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Jehl, Harper, and other random thoughts
By Jim Sack
Fort Wayne Reader
Politicians like to speak on behalf of the “American People.” In fact, the American People are some 350 million souls, each individual, each independent, each with a mind of her or his own. Whenever you hear a politician say he speaks for the American People he is delusional or suffers from a self-inflated sense of importance. Like wine, the tastes of the American people vary from vintage to vintage and vineyard to vineyard. There is no one American People, but millions of different individuals constantly shifting in their views, constantly changing their opinions. Politicians like to say they speak for you, but they don’t. To say otherwise is to lie.
City Councilman Russ Jehl is in real estate. In that business prospective deals are measured in ROI, return on investment. Thus, Mr. Jehl would like to hear from the Henry Administration what they project the ROI to be for Cityscape Flats, the proposed housing project next to the ballpark. It is a very generous deal. The city proposes to partner with DOMO Ventures, a two-man shop headed by Eric Doden who is also the president of the Indiana Department of Economic Development Council. Doden, on a leave of absence from this relatively new partnership, will be the beneficiary of free land, a parking garage, site improvements, and tax abatements, all of the above tax money collected from you. It is a transfer of wealth from you to a wealthy businessman who is also a government official. So, Mr. Jehl, naturally enough, wants to know what’s in it for you, the taxpayer, the source of the $10,000,000 million or so that Doden will pocket in the short term. Councilman Jehl has asked the city to send someone to the table to explain our ROI. Perhaps it will be Karl Bandamer, himself a former real estate professional. The question that needs to be answered is whether this is a good deal for the rest of us, not just politician Doden?
Tax Incremental Financing districts, TIFs, collect property tax dollars. The property tax dollars that are collected from a geographic area are to be reinvested in that area for the further improvement of that area. But, they are property dollars by any other name. The Henry Administration, however, insists on saying they are not property tax dollars for some strange reason, probably because of the fight years ago that resulted in a constitutional amendment to limit the collection of property taxes. So, when officials come to the table to explain the aspects of a deal to city council they go out of their way to say “no property tax dollars will be used” in a given project. While many of the projects are worthy of funding it would be less disingenuous if the administration called a spade a spade, rather than trying to camouflage their funding sources.
Oh, and there is one other problem with plowing property tax dollars into TIF funds: When a TIF district is set up the property tax dollars collected there are used in that district to improve that district. Those property tax dollars do not go into the general fund to support our schools, roads, airport and library, among other expenses that are normal to the operation of our city. They stay in the district. This is one reason, beside tax abatements, why many of our institutions are suffering budget cuts, despite property tax collections creeping higher and a recent increase in your income tax bill. On the surface TIFs sound great; they reinvest tax dollars in target areas for maximum impact. For example, Jefferson Pointe TIF taxes were used to build the ballpark at the very end of a suspiciously drawn boundary line. But, TIFs undermine the general tax base essential to other significant institutions.
Should council examine their policy and restrict the channeling of property tax dollars into TIF districts? Will they?
Mitch Harper’s Run
A couple of seasoned local politicians bet Mitch Harper will back out of his run for mayor sometime this late summer just before a key ballot deadline. They believe the prime motivation behind Mr. Harper’s candidacy is to raise enough money to pay off loans he made to his campaigns in previous runs. I don’t think so. I think Mitch will stick it to the bloody end of this campaign playing the role of either John Paul Jones, or Custer. We shall see. It would be the end of his career as a local politician if he were to beg thousands from Republican contributors and then demure. Beside, a few other local politicos figure the Republicans have targeted Fort Wayne, a thorn in Indiana’s right side. It is their big goal this year. They control the governor’s office, the legislature and almost all the statewide offices, except Superintendent of Public Instruction, and you see how they are treating her. Republican fat cats want a one party state and will spend well north of a million dollars to unseat Mayor Henry. The bets are on. I think Mitch will tough it out.