Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hello Friends & Neighbors!

Yes I'm still around!

No I haven't lost interest!

I've just been in one of my periodic slumps of not having much to say of a constructive/enlightening nature and as much as I like to rant, it really doesn't add much to the conversation.

For the time being you can read my local issues views at NAC via the following link;

Please continue to check in here from time to time as I never know when the spirit may move me to post on this site.

Thanks for reading!


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Will We get Our Cut? or Better Yet, Will We Make it Count?

This Monday past I along with John Miller & Pat Woosley of NA Community Housing had the pleasure of attending a live teleconferenced seminar sponsored by Federal Reserve System entitled Confronting the Neighborhood Impacts of Foreclosure.

The local venue for this all day event was held at the Louisville Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Others in attendance from Corydon, Louisville, and elsewhere who deal with housing issues in one way or another in their respective locals.

The panel consisted of Mayors & Housing Department officials from cities around the country, Federal Reserve Board Members, representatives from NeighborWorks America, National Housing Institute, National Community Stabilization Trust, JP Morgan Chase, and Enterprise Community Partners to name a few.

The presentation centered around the small portion ($3.92 Billion) of the $700 Billion that has been set aside to be deal with foreclosure issues at the local level and how best to utilize those limited funds. Information that any city government could find useful in these trying times.

While most of the legal and financial jargon was well above my pay grade I found a much of what was presented to be germane to our own local conversation.

There were numerous examples of how municipalities from other states have successfully dealt with such financial crisis’ of the past three decades. Instances brought on by plant closings which led to job losses and a decline in population followed by deterioration of housing stock in what were once thriving neighborhoods.

Such things as increased code enforcement, city/county owned land banks, greenfields, small neighborhood parks, urban agriculture, mixed use properties, and much more were sited as successful ways to deal with vacant and abandoned property.

The folks who had initiated these programs in their own communities suggested a variety of ways to tweak them to fit in cities of all sizes in all states in order for them to get the biggest bang for the bucks available.

Does it mean that an adjustment in thinking will be required ? Yes, but it also means that we do not have to reinvent the wheel. Templates are available to any who choose to look at them.

Click on the link below and you will find access to Power Point © presentations from previous sessions in this series. This particular meeting should be available there within the next few days.

Other links of interest include;

NeighborWorks America

Enterprise Community Partners

Housing Partnership Network

Local Initiatives Support Corporation

Genesee County Land Bank

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Randy, Doug & Dan!

Last evening’s New Albany Common Council meeting was unique in a number of ways.

For one, Doug England was present from beginning to end. For another, Carl Malysz was nowhere to be found.

Then there was Mr. Randy Smith who rose to the podium to remind the Council of their historic unwillingness to raise taxes & services rates regardless of the need to do so. He also suggested the budget be frozen at 2007 levels and let the chips fall where they may.

To his credit he managed to not be removed from the room although he did get gaveled out of order by President Gahan later in the evening.

And for the second meeting in a row CM Coffey remained calm, cool & collected. Well for the most part anyway. He voice did raise an octave or two when an employee of the New Albany Housing Authority dared to disagree with him about his memory of the origin and distribution of monies within that entity when he was on their board. (circa the1990’s)

The Mayor (that’d be Doug ‘cause Carl weren’t there) came to the podium to inform the Council that the storm cleanup, although expensive, was for all practical purposes done. That was the good news.

The bad news was that your man Mitch (he sure as hell ain’t mine) has yet to declare our fair county/city a disaster area. Further more, there have been no clear indicators of either when or if he will.

Which brings me to a burning question. Where are the Floyd County Executives (i.e. the Commissioners) in this conversation? Oh wait! Floyd County doesn’t have any infrastructure worth selling off to the highest bidder to further pad the State coiffures does it.

But I’m getting off task here. As a result of the untimely storm, the Governors inaction, and the States tardiness in handling our local budget issues we are in fact up the creek without a paddle.

All that being said the Mayor’s position is that he will work within the legal constraints of the budget monies available. If that means cuts in jobs & reduced services to the public, so be it!

