Thursday, March 15, 2007

County Council Tables Vieste's NW Quadrant Plans Again

14 March Dearborn County Council Meeting Notes

Present: Fehrman, Chairman, Mitter, Morris, Ullrich, Lansing, Kraus, and Cheek
Also Present: Pickens, Auditor and Messmore, Administrator

Sheriff Lusby and another uniformed police officer were present at the meeting.

Register Publications and WSCH both covered this meeting.

The salary ordinance for the sheriff’s dept was approved unanimously and signed.

The remainder of the meeting was to present the tabled portion of the Vieste presentation on the NW Quadrant plans. Prior to this meeting Fehrman had discussed “myth busting” on WSCH 99.3 regarding eminent domain and the NW Quadrant. To hear the interview- log on to and click the News Archive link.
Fehrman said he would allow the citizens 30 minutes or so to present, limiting each person to 3-5 minutes, and then Vieste would present. [NOTE: Looks like Council is starting to act like commissioners on this subject. It seems counterproductive for citizens to express concerns BEFORE the presentation is made. The presentation might answer some questions. ]

Sandy Whitehead- questioned this process and asked to be allowed questions at the end. Council agreed to consider that possibility.

Christie Andres- speaking for the larger group- gave a PowerPoint presentation starting with the 3 reasons industrial development is wrong for the NW Quadrant.
1. The extreme risk of county tax dollars
2. The county is already positioned to capitalize on key economic growth
3. Major concerns with the consulting firm

The risk of tax dollars is due to needing millions for the infrastructure upgrade and because Honda spokesperson Dave Iida (she gave quotes) stressed that Honda was not looking to Dearborn County for spinoffs, they didn’t know where the magic circle for development came from, and they planned to use mostly existing suppliers.

The county is also positioned for key economic growth- especially in agriculture in this area. Quotes from Mitch Daniels talking about the upside of agriculture and keeping it strong in Indiana.
Andres also passed out copies for the public record . [NOTE: Council was given copies of the Indy Star article on a water company scandal from Nov 2004 concerning Mark Branaman- a senior VP and Engineer with Vieste. The article can be found at: ]

She requested Council – “Don’t sell the farm”- because if you do you lose two sources of income- the farm business and the outside job that the farmer also holds. She explained how the brain drain is NOT happening in the NW Quadrant and listed the professional occupations of many of her neighbors. Andres said it “makes me sick that you want to go through with this.”

She expressed concerns with Vieste as the consultant- saying that they are a 2 year old company and they lack comprehensive economic development and planning experience. There portfolio as showcased on their web site is limited- showing 3 areas of expertise. Vieste profits whether this is successful or not. You could be granting them $1.4 million for this phase.

Andres said that a Vieste employee was involved in a water company investigation in Lawrence IN and though charges were not filed the citizens still had double water bills and these men made huge profits.

Andres asked why the NW site was better than using a TIF in Aurora and going up SR129 to get interstate access.

She asked- how Vieste was selected.

She asked why the proposal was submitted ahead of the opportunity for public concern.

Andres recommended focusing on the existing TIFs, enabling the NW Quad to capitalize on Dearborn County Ag and as a success model for countering the brain drain. She ended her presentation by restating her initial 3 concerns. [APPLAUSE]

Carol Wietzel, Joel Vanderpool (sp?), Hope Bohman, and Roberta Haas- all from Franklin County on the border of the NW Quadrant- emphasized the impact this would have on their residents, their Ag lifestyle, the flora and fauna in the area, and the increased crime rates.
Quotes included: “Why in the world would you elect to destroy what some people would love to have?”
“Industry can go in many places- agriculture can’t.”
“From what I see here- you have already decided.”
“St. Peters people are shy, they want to tell you that this is impacting us – you are asking our farmers to sell their lands and hurt their neighbors.”

Sandy Whitehead- read her presentation:
My name is Sandy Whitehead and I reside on Blue Creek Road in Dearborn County. I am a stay at home mother of four and the daughter of a retired career farmer. I am also a graduate of Indiana University with a degree in Environmental Science. Prior to becoming a stay-at-home Mom, I was an environmental consultant for two engineering and environmental consulting firms in Greater Cincinnati.

I would first like to briefly address the “brain drain” that we’ve been hearing so often, and I’m going to use my family as an example. I have 7 brothers and sisters. Five of us have bachelor’s degrees acquired from Indiana colleges; two have Masters Degrees. Four of the five live in Dearborn or Ripley County. The fifth lives in Ohio, but do you know where he goes every day to work? Right here in Dearborn County. In fact, 3 out of the 5 of us work in Dearborn County full time, and all 5 have worked in Dearborn County at some point in a professional position.

This evening I would like to address the Indiana Economic Development Approach Timeline and Analysis as provided by Vieste LLC to County Council. I have come to the conclusion that this Approach is a duplication of efforts and would be a waste of taxpayer dollars.

