Saturday, November 05, 2005

Price is Right! The Sky IS Falling

OK, chuckleheads. Sneer if you want, but the man America chose to serve as president, not merely to occupy the White House (yes, even Floridians) is still making sense.

The man most qualified to lead this country and to head the Gore/Obama in '08 ticket writes in Salon magazine that "the time to act is now."

Best line, borrowed from another? Stronger hurricanes and typhoons represent only one of many new dangers as we begin what someone has called "a nature hike through the Book of Revelation."

Al compares the current administration's approach to planetary warming to Neville Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler in the '30s. VH is pleased to rebroadcast Gore's article today by providing this link.

Falling Like Ten-Pins

The attempted conservative takeover of public broadcasting was dealt a blow this week, as reported in Friday's New York Times.

Steven Labaton reports that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting demanded the resignation of Ken Tomlinson after an inspector general's report revealed serious conflicts.

In a speech before he quit as chairman, Mr. Tomlinson said he had no regrets over "aggressively" trying to balance what he called overly liberal programming.

In a related story, muffled cries of anguish were heard from under the porch steps when word reached the friends of Darby O'Gill. The progressive banner still stands despite all they throw at it.

Proudly we hail this development.

Read the story here

Hie Thee to The Tribune

Sanity rears its glorious head in the letters section of Saturday's editions of The Tribune, while just four pages later, on the back page of the front section, "Floyd County's newspaper since 1851" stumbles.

The Last Shall Be First

Decent content on the Saturday Technology page. I'm grateful they have it. But the lead illustration, provided by a syndicate, shows 4 seemingly identical iPods. Unfortunately for local readers, the illustration was intended to demonstrate the variety of colors the ubiquitous personal listening stations are offered in.

Even though Apple's iPod comes in a rainbow of colors, Los Angeles resident Jo Ann Villalobos gives them even more character by creating costumes for the gadgets, including Halloween masks, below, and complete western-style cowboy outfits.

Rainbow? Show it, don't tell it.

First Shall Be Last

Officer Todd Bailey, who works diligently as a neighborhood association liaison, takes the Gang of Four to task in a letter of frustration with their ongoing obstructionism.

Some City Councilmen just don't get it

Dear Editor:

For the past few years certain members of the New Albany City Council have felt it necessary to discuss at agonizing length gasoline consumption and use for the city's take home car fleet, particularly the police department's. This, of course, has sparked many related and unrelated debates within the council and the community in general.

Mayor James Garner and Chief of Police Merle Harl identified the problem and have implemented gas saving programs that have truly helped with this matter. It is no illusion that fuel prices have risen significantly. A conservative estimate would show the cost increase to be around 40 percent over the past few years. The mayor and chief identified this early on and understanding the need for fiscal responsibility and public safety, took several cost saving measures.

One, that police officers who live beyond the city limit contribute fuel in the amount of either 10 or 20 gallons per month. This move in itself more than covered the costs of officers taking their vehicles home. Two, that officers be restricted to driving the vehicles for work related tasks only and no private or "off duty" driving. These are ideas that most if not all police officers gladly support because they too want to help the community with any financial problems.

You may ask why we have vehicles assigned to individuals and why they take them home? The reason is for the same reason the mayor and chief implemented the money saving measure I mentioned previously, fiscal responsibility and public safety. It is simply less expensive to have a fleet of vehicles assigned to individuals rather than fleets of pool cars running 24 hours per day seven days per week. In fact, the savings are significant to that point that I doubt the city could afford to have a 24/7 non-assigned fleet. With regard to public safey, the more police cars on the street, the more visibility, the less crime.

Additionally, and even more confusing, officers providing traffic assistance for church traffic on Sunday mornings has been attacked by the same councilmen. This assistance costs the city nothing as the church pays completely for the service including the gasoline. Without these officers assistance on Sunday morning, traffic would be gridlocked on Charlestown Road.

So, Todd, you're making a lot of sense here. The command staff made the same compelling presentation to council months ago. Are you saying that the Gang of Four still doesn't get it? Aren't they paying attention? Isn't that what we pay them for? Why are hundreds of residents who aren't elected officials aware of these policies, but not the Gang? Most residents recognize them as one example of the leadership and fiscal responsibility shown by this new administration. Most residents see that, particularly in 2005, the Garner administration has guided the ship through mighty rough waters. Why is the Gang so opposed to reform and progress? Talk to us, Todd.