He once again reminded all present that we in New Albany have one of the lowest property tax rates in the State. If I heard correctly our rate is $0.80 per $100.00 of assessed value.

Mayor England went on the say that he would balance this budget because he is legally required to and that his administration would work closely with this Council to formulate a 2009 budget that all can agree to. However at the current tax rate and unless someone can wave a magic wand, freezing the 2009 budget at 2007 levels will result in even more reductions in public services. The dollars just aren’t there.

CM Price of course put forward the same ole same ole of parking take home cars, cutting overtime, restricting cell phone us, etc, etc,……….

The remainder of the evening was spent on first readings of various ordinances pertaining to the 2009 budget.

The most telling of which was R-08-43, a Resolution to Reduce 2009 City Budget to offset State Shortfall. This is basically requiring all city departments (except of course Police, Fire, & Safety Services) to trim yet another 10% from the operating costs.

In the case of the aforementioned Safety Services, that cut was a minimum 12 to 15%. A “Good Luck doing that” sigh was felt across the room.

The mayor stated the if necessary we could expect to see Police administration officials on street patrol duty.

Following my 3rd District Councilman’s lead I suggested to the fire chief that he could save thousands if he were to remove the inside dual tire on all of the fire engines and use PVC couplers & radiator hose clamps to repair damaged fire hoses.

Or better yet, let the houses burn completely to the ground thus saving the Building Commission the costs of demolition after the fact. Hauling off a dump truck load of ashes has to be cheaper and quicker than demolishing a half burnt building.

I know, I know, that ain’t funny. But it is about as realistic as a citizenry demanding $3.00 worth of services while only putting .50 cents in the kitty. Cats & rabbits breed fast enough to replenish themselves but I’ve yet to see even pennies, nickles & dimes do so to the scale we are talking about.

At any rate with the exception of A-08-14, which authorized the spending of a federal grant for a new radio system in the Fire Department and R 08-42 which amounted to a 5 year tax abatement for Rite-Way Industries, the other menu items were in one way or another centered around the budget.

There is a Council work session scheduled for Thursday October 23rd @ 6 PM to discuss the budget (again). The Council requested that city department heads attend this workshop to assist in trimming the fat.

As per Kay Garry, the Council has two more meetings in November to get the details hammered out & agreed to. The drop dead date is December 1st.

Happy New Year New Albany!

Just a footnote; I've cross-posted this article over at NA Confidential!

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Where Did Our Jobs Go?

Marcey Wisman asked me to spread the word on an upcoming event concerning job retention in our community & state.

This coming Monday (September 29th) there is going to be a discussion entitled "Outsourcing and Job Loss in Indiana" in the IU Southeast Library from 2-4PM.

This meeting is sponsered by the "Campaign for Change" and will be moderated by Ms. Wisman.

It is open to anyone interested in the topic.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Experiment Failed!

Well it turns out that the temporary closure of Scribner Drive created more problems than it resolved.

 People being people took the path of least resistance and instead of going all the way to State Street to make their way over to Main, they simply turned right onto West 1st to get there.

That in turn led to more traffic crossing State without the assistance of a traffic light which created a safety issue at that intersection as well as alongside the city/county building.

All this coupled with a public hearing at which no one in attendance spoke in favor of Scribner being permanently closed resulted in Deputy Mayor Malysz announcing at this mornings Board of Works meeting that the barracades would come down and remain that way for the forseeable furture.

 He also indicated that Scribner is in need of repaving due in part to the heavy truck traffic that it carries but that is a discussion for another day.

In addition Carl requested that the BOW declare a state of emergency in order that the administration could move forward with securing both the Tabernacle and the city's road salt shed roof against further damage to both. He stated that  the insurance adjuster had given them the go ahead to do emergency repairs within reasonable limits.

Kay  Garry indicated that of the two, the salt shed should be priorty #1 as the city spends $40 to $50k per season on road salt and that availabity for this winter is already questionable. "We shouldn't risk loosing what we have on hand in the event of rain!"

