Wednesday, January 17, 2007

16 January 2007 Dearborn County Commissioner Meeting Notes

16 January 2007 Dearborn County Commissioner Meeting Notes

Present: Jeff Hughes, Chairman, Rick Fox, and Ralph Thompson
Also Present: Frank Kramer for Bob Ewbank, Attorney, Cary Pickens, Auditor, and Bryan Messmore, Administrator.

A uniformed officer was present at the meeting. [NOTE: You can always tell when the commissioners plan to take advantage of the public. They call the sheriff for some manpower at the meeting. And the officer stands and WATCHES the crowd. It’s just the opposite at the Plan Commission meetings- even the most heated ones. They have never required an officer in the 12 years I’ve attended them. Perhaps that’s because they listen to the public.]

There were approximately 70 people present including county officials, Chamber of Commerce and DCEDI members, realtors, developers, local citizens, and county activists. The Register sent a reporter also. The paper will provide additional coverage later.

The topic of interest was the Vieste report most of which was aimed at a target industrial/commercial/flex office space/retail spot of 4,480 acres outlined in northern Jackson Township and the resulting interchange with I-74 and roadway extension from there to Dillsboro (along the old Outer Loop pathway.)

[NOTE: Prior to this PUBLIC meeting, which was not announced or advertised in any way by the county commissioners, there were serial meetings with commissioners and council members and Vieste/Level 5 Engineering/London Witte to exchange ideas. The Public Access Counselor was called regarding these attempts to circumvent the public process. She said they might be legal- depending on what kind of information was exchanged in those meetings. She said also that they violate the spirit of the open door law and that THEY DO NOT ADVISE OFFICIALS TO HAVE THESE KINDS OF MEETINGS. Ralph Thompson refused to attend these private sessions. He wanted the public involved.

This report was kept from the public, and officials who had the report were told that it was confidential until the public meeting. I asked several people for copies or info. This would not be such a big issue, except for the fact that the commissioners were on a timeline printed in the report to accept it at the meeting tonight and there was NO PUBLIC INPUT or knowledge prior to this meeting. Fortunately, a brown unmarked envelope appeared one night in my doorway with a copy of this report.

Landowners in the targeted area reported Bret Fehrman (of Fehrman Realty and member of DCRSD- sewer board) has approached them and the Martini’s of Red Apple Realty (and neighbors of Commissioner Fox) sent letters to or approached them about selling their land. They also offered a free appraisal of their land. How exactly do the realtors know about this secret report before the citizens? In some circles this has been referred to as being tantamount to “insider trading.” Public scrutiny is clearly needed.

The Chamber of Commerce sent out a notice to their membership on prior to the meeting stating: Chamber members are encouraged to be present for two significant county meetings this month. The county commission will meet on Tuesday, January 16th, beginning at 6:00 PM in the commission meeting room. The county council will meet on Tuesday, January 23rd, beginning at 7:30 PM.
This capital management plan addresses funding for several projects that affect the county’s economic development potential – transportation, regional sewer service, public safety, etc. A major part of the plan focuses on funding for infrastructure improvements in the I-74 corridor ‘land bank’ project, which the Redevelopment Commission will be obtaining option and purchase agreements in the I-74 corridor for the future location of economic development projects.
Your presence at these meetings will indicate support from the business community for implementing the necessary infrastructure for economic development.

Channel 9 carried a story interviewing Mark Hall and also Bryan Messmore and Jim West on the 5PM news on Jan 16th. Go to WCPO TV on the site to view this- it is available in text and in video there. ]

1. Mark Hall- requested to be on the agenda to comment on Vieste after their report. Messmore said he didn’t remember if Hall had asked to go afterwards or not. Hughes said he had to speak at the beginning because it wouldn’t be fair to others on the agenda. Hall was confused as were others in the audience as to why that would make a difference. Hall said it wouldn’t make sense to comment on something that we hadn’t heard yet as no reports were given out. Hughes said he hadn’t seen it yet either. Hall asked if he’d seen the report. Hughes said yes. Hall sat down and said he would speak afterwards. Hughes said he would “consider it.” [NOTE: So let me get this straight- Fox said last meeting that no one was ever refused to be on the agenda. But somehow once on the agenda it seems that they can twist your timing so that it is essentially useless to be able to comment. Nice job- guys.]