The councilmen who agonizingly debate the so-called "fuel problem" or "take home car issue" are the real failure. These are the same people who for years have stifled progress in this community.

I am ashamed and embarrassed for members of the New Albany City Council such as Larry Kochert (4th District) who have served for so long and have accomplished so little. Why are Kochert and other council members dwelling on this fuel matter that has already been solved? A personal agenda? Incompetence? Who knows. What is known is that Kochert is a large part of the problem. But with all problems, we have the ability to solve them. When it comes time to vote again, (2007) please exercise your right and vote Kochert back to a non-public life.

As you have probably suspected by now, yes, I'm a New Albany Police Officer.

I chose this career and city because I am genuinely concerned about the welfare of the people. I grew up in this city and proudly serve its citizens. It's time for council members to set aside their agendas and care about this community too.

For the record, there are members of the New Albany City Council who are doing positive things for the community. Councilmen Crump, Messer, Gahan and Blevins have all acted in a responsible manner throughout this matter.

Todd Bailey
New Albany

Note that we are aware that Mr. Kochert hasn't confined his demagoguery to the council chamber, but has taken his campaign against the administration and the police department on the road, too.

At Volunteer Hoosier, we support the cops. How about you?

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Olive Branch...or Psychotic Episode

Stripped of its paranoia-laced rhetoric, a recent posting at anonybloghorrhea parroted progressive goals, including the elimination of the good ol' boy network that has held New Albany back for years.

Is this a repudiation of Schmidt, Coffey, and Kochert?

Talk amongst yourselves.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Storm Sewers, Water Quality, etc.

One of the reasons I've not spoken much about the new stormwater interim impact fees is that it's a no-brainer. That is, there's practically no debate among reasonable people that New Albany is faced with an absolute, non-negotiable mandate to institute a 5-year water quality improvement regime.

Remarkably, the same council faction that has been crying "the sky is falling" all year has now come out in favor of paying these expenses out of the general fund, for Pete's sake.

Under professional guidance, the advisory committee made up of regular citizens has recommended a rate to fund stormwater management and the Rule 13 mandate. Beginning in 2006, there will be three rates - $3 a month (for most residential lots), $15 a month (for most commercial lots), and $60 a month (for large industrial and institutional lots, and presumably large shopping developments, although that is not clear).

Granted, a minority of those advisors has been very vocal in opposition, but not very persuasive. I will acknowledge that that minority has spent much time studying the issues, but then so has the majority.

What would the interim fee pay for?

First is the development and implementation of a five-year plan to get a handle on unmanaged storm runoff, point source stream pollution, and non-point source waterway pollution. The city must submit a viable plan by Spring or it will face serious fines from environmental regulators. That's not a job for amateur sleuths. Perhaps much of the aerial photography and topographical mapping has been done. Perhaps the current plat maps will speed the process. But it may also be that the city will have to institute a global GIS software system almost immediately.

Whatever the hurdles to be faced early, the cost over five years for this mandate will be roughly $180,000 a year. No one disputes this figure.

Second is the ongoing maintenance and emergency response now provided by a team of fewer than ten workers. Those costs, and the attendant payroll costs, have until now been paid from the Sewer Board fund, and total something like $450,000 a year. Maintaining a decaying underground system is costly, but no one disputes that this expenditure is necessary.

Third is planned infrastructure upgrades. These are discretionary, in the rawest sense, but deferring these upgrades would be foolish. Some estimate that New Albany needs to invest $500,000 a year in modernizing the underground storm sewers, but it's clear that there is neither the money nor the will to undertake such an ambitious program. It's likely that the annual investment there will be between $100,000 and $200,000, and probably closer to the lower figure.

So when someone tells you that you are being "lied to," that there is only a need for $180,000 a year, remember that the interim user fee is designed to fund ALL stormwater management.

But isn't this a rate increase?

Yes, it is. And it's more than just for the new water quality management mandate.

Remember, the Sewer Board has been carrying (quite logically, to my mind, but reasonable people can disagree) the costs of drainage management. The Sewer Board is reclaiming that money. It will no longer be available from sewer revenues.

In a way, the new user fee is a backdoor increase in our sewer rates. The costs of managing the sanitary sewer operation have gone up, and that board is doing everything in its power to keep from raising that rate. But they are firm about dumping the responsibility for drainage (and sanitation) back onto the city proper.