The remainder of the meeting dealt primarily with various street closures relating to the upcoming  Harvest Homecoming and the events surrounding it.

Meeting adjourned with everyone still smiling.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

And Now, Another Episode of "As the Council Churns!"

In our previous episode; A proposed ordinance (A-08-12) for an appropriation of $250K to fund the drug task force restart (10K), the city’s new tow-in lot ($50K) and $190K for purposes not yet named was introduced for 2nd & 3rd readings by D5 Councilwoman Ms. Benedetti.

Following which a lively discussion between (primarily) CM’s Messer & Coffey concerning the advisability of handing the England administration a “blank check” for $190K.

Although testimony from several sources (including previous statements from City Controller Kay Garry) that the dollars could not be spent without further council approval, Dan successfully squelched the $190 and the Mayor’s office walked away with only $60K!

And now, tonight’s episode;

Going in, this the second September meeting of New Albany’s Common Council looked to be short & sweet. The only agenda items were a report for CM John Gonder concerning his Housing Committee, a resolution for the transfer of funds (R-08-40), and the 1st reading of a bill to annex 40 acres of fringe property to expand our industrial park area (X-08-01).

The Gonder report was without incident as after two meetings nothing of consequence has occurred save the realization that code enforcement in any meaningful way is not happening. (Old news)!

During the public comments section, there was only one gentleman who approached the podium to speak about the smoking ban only to find that it wasn’t a topic of discussion for this evening.

No Public Officials had anything to say and the Mayor (i.e.; Deputy Mayor Malysz) presented an update on the city’s post hurricane cleanup activities.

Then the fun began. R-08-40 (a transfer of funds request of once again, $250K) to pay for the cleanup thus far was introduced by CM Coffey.

Coffey came out of the box in ardent support of this appropriation without question. “We have an emergency and the people need help!” he quipped.

Some council members asked why this request differed from A-08-12 (the one from the previous meeting for the same amount).

The Coffey response was the $190K asked for on September 4th, had no specific earmarks attached.

CM Messer countered that this one did not either. It was merely a blank check for “cleanup”. There were no specifics on to whom,  for what, and how it was to be distributed.

CM Coffey came back once again that this was an emergency and the need was dire.

CWM Benedetti offered that if the full $250K had been approved at the last meeting, the administration would be 2 weeks closer to having at least $190K in hand to deal with the current issue. In addition, none of it, thewn or now, can be distributed without further Council approval.

About this point both CM’s Coffey & Price pointed out to Ms Benedetti that she needed to listen and learn!

She responded that she was learning everyday and she still didn’t see the difference between this request and the aforementioned one.

This makes the second meeting in a row that she has been reprimanded publicly (by CM President Gahan at the last meeting)  for daring to voice an opinion.

If I may interject, you’d think she’d understand the status quo doesn’t appreciate being challenged by freshmen CM's any more than they do the public.

However, on the other hand I say with gusto “YOU GO GIRL!!”

CM Price then said that this should be a “wake up call” for the city. “We need a rainy day fund just for such events” he continued. “This just underlines the need for the city to watch its pennies! (Paraphrased quote)

In the end after nearly an hour of quibbling, the measure passed unanimously.

Then came the introduction of X-08-01 (the Grantline Industrial Park West Annexation) for 1st reading.

Mr. Malysz presented the details including the need for infrastructure & utilities to serve the annexation and it also passed with little ado.

The gavel dropped and Mark & I retired to the city hall annex (i.e.; Studio’s) for the regularly scheduled post-meeting meeting.

We thought our cohort (Bluegill) was going to join us but he apparently got detained for further discussion with various council persons & city officials following our departure.

Perhaps we’ll hear more on that later.

One final note; Mr. Malysz said he’d been assured by Duke Energy that all power for New Albany will be restored by sometime Saturday. And stay away from those power lines still entangled in downed trees!

OH! and did I mention this was one long meeting for just two agenda items??

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

IF I MAY.........?

If I may (or even if I may not) I’d like to respond to the latest contribution from our friends over at Freedom of Speech.

