After watching the predictable outcome of last Friday’s Special meeting, and coming away with the sickening feeling that fairness in this town simply doesn’t matter, I began to contemplate what else will transpire during this reign of ineptness and greed. There was plenty of time to do this the right way. They simply chose not to.
The plan for a new Stormwater “user fee” has escalated into an $800,000 monster that is being assessed unfairly by tacking the fee onto the Indiana-American Water Co. (IAW) bills instead of placing the fee equitably on property taxes.
By billing through the water company, one thing we are assured of is that owners of empty lots will not be contributing, nor will any properties that are vacant and not receiving water service. Thus, this fee is being assessed in an unfair manner.
Why, you might ask, would such a method be approved if it is not fair nor equitable? Well, mostly because the sewer fund has been so misused and mismanaged, that they now need a large influx of money A.S.A.P., and thus, cannot wait for the fees to be drawn from the tax rolls.
To add insult to injury (yes, some pay while others don’t is financial injury), much debate was given during the meeting to lowering the 12 month residential INTERIM fee by a measly $1, which will result in a net savings of a whole $12 per water billed customer. This issue was given much more attention than it merited, as the INTERIM FEE is not the real issue. Any false sense that this $1 makes this ridiculous fee more friendly to the “little people”, as mentioned by one Council member, is an insult. They should have debated how many salaries this fee will pay.
The real issue is: How much is the PERMANENT stormwater “user fee” going to be, and why is it not being assessed fairly to every property holder?
Unless they can show me that some properties don’t get rained on during a storm while others do, I will continue to insist that this is an unfair, and inequitably applied fee. Every Council member who voted to allow this should be ashamed.
Still, in order for the City to compensate for this lost $1, the fee for commercial entities, such as Wal-Mart, Krogers, and every other business, was raised by a whopping $3, resulting in an $18 INTERIM stormwater fee.
This is neither fair nor equitable either, as every business, whether it be 1,000 square footage like a bakery or a hair salon, will be paying the same amount as a business of 100,000 square foot like the “Big Box” stores I’ve mentioned. The Home Depot will be paying the same fee as Ace Hardware. Does that seem fair?
Furthermore, the projected after-interim fee for commercial stores is $30, which is more than a 70% increase. No Council member managed to utter the projected after-interim fee for the chosen residential properties, but if the commercial increase is any indication, then we are in for another big hit.
Anyone who can truly look at this last-minute money grab as anything close to fair, and right, for the residents and small businesses of New Albany is just plain wrong. This is another Garner screw-up that we will be paying for out of our pockets because this administration did not do their job properly.
This fee could have been applied equitably among all residents by adding it to the property taxes, and fairly among commercial entities by basing it on square footage. However, they said there was no time to wait for the tax monies to come in, and no other way to comply with the Federal mandates in time unless it was done this way, even though they have known for years that this was coming. More proof of ineptness.
So, who didn’t do their job? Who are we supposed to blame for not staying on top of this? Why did they assemble a public committee to study the issue and make recommendations if all their work was simply going to be tossed aside as a useless formality? The Committee had a plan, the costs were only $200K by May of 2006, and it required no fees on residentials. But, that didn't satisfy the Administration.
Why didn’t the City work with the County, which has to follow the same mandates, to come up with a system for meeting the mandates requirements without strapping it on the backs of the residents and small business owners? It's because this is about more than meeting EPA Federal mandates. Much more.
My home is about 1200 square foot and sits on a 50-foot lot. Why am I paying the same as the guy down the street in a 4,000 square foot home on a double lot with a large driveway? How can they expect to get away with something so blatantly inequitable? Because they have been getting away with it, for decades. No more.
CM Schmidt's inquiry of using money available from $2.2 million in TIF funds was promtly thwarted by announcing in the paper, just days before the special meeting, that bids for a (surprise!) $2.2 million project (unknown at the time) would be accepted by the City's Redevelopment Commission, which is the authority of TIF spending. Director John Rosenbarger was asked at the meeting if TIF dollars could indeed be used for any portion of the stormwater mandate. He answered that TIF money, Tax Incremental Financing, is dedicated to funding improvements for those specifically designated areas of economic development, and this money is only available for "projects", not for administrative costs. Furthermore, any projects must, at the least, be related to serving the TIF district.
The County has managed to put a system in place for this stormwater mandate that will not add any extra burden to the residents. They are using EDIT funds and fees from private developers to cover the costs associated with the program.
How are they doing that you ask?
Well, they aren’t asking for an extra $200,000 to set up an entirely new “department” to handle the stormwater projects. They placed the program under the County’s Planning Commission. We could have done the same here, or put it under the sewer department, but due to mis-management and mis-appropriation of funds, we, the taxpayers, are having to bail out the sewer department by supplying money for the salaries of several employees who have been wrongly getting paid out of the sewer funds. Those salaries MUST NOT continue coming out of the Sewer funds.
Also, since we have obligated available EDIT funds to build a $17 million swimming pool, we have to cough up enough money to do any actual “projects” that may be necessary to control the quality of stormwater runoff.
The EPA still hasn’t notified the City as to the question of adding additional hookups to the sewage system, and we know that any measurable amount of rain causes huge overflows of the system, but our illustrious Mayor has deemed it more economically advantageous to have a swimming pool, than it is to have functioning sewers and the capability of handling stormwater, as a major selling point for economic development. Ahhhhh, you can smell it already, can't you?
All in all folks, we just got screwed again. Don’t look away… there’s more to come.
Those TIF funds I spoke of earlier, they are suddenly available for "other" uses. I have discovered our Mayor is going to request a $700,000 "loan" from the TIF funds to cover a cash shortfall in the General fund for the remainder of the year!!!
In my book, $700K is awfully close to the $800K the Mayor and his cronies said is needed for this stormwater runoff management project. If we had used the TIF dollars, there wouldn't be anything to "borrow" from, and he plans to pay it back with.... you guessed it! PROPERTY TAX REVENUE!
Is all this bumbling around beginning to gel together in your minds? It should be getting pretty obvious what is happening in our City.
Now, for the final curtain... next year's budget calls for all of them getting salary increases. Isn't this a wonderful time we live in?
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