Here, I think, is the logic of Mr. Kochert and Co. Sewer rates are based on water usage, or more properly, sewer usage. My store, for example, is unlikely to ever be charged more than the minimum sewer charge - we simply don't run a lot of water through the system. On the other hand, our entire property consists of either roof or pavement, and rain that falls on our property has nothing to do with how much water we run through the pipes.

Accordingly, to be equitable, a system must be devised to apportion the costs of stormwater management according to the impact. In addition, as a commercial property, it's of added importance that we have surface roads available so that visitors can get to us. The biggest drainage impact comes from roads, so commercial and industrial entities that survive only because of those roads will pay a higher rate than mere residential properties.

Given enough time and cooperation, a perfect system could be devised to measure actual and potential impact. In the meantime, a rough but fair impact fee is being proposed. It compares favorably with the impact fees charged by other Indiana municipalities who have addressed the issue. It is under no stretch of the imagination a money-grab.

The plan to be developed over the next 6-12 months will spread the costs equitably. That is the primary charge of the citizen advisory committee - to sit through those long meetings listening to dry technical matters and come up with a recommendation for a fee system beyond the interim. Council is demanding a tight deadline be met to spread those costs equitably, so let's hope the Council will help, not hinder the process.

Why can't this be paid from property taxes or EDIT taxes?

Well, it's not a tax. Water quality impact is only marginally related to property values. It's not related to income at all.

But can't it be "tacked on" to the property tax bill?

Sure. Not right away, but it could be set up in 2007 as a property-specific charge, and it is believed that it can be taken from the first dollar paid on that bill, making the possibility of delinquencies much less likely. But in the meantime, funding must be made available. We can't just stop working on the system until the property tax bills are paid. And there will be a transition period where, if the add-on to the water bill is dropped, the city might have to borrow money while waiting for funds from the treasurer.

I've not heard of anyone who is opposed to levying delinquent fees on the top of the semi-annual property tax bill, either.

Why create a new board to oversee water quality?

The mayor has stated his belief that the existing sewer board should be the body that oversees stormwater management. His colleagues on that board disagree. Someone will have to serve as a board of directors here. It won't operate itself.

What about tax-increment financing money? Why not use that instead of apportioning the costs by impact?

One reason. There is no such thing as TIF money. TIF is not a big pile of money that can be used for anything, anytime. TIF areas are created as special taxing districts where improvements are desired. As development takes place in the area, the taxes derived from the added value are dedicated to paying off bonds. Those bonds are issued for such things as infrastructure improvements. In theory, that COULD include drainage channels, aboveground or underground, but diverting that TIF money to drainage would simply leave other improvements unfunded.

What's the bottom line?

Yuck. More money coming out of my family's pocket. During the interim period, our commercial property is getting screwed. Indeed, my 3,000 s.f. store is likely to be paying the same rate as stores 30 and 40 times larger (not to mention the disparity in parking lot space). I say, give the professionals and the advisory committee every resource they need to implement an impact fee that's fair. Don't issue a dare to the regulators by delaying the creation of a 5-year plan. Don't bitch about funding stormwater operations from this fee.

How about Wednesday's vote?

Vote yes. Put the interim fee on the Indiana American Water bill so we don't just stop managing the drainage problems. Don't put the city at risk of more environmental fines.

Bonus consideration

A few have actually suggested the stormwater operations be funded out of property taxes. Is there a secret agenda at work here? Who pays property taxes? More importantly, who doesn't?

An impact fee based on actual contributions to stormwater runoff volume would capture the costs generated by the institutional property owners who are already exempt from property taxes. How much land (and impervious surfaces) would escape paying their share of the costs? The school system. Some non-profits. Property-holding churches, particularly the mega-churches that are starting to resemble theme parks. Private schools. Floyd County. Under the user fee, no property is exempt. But as a property tax, many high-impact properties would escape paying their fair share.

The equities here are certainly debatable, but let's do that some other time. Just consider a church like Southeast Christian in Kentucky, a church that operates businesses and owns properties that are being subsidized by the taxpayers of Jefferson County. At what point does being a church give you license to take money and services from those around you, especially those who don't share your particular brand of worship?

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Pick a Side

There’s nothing funny about it, folks. Whether they are truly just paranoiac conspiracy theorists or witting tools of a criminal political machine, there is an element at large determined to poison the atmosphere of political discussion and to stifle free speech.

It’s unfortunate that they also seem to have been smoking dope when they should have been paying attention in English class. Their composition skills, incredibly, are even worse than their reasoning skills.