Their post this morning entitled “YOU BOYS JUST DON’T GET IT” brings up some interesting points. Many of them, I in principle, agree with. Others however I’d like to expand upon.

First things first. My take is that the Council Committee really is looking for ways to make New Albany safer, cleaner, and healthier for its citizens (children & seniors alike).

As to why the administration’s entities charged with effectively enforcing the ordinances on the books are not doing so is question I also would like answered.

My suspicion is that the answer lies in part to the lack of staff & resources.

I’m convinced after attending several public meetings on the subject that a lack of understanding of the applicable laws is in play as well.

And finally I think it goes without saying at this point that there is a lack of will (political or otherwise) to take the lid off that particular can of worms.

It is true that there are over 22,000 parcels of property listed as being within the cith limits of New Albany
 in the data bases of the Assessor, the Auditor, the Recorder, and the Platt Room computer systems.

However, that information very often does not match from one office to the next. There are in fact parcels listed as vacant lots that have (and have had for 2 years or more) houses on them.

There are in fact houses on parcels of property that the transfer of ownership has never been recorded. In other words, persons building structures on property they do not legally own at least in terms of a recorded deed transfer.

There are in fact instances (including those like the ones mentioned in the previous paragraph) where said structures were constructed without permit one being applied for much less approved by Zoning & Planning.

There are in fact cases of owners of multiple properties claiming homestead exemptions on more than one of them. Once again, my understanding of the statute is that provision is one per customer.

All of these examples add up to a loss of income (via property taxes) for New Albany. The net result is a lack of dollars available to the city for its many needs to be met.

I don’t mind paying taxes to pay for city services. As a matter of fact, I’ll gladly do so in order to retain that cozy feeling of safety when I lay my head on my pillow at night.

I do however object profusely when I find that not all are required to carry their portion of the burden because they managed to slip thru the cracks.

Are there a lot of these instances? At this point, I honestly can’t say. However one or a hundred it begs the question of “who’s minding the store?” Is the water cooler talk of favoritism more than just talk?

Answers anyone?

And just what does all this have to do with code enforcement and the call for rental property registration?

Well first of all, it explains in part why there are so few dollars that have to be spread so far. It explains in part why the work load overwhelms the staffs in place.

 I will agree that in the case of owner occupied homes, access to the responsible party is relatively easy. He/she lives in the home in question (usually).

However, in more than a few cases locating the individual(s) who have the authority to address a code violation issue for rental properties is much more difficult and time consuming.

As I have said in previous posts on this site and others as well Pam Badger, & Ron Hartman both have cited instance upon instance of not being able to locate said individual which adds weeks, months and even years to a satisfactory solution to the issue.

So as shown by other cities/towns/burgs/puddle stops around the state/country, registration of rental property and the requirement that the owner or his/her agent live either in the city or an adjacent county cuts the time, money, & resources required to solve said issues substantially.

There need not be a fee attached for registering. However failure to do so can result in some serious fines.

Registration need not be a cause of fear for those landlords that are keeping their properties up to snuff. Contrary to popular belief, I choose to think those folk are in the majority.

What it will do is shine the spotlight on those that are not (i.e.; slumlords). While I will acquiesce that “ghosts” may be and probably are hard to locate I’d submit that if efforts could be shifted to doing so instead of being spent digging thru four separate data bases to weed out the offenders from those doing the right thing, the focus of enforcement could shift and become more productive.

As I have mentioned before, after getting the registration data base in place, it will be up to the various entities of the administration to follow thru all the way to a solution case by case.

While it is true that at there may be a requirement for an additional staff person to create, administer, and keep the data in this program current, I can’t envision it being a major budget item.

Anyone with a working knowledge of Excel can put this thing together. Once in place it should not be that difficult to keep current. Assuming of course the person(s) involved want it to remain so.

To paraphrase a quote from FOS, “It ain’t that complicated Boys (Girls)”






Only if the administrators choose it to be!

Only if we the people sit quietly by and allow our elected/appointed government officials to continue doing “business as usual”!!

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