2. Chris Mueller- The microphone didn’t work so I had to speak loudly for the audience. I told the commissioners that I also had asked to be in the agenda after the Vieste presentation. I commented on the Board appointments procedures from the previous meeting stating that I thought it was pointless to have boards recommend reappointing members when the commissioners were actually looking to replace them. That only makes the boards feel that their opinions don’t matter and the board members feel under appreciated as they are replaced with no indication or even a thank you.
I said that I doubt they intend to come across that way but from many comments I’ve received, that’s how it’s perceived.
[NOTE: In the middle of this interchange the tape system malfunctioned also. Pickens assured the crowd that he was getting it replaced next week]

Hughes informed me that he sent personal thank you letters to the non-appointed board members. Fox noted that they can’t warn a board member in advance because they don’t know how the vote will go at the meeting. Fox said something about wanting retractions printed after all the attacks, though it was unclear what, or who he was referring to. Fox talked about replacing a board member because of the way he had voted in the previous election. [NOTE: He must have been referring to a Plan Commission or BZA member and probably Rick Pope, who was previously listed as an Independent. Planning Boards have to be balanced by political party.]

As to the Vieste report- I told them I’d been getting bits and pieces and was concerned that they were set to implement it tonight with no public comment. I explained that I’d served on the current master plan and had observed at every meeting of the failed previous two master plan attempts. At all the public comment meetings for the master plan the people in the NW section of the county were clearly in favor of remaining rural. I stressed that our master plan portion on future land use maps was not completed yet and yet this plan of the county’s has a timeline for implementation starting in March 2007. I also mentioned issues with taxation and farmland assessment and what would happen to farmers in the area as a result.
Fox kept referring to this as a once in a lifetime opportunity for Honda spin-off business. [NOTE: I wonder why Fox and Hughes want to hang our future on a car building business in a non-adjoining county? It’s interesting to note that SB 244 on design- build legislation was implemented in Indiana just recently and Vieste was formed just recently. Indiana was one of about 7 states who didn’t have this legislation. Several design build firms- some who have been in business a long time helped push the legislation through. I wonder how Vieste got the inside track here or if any others were considered? It’s hard to tell as none of this selection process was public…]

3. CASA- Donna Thacker- received approval of their grants and budget for local council fund #106 with Thompson abstaining as he hadn’t previewed the material yet.

4. The Public Hearing for the Zoning and Sub’n Ordinance changes was tabled dues to Mark McCormack being out of town for a death in the family.

5. Dearborn County Comprehensive Capital Program Status and Presentation by Vieste and London-Witte.

Messmore introduced the topic as a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to TAKE ADVANTAGE of the Honda plant. He said the consensus opinion of their working group was to move forward on this. He said they have been working on this for almost TWO years now. [NOTE: That means from when Fox and Hughes came into office.]

He introduced Mike Comparato (Vieste) and Jim Higgins (London Witte) as “resources and extensions of our own staff.” They plan to organize and engage STAKEHOLDER groups. [NOTE: That seems to be after the fact- the STAKE has already been driven into the heart of the Jackson Township land- why engage the stakeholders after the land plan?]

Messmore and Comparato said we need economic development in order to afford growth costs. The NW Quadrant (Jackson Township) is an opportunity for a broader base and master plan (not to be confused with the master plan that the county PC is doing). They want commercial/industrial/and flex office space with a potential overlay zone for land use. He mentioned a new interchange and road improvements with wastewater treatment and collection needs. He also mentioned income taxes and sales taxes also.
In addition there are county facilities in this plan to expand the jail, the law enforcement adm. space, and juvenile detention center with courthouse renovation. There will be a county hwy maintenance garage built and improved emergency management facilities. The 2030 road plan was mentioned as well as sewers needing $10 million outside the I-74 corridor and noted the Woolpert study for sewers was not in this yet.