The Hon. Maury Goldberg, the former city council member for the 3rd District, has attempted to give us a history of the atrocious management of New Albany’s sanitation department. Speaking loutly, if incoherently, certain elements have willingly misinterpreted these histories to support their own miserable preconceptions.

How anyone could possibly take what Mr. Goldberg reports and twist it to support a belief that trash collection user fees are “propping up” the city’s sewer utility operations is beyond me.

Mr. Goldberg is earnestly seeking answers. He clearly favors a solution to our sanitation problems that would necessitate a 50% increase in user fees. That’s a solution that I believe, after 15 years of an ongoing subsidy from the general fund and other fund accounts, is untenable. Nonetheless, I do believe MG is being intellectually honest, no matter how much I may disagree.

For one thing, New Albany is the home of a large proportion of residents on fixed incomes. Proportionally, this city has a large number of lower-income residents and an out-of-proportion number of elderly single-person households who do not have the ability to shoulder the burden of a trash-collection fee of $21 a month.

No one, least of all the cave-dwelling troglodytes, has made a convincing case that maintaining sanitation as a purely civic service is worth the cost to our fixed- and limited-income population.

No, the psychotic strain spews the canard that the only explanation is greed, corruption and an inherent desire to harm the community.

I, and many, many others are here to make the case that the current administration is demonstrating courage by addressing an intractable problem that has plagued this city for nigh unto a generation. The sanitation operations of this city have been so miserably mismanaged, with no easy solution in sight, that the only choice is to consider contracting this service to a private company.

Adhering to core principles of accountability and recognizing the valuable contributions made to municipal services by the current workforce, this mayor has continued to make the continued employment of the existing employees a priority. James Garner has not once descended to the tactic of criticizing the work ethic of the current workforce.

Of course, he will not be given credit for retaining these jobs. Political enemies will cast this as a callous betrayal of public employees. Reasonable people, however, will see that there has been nothing hasty or callous about the mayor’s course of action.

His plan maintains municipal control over the level of service. His plan strives to keep a maximum number of current workers employed. Furthermore, his plan fulfills the city’s obligation to the cooperative venture that is the Clark-Floyd landfill.

Continuation of services is jeopardized by the ongoing obstruction by the Gang of Four. As requests for proposals issue this week, the mayor and his administration are committed to the absolute minimum of job losses (the preference is zero job losses) and to maintaining our obligations to utilize the community landfill operations.

It is clear that opponents either don’t understand the basic mathematics of fund accounting or that they are committed to a political agenda to keep the city operating inefficiently.

It is beyond ironic that the mayor’s opponents claim to be champions of the “little people” while insisting that the poorest of our citizens carry the burden of a provably inefficient sanitation operation.

There is no question but that 50 years of outrageous cronyism and preferential treatment would give rise to such an unreasoned anger and vitriol. What’s most ironic, however, is that those who decry it most strenuously are ignoring the first, best chance to destroy the machine that has perpetuated this abomination of government accountability.

At long last, New Albany has a reform mayor, a mayor who is willing to disrupt the old boy network no matter the political cost. Those criminal and near-criminal elements who assumed that Garner would be “their boy” are angry and embittered. Clumsily, but evidently, they have enlisted a cadre of already disillusioned citizens to do their dirty work.

Whether that dirty work involves disinformation (the Schmidt modus operandi), craven populism and self-evident disdain of every communitarian instinct (the Price modus operandi), pure ignorance (the Coffey modus operandi), or naked political calculation (the Kochert M.O.), it is drawing the attention of the citizenry.

New Albanians are not stupid. They may have, in the past, paid little attention to the day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month machinations of city government. That day has passed.

Citizens are paying attention. They see who is seeking to move this city forward. They see who is making the tough decisions. They see who is timid and who is bold.

And now, the desperation of Garner’s political opponents has ramped up to a fever pitch. No tactic is beneath them. Slander is but the poisoned tip of their arrows. They do not hesitate to employ any tactic. These vandals, these Klansmen, these Nazis, see their hegemony threatened by a mayor who will not submit to their direction. They see an awakened constituency no longer accepting of an attitude of “it’s always been this way.”

New Albanians will not be cowed by criminal violence. They will not be fooled by crackpots pressing an agenda of racism, religious persecution, theocracy, homophobia, and xenophobia. They will react. They will reject the appeal to nativism and intolerance. They will, no matter which party banner it marches under, declare a preference. Choose YOUR side very carefully.