The first heading is entitled “Existing Conditions Analysis/Positioning – TIF Districts”. I would have to surmise that a study of this nature would have been conducted by the County to determine what parcels would even be placed in a TIF district.

I would like to begin with subheading 2: Parcel Identification/Positioning which reads “Identify all parcels existing in each TIF District, documenting ownership, size, dimensions, and characteristics.” Every industrial, office, and commercial site available for sale in Dearborn County, including in the TIFs, is listed on the Dearborn County Economic Development Initiative (EDI) website. Each property description contains the owner, amount of acreage, sale price, minimum subdivision lots, current zoning, names of utility providers, the size of the gas, sewer and water mains, and primary voltage supplied to the site; the information also therefore covers subheading “1: Infrastructure Analysis.” Also included is transportation information: proximity to highways, interstates, the airport, and if rail transportation is available. Furthermore, the EDI website states “The most current list of available properties should be requested from the Dearborn County Economic Development Initiative.” It doesn’t say ask an independent consulting firm. This is part of EDI’s job description.

I would also like to point out that Vieste has already looked at the TIF districts. For example, Page 2-13 of the Comprehensive Capital Program Management Phase I Report states that improvements need to be made to storm water and drainage, potable water, and sanitary sewer service. However, it also clearly states that potential users for the properties need to be identified before defining set infrastructure needs. Vieste further reiterates the point on the next page, 2-14, “The County should not expend any funds for further TIF studies or infrastructure analysis until the future land use designation and overlay zoning is put into place and a specific use/development is identified.”

Subheading 3: Market & Economic Analysis also falls under EDI. What is the inherent purpose of EDI if not to evaluate the marketability of land parcels? To avoid being repetitive, subheadings 3, 4 and 6 under “Existing Conditions Analysis – County Wide” on the next page also fall under EDI.

Subheadings 1 and 4 under “Existing Conditions Analysis – County Wide” would fall under the Department of Planning and Zoning, as well as information compiled by the Master Plan Advisory Committee. Subheading 4 says to “compare and contrast the County’s Comprehensive Plan, Planning, and zoning processes to others within the region…our zoning ordinances were revised in the late 90’s by Jeff Hayes, a previous Planning Director, who modeled the ordinances after those of Northern Kentucky
Subheading 2 under the “County Wide” page suggests a Preliminary Environmental Analysis to identify environmental concerns to be avoided or protected during development. This makes me think of the TIF districts and analyzing infrastructure improvements before knowing what types of business will locate there. A major portion of my job as a consultant was conducting Phase I Environmental Site Assessments for commercial real estate transactions. An environmental study of the entire county could be conducted, but it would include so many limitations. Assessments of this nature are more valuable and concise when done on a site-by-site basis.

Who hired Vieste? Was more than one consulting company considered to be THE Capital Program Management team for Dearborn County? It is my understanding that most jobs for the County are put to a bid proposal and candidates are considered based on their qualifications. How are we keeping jobs in Dearborn County by hiring a firm from Indianapolis? Why not utilize the information already compiled by employees of Dearborn County? May I also respectfully remind the Council that two previous Master Plans failed because they were run by outside consultants who did not ask the people of Dearborn County what they wanted?

I have found nothing in Vieste’s Economic Development Timeline and Analysis Phase that has not either already been completed by Dearborn County EDI, the Department of Planning and Zoning, or is simply not a waste of taxpayers’ dollars.

Finally, I would like paint a more positive picture of Dearborn County, and again I will use data from the DCEDI website. According to the site, when you want to discuss a region’s economic strength, you need to look at gross product, employment, income, and population. Here are the facts for the years 1995 to 2004: gross regional product has increased 60%, exceeding the growth of the Cincinnati Metropolitan Statistical Area and the State of Indiana as a whole, which were 35.6% and 33.8% respectively. Employment growth for Dearborn County was 36.2% for this time period compared to Cincinnati MSA of 11.4% and Indiana at 5%. In a 4 year period from 1998 to 2002, the number of business establishments increased in Dearborn County at a rate of 1.5% which doesn’t sound like a lot, but again it was above the Cincinnati MSA’s growth of 0.2% and Indiana’s 0.8%. An outstanding economic factor is that per capital personal income in Dearborn County grew 50% between 1995 and 2004 even with a 10% increase in population.

This data tells me that we must be doing something right economically in Dearborn County. You can’t be all things, but you can capitalize on the good things that exist. There may be a percentage of the workforce that goes outside Dearborn County for employment. But you don’t pay taxes where you work….you pay taxes where you live.