Jim Higgins of London Witte gave the financial explanation. He talked about interim funding using existing county funds, bond anticipation notes, and the Lawrenceburg Bond bank. He cited long term funding sources as being the public-private partnership agreements, the refinancing of county bonds, and the broadened tax base. They also needed short term- pre-financing to get then to June/July 2007.
He says they avoided increasing the taxes. The idea was to marry economic development to the capital plan to make it more relevant. Higgins noted that the debt on the jail and courthouse rolls out in the next few years and the county can just continue those bonds. (This means the county stays in debt).

They will capture the Riverboat revenue and continue to use that stream. (This assumes it stays the same or increases). The plan to only use funds as needed similar to the process used in a construction loan. There are many things to do in preliminary engineering, project management, etc. before the July funds are available. They look to use local banks and the bond bank for construction loans or bond anticipation notes. Ultimately he says the funding would come from the private developers we attract.

Higgins at this point turned around to address my previous question on farmland assessment issues. He said farmland is assessed based on the soil quality they state wide average being about $1050 per acre though the general assemble set it last year at $880 per acre. The homes and buildings are assessed at fair market value but the land value of farmland is set by the state. It does not depend on the zone. [NOTE: This means the houses and buildings though will be assessed based on what else is in the area. If it’s other farms, that is different from being around high-end subdivisions or commercial real estate.]

The county needs to spend $600,000 by July 1st and the NW Quadrant needs $778,000 by July 1st. So about $1.4 million is needed to be borrowed.

Fox said eminent domain is mentioned all the time- he wouldn’t vote for it and he couldn’t imagine it happening.

[NOTE: If this is eminent domained, it can come from the Redevelopment Commission. Commissioners appoint them. Fox is now on that board also. If the county gets part of what they want and not all, it would be hard to imagine them NOT trying eminent domain. If they think the asking price is too high, they may also use this threat as a means to reduce the price. The land acquisition price mentioned in the report is $10,000 per acre. Land in St. Leon Redevelopment area and on the DCEDI site is listed at $55-60,000 per acre. Land for Honda was reported as similarly priced. Language in the study talks about this new plan as being the “highest and best use” for the land. That language is the basis for Redevelopment Commissions being able to set the stage for eminent domain. Either Fox hasn’t read the report in detail or he thinks others won’t put 2+2 together.]

Fox wants pipes run for factories- not houses. He wants a quality operation. Thompson noted it was fortuitous to have bonds rolling off to be able to tap into. He asked Higgins to explain how master development agreements work with TIFs and abatements.
Higgins said when a company looks at you they’ve already done their homework, but they want to see what else you can offer. You need to know these things ahead of time, and not offer the max.
Comparato said we want maximum return on investment- be proactive- we don’t want to miss the wave. Each project comes back to you when they come in to be sure you want it…

Some developers come in and guarantee X dollars per year. Some just write a check in exchanges for tax abatements. Be proactive- not reactionary. Go shoulder to shoulder and mold the big picture. The private sector coming in will want to see a well-planned community. He wants to create stakeholder groups and wants to work with and for the county. [NOTE: Just who do they think are stakeholders?]

They plan to create web based communication tools that are encrypted to keep unauthorized people out.

More mentioning of now increased taxes. [NOTE: The report says no increase in TAX RATES. The taxes will go up anyway as the property value goes up. If the rate is 10% and property is worth $100,000 than you pay $10,000. If the property doubles in value- and the rate stays the same. You will pay 10% of $200,000 or $20,000. So the tax rate doesn’t increase, but your taxes do.]

Thompson asked how much infrastructure was available for Honda. Comparato said he didn’t know, but that water was still a struggle. [NOTE: Essentially none was available- Honda sought the area, not the other way around.]

Thompson asked about bulk facilities, noting they usually do their own internal roadways and infrastructure. Comparato said – we don’t know what we want yet – big box or commercial or industrial or warehousing, which is great but doesn’t pay much income tax. They will evaluate and study along with London-Witte and DCEDI. We may want to wait before we put in pipes etc. [NOTE: So what exactly were we spending 2 years working on?]

Thompson asked about the arterial road from SR46 to 48 to US50. Comparato said residential will happen as we are focusing on this project. Messmore said it came from eth 2030 plan. Thompson noted that it looked like the old Outer Loop Highway.

