Think Again Folks…
The budget crisis that now faces New Albany has obviously stirred the pot of discontent that has our city under siege, and has left behind the pungent odor of refuse not unlike that which fills our streets and alleyways. Only this mess cannot be so easily dealt with as the “Clean Up New Albany” day was in alleviating a fraction of the rubbish that is overwhelming our senses.
Could it indeed be that our senses have been so assaulted that we can no longer recognize the stench that erupts from a load of crap?
I say the “Gerry (Garner) Plan” that purports to rescue our city services from shutdowns (or meltdowns), contains its own bit of rubbish if scrutinized closely.
Let’s examine a few facts and figures that may shed some light on my contention before you decide to chalk me up as one of the “no progress at any price” folks that are so vehemently blamed for New Albany’s continuing distress. I would suggest that we look a little further beyond this newly found faction to truly uncover the causes of our City’s fiscal and future demise.
However, first we must look backwards. Back to the days of the England administration, which was the real jumping off point (of no return?), of the situation we now find ourselves mired in.
It was on Mayor England’s watch that the EPA first discovered the sewage crisis and the order was issued to correct the failing, seriously flawed system. The City was allowed several years to make these corrections, which summarily amounted to stemming the flow of raw sewage into the Ohio River and into our city streets that accompanied every rain that fell.
When the EPA returned to inspect the progress, it was discovered that little to no changes or corrections had been made to the crumbling system despite the directive given years earlier. England had, in effect, thumbed his nose at the EPA. Still, New Albany was the recipient of undeserving leniency and given another 2 years to move forward on the sewer repairs. Only this directive came with an attachment of, “Or else…” in the tune of a $16 million dollar fine.
Suddenly, a flurry of activity and engineering studies commenced in an effort to meet the EPA demands and avoid the heavy fines. However, this effort came with a heavy price tag to the inhabitants of the city, as we were force fed 4 sewage rate increases within an 18 month span of time.
If you were unlucky enough to be a resident of this city at that time you will remember that the sewer department in the city-county building also fell victim to the circumstances as a cost saving measure, with a number of people losing their jobs as billing duties were handed over to Indiana American Water Co. which promptly double billed customers (at the X4 rate) to generate a substantial influx of revenue for the sewage utility.
Personally, I remember being so angry I was ready to rip the toilets from my home and fling them headlong (pun intended) into Doug England’s front windows as a symbolic gesture of my opinion of his leadership abilities.
After 2 terms, and on the heals of this sewage fiasco, New Albany elected its first Republican (and only
female) Mayor in years, Regina Overton. Not so much a win for the Republicans as it was a determination to not allow Doug England a third term in office.
Mayor Overton inherited the leftovers of the England administration with the major challenge being to find a solution to the sewer problems and attempt to avoid the EPA fine, or at least reduce it to something a bit more manageable for the City. With much contention and fiery differences of opinions a solution was agreed upon and repairs commenced with the dollars generated from a contentious period of bleeding the pockets of the unfortunate New Albany population.
Am I bringing back some memories that you had hoped to never recall? Good!
Now, let’s look again at the city’s habit of raiding the sewer fund to support general operations.
I, for one, am highly offended that my money is being tossed around as if it was a slush fund available for ½ million dollar loans that I will inevitably wind up paying back.
These “loans” that are said to save our city operations from shutdowns will wind up being repaid thru property tax increases.
For those who say the Scribner Place project should move forward without hesitation as there is no money there that can be redirected to the budget, you should be aware that there is $400K per year of EDIT funds dedicated to the Scribner Place that had been earmarked for inner-city improvements and repairs. That figure will jump to $700K within a few years. Money that could, and should, be brought back into the budget for the time being.
For those who were around when the new downtown parking garage was supposed to be the breakthrough that would bring New Albany back to life, you should know that we are still paying almost $700K per year on that bright idea. Has it done anything to improve retail survival or investment downtown? How many boarded up and empty buildings were counted recently? More than I really care to know about. But, I know $700K is nothing to sneeze at in this little town.
For those who saw Wednesday’s Courier article that revealed the State cannot make heads nor tails of the bookkeeping practices, and huge amounts of monies have been used, diverted, disappeared, and downright mis-appropriated, can you really put your confidence in another shuffling game of funds? For that matter, I haven’t seen one good decision come out of this administration yet, and therefore I can’t bring myself to endorse another decision that could potentially have disastrous consequences down the road. I CAN”T AFFORD IT!!!
If taking this stance, and writing these words puts my head on the chopping block…well, so be it. But I cannot, and will not, sit back and watch this city go belly up without going out kicking and screaming. I can’t.
I want to see our downtown revitalized as desperately as anyone out there. But I truly believe we keep putting the cart before the horse, and you’re just not going to get anywhere that way. My way of thinking says you get a population downtown first, then, all else will logically follow. New Albany has a huge amount of rentals. Why not entice that population into trendy, renovated loft apartments? This could increase home-ownership in the neighborhoods. Why not create some student housing for IUS (they just spent $65K on a study to determine that student housing is desired) and start a shuttle from downtown to Grant Line Road? (whoops, there’s one new business right there). With a population, comes the need for retail outlets (laundry, grocery, eateries, clothing, drugstore, etc.) and recreational activity.
Finally, there is one rule of thumb that we all are probably familiar with when it comes to managing our own budgets. When you can no longer afford to keep up with your expenses, when you are forced to live on less than you used to, you look first at your highest expenditures. You trim a little here and a little there, and you are more careful about every little dime that leaves your pocket. What you don’t do is start living off your credit cards with BORROWED money. You don’t create more debt in order to relieve your debt. Borrowing money and raiding your nest egg (rainy day fund) are not wise decisions. What if the car breaks down? What if the water heater goes out? What if you get sick and can’t work? There are way too many “what ifs”. And how are you going to pay the borrowed money back when the time comes?
What this city is experiencing now is the result of borrowing money and not paying it back. How on earth can we endorse doing the same thing all over again? There is only one ending to this scenario…bankruptcy. Perhaps that’s exactly what is needed. Perhaps a fresh start will be the real answer. And I’m not the only one out there with this theory. It’s just that I’m the only one who is able to SPEAK OUT LOUD!