders is on the losing team, and this 11th hour grasp is business as usual. Why she was voted back in is amazing, there really is nothing different about her at her core than Conley, Gibson, etc

Gary R. Welsh said...

There is undoubtedly political posturing behind the Democratic proposals. That doesn't bother me if for no other reason than it serves as a reminder to the Republicans that some of us intend to hold them equally as accountable as we did the Democrats for their actions. We expect change, not the status quo.

Gary R. Welsh said...

"if you read the fine print, having only 10 council members decide to block a TIF is nothing but self serving political gimmickry."

It's an advisory vote only. They can't block it by their vote.

Anonymous said...

I see your point, this would be a perfect time to get something like this passed, but Sanders 10 of 13 provision and the fact that the public votes are non binding prove that Sanders is once again showing her true self, a rabid partisan seeking payback for '99.

Gary, if it were binding public votes on every TIF and tax increase, it would be a great thing, done at the perfect time to get something like this in.

Anonymous said...

If it was such a good idea, why is it only NOW coming to the table?
Partisan Democrat politics is the answer.
The out going administration is laying more landmines for the Mayor-Elect than the middle east.
They adopt a "can't do anything until after the election" on many burning issues, and let's "hurry up and do this now before he gets sworn in" on others.

They make me sick.

Anonymous said...

Nothing postive could have come out of a council headed by Monroe Gray.....if he is minority leader, then we are doomed again.