Comparato wanted the board to know that the final map may not look like this plan 10 years from now. They almost never do. [NOTE: So what’s the purpose of the plan?]

Messmore asked the commissioners for a FAVORABLE RECOMMENDATION to take to the Council for their meeting next week. He said we’ve never had a more comprehensive capital approach. [NOTE: Nor a bigger land grab.]

Mark Hall stood up at this point and refused to be put off. Multiple farmers are in this part of the county and it’s the most beautiful place to live in the world. We ‘d like to live in peace but people keep bringing projects like airports and outer loop highways and now this. No one from this part of the county was part of this project development plan. You have not let the public have access to it.

Fox said that he is tired of Hall scaring people with eminent domain. Fox said, “You are scared someone will sell something to help this county.” I am not going to harm these people. I don’t believe Jeff (Hughes) would either.

Hall replied, “I am not scared.” You need 2000 acres for industrial use. Does this plan not call for an overlay Industrial zone? Why has this not come to the public? Why do only the movers and shakers know about it?
Fox said, “I think a lot of them (looking at the audience) know about it. [NOTE: Not any citizens because of any communication from the commissioners!]
Hughes – people have the right to use their property.

Thom Hammond got up, said he’d called to be on the agenda, and left a message but it apparently didn’t get through. He discussed critical issues with eminent domain and the inability to control St. Leon with regard to sewer hook-ups and warned them that when they put in sewer lines every farm along the way and home will be forced to hook on at considerable expense.
Hughes said they would probably negotiate with St. Leon for this. He has talked to St. Leon and Lawrenceburg about these hook-up issues. Hammond warned them about liens on properties and thought that even a relative of Mr. Fox’s was being sued to hook-on. He asked the commissioners to loan them the county attorney.
He asked for constructive advice. Fox said I can’t give you any we have no control over this. Hammond asked if they could create a bond appropriation for the cost to help these county residents. Make it part of their larger plan.
Commissioners took his comments.

Thompson asked about how much flood plain was in the plan. They thought 10-15%. He asked about stormwater issues on this flat land area. Mark Branaman said they would address those “along the way.” They also address private utilities in their master agreement later- including gas, electric, telecommunications, Internet etc.
The public doesn’t fit until individual projects come in. Then they get a say. [NOTE: They must be talking about the Planning Commission hearings. By that time it’s far too late for this plan to have any input.]

FOX MOTIONED and HUGHES 2nd to proceed to Council with a favorable recommendation for Phase 1 Plans. Thompson voted NAY due to the report being incomplete and having issues with public engagement.]

6. Margaret Minzner presented the recommendation for the IT contract for the ADM Bldg. The evaluation sheets from the dept. heads indicated they wanted to stay with the current provider- HiTech as they were used to working with their system and changeover would cost more, even though Midwest Data was the lowest bid by almost $4,000 over a 3-year period. Midwest Data owner- Omar Nusibeh protested this as his company was lowest and in his opinion their staff was most qualified with bachelors degrees. Kroger Technology said there staff had bachelors also. Hi- Tech was upset that they were selected by the staff recommendation and now were not approved.
Thompson had motioned to accept Minzner’s recommendation based on their staff evaluations and Fox had seconded it. Fox voted Nay then and Fox motioned to Table this for Minzner to review further concerning potential costs of changing companies etc. Thompson 2nd that to Table. All ayes.

7. Pickens had them recertify the covered bridge in Guilford and sign a bond for Pickens “in case I start taking money.” They also signed Sunman and Sparta’s EMS contracts and the Indiana lobbyist forms for Fricke and Associates.
Claims and minutes signed.

8. Hughes asked how Ewbank was doing- Kramer reported he was better. (Ewbank is in the hospital)

9. Hughes asked about changing the meeting time at Ralph’s request as he has trouble getting out US 50 after feeding animals after work. Time changed to 6:30 PM

Hughes asked for Margaret Minzner to be appointed as his alternate when he can’t make SIRPC meetings. Approved.

Meeting adjourned at 8:35 PM

Christine Brauer Mueller
Lawrenceburg Township

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