Mike Comparato- Vieste- you all have the approach and timeline and the changes requested from our last meeting. We met with Charlie and Mark Mitter to see what we needed to clarify.
We plan to have public meetings staged though out the timeline. [NOTE: The operative word in that sentence is STAGED. These will be informational meetings- where the public is fed info – just like this meeting tonight.]
Comparato plans biweekly progress meetings and they have reoriented 2 components on TIF districts and timelines for the analysis of those areas. They have expanded their analysis to a county-wide analysis. They will handle developers, tours, and state agencies. There will be an interim report in May which also includes representatives from the Plan Commission and Planning staff. They will consider new info that might be discussed interviews with consultants.
The RFQ process is finished for county-wide consideration and they have sorted through all those boxes to be sure companies are pre-qualified. At procurement for each piece they will come to Council and Commissioners for approval. [NOTE: These people love to point to those stacks of boxes that list company qualifications. It looks impressive and sounds impressive to say they have sorted through all of them. I wonder who READ them all. The state has lists of qualified vendors also- was this duplication also?]

Mark Mitter- said he wanted to be sure to learn from the mistakes made in 2 failed comp plans and was concerned about the Council budget now that so much riverboat revenue is used for the main budget expenses to keep central services going. He wants more of a tax base to offset this. [NOTE: Council chose to use RR this way so as to convince the state that it was NECESSARY to the county , so the state wouldn’t take it away. The Council has also had to dip into these funds because the tax bills were behind and the county revenue wasn’t coming in as a result. Maybe we need to FIX that problem.]
Mitter went on to say that the NW Quadrant is NOT to be the entire focus of economic development in the county. He met with Vieste and wants the TIFs to be priority and the NW Quadrant to be at the end of the line. He wants a comprehensive look at the whole county to see where infrastructure should be focused. Mitter is concerned about public input- it’s a “critical part of the success of whatever we do.” All those aspects of the Comprehensive Plan need to be incorporated into this. We need an efficient use of tax dollars and a timely manner for economic development.
He asked: What is the role of the players? Who’s driving the boat here? Roles need to be specified and the process needs to be open and transparent. One third of the operating budget for the county is RR. $5.2 million out of $14.9 million.

Bill Ullrich- said there were lots of questions and asked Comparato to shed some light on the duplicate efforts of DCEDI and Vieste. He also asked him to elaborate on Vieste’s background and expertise.

Mike Comparato- Our role is NOT to do economic development for the county. Our role is to be a staff extension on major capital projects and oversee economic development issues. Our job is to procure services, oversee, and tie it together.
Comparato talked about working on other projects besides the 3 on the website. He said they did an Ag Industrial Park and Ethanol Plant. He also said that funds do not come to Vieste- they go to the consultants they hire. [NOTE: So who pays for Vieste?- they aren’t a charity! Their contract shows them getting about 15%.]
Our job is to tie lots of pieces that the county is involved in together. We won’t duplicate data. We may EXPAND the data. Comparato said he didn’t want to get into a critique of other’s work- but that they discovered that the TIFs weren’t analyzed enough when created.

Tom Cheek- we don’t have enough staff to do all this- we are going to have to hire professionals. Messmore told them they did the process and Vieste won out of 2 who put in for RFPs. [NOTE: Where did they advertise that they only got 2? Who wrote the specs for that? Were others intimidated because the word was out that Vieste was already involved with the inside track? ]
Cheek- said he couldn’t eliminate ANY place in the county for economic development that was light commercial industry with good pay and benefits and environmentally friendly. [NOTE: Hopefully this was an exaggeration on Cheek’s part. There are many places in the county that have to be eliminated due to topography alone. And that’s not including those places already “industrialized.”]

Dan Lansing- Why exclude one area over another- the tax base comes from Aurora, Greendale, and Lawrenceburg. If that’s where business belongs…

Dennis Kraus, Sr. – read out his concerns:
Usually Council asks dept. heads to come back with 3 bids. Prequalification eliminates competitive bidding.
TIF districts were established KNOWING where roads and sewers, etc. were.
DCEDI developed a marketing program for TIFs and property in the county.
Preliminary engineering analysis- how can Phase 1 study come up with it if they don’t know topography, parcels, etc? [APPLAUSE!]
Environmental analysis should be on individual parcels.
DCEDI has done a market analysis.
The Planning and Zoning office has current ordinances revised in 2000 and amended since then and the Comp Plan was approved in Oct 2004- and only 2.5 years old. We shouldn’t trash this after all the citizens worked on them for years.
We shouldn’t rubber stamp whatever comes in front of us. We are having meetings to tell people of the direction etc. Does that sound like they are having public input? Audience answered- NO!
We’ve been assured from every direction that eminent domain won’t happen- you can believe that if you want….
You can take the dollars they want us to spend on this over to the boat and you’ll get the same return! [Laughter]

Liz Morris- Eminent domain has been misused- The county needs to look at economic development for our future- not just tax homeowners and apt. dwellers.

Bill Ullrich- The NW Quadrant is a prime location- prime farmland- and that’s also a business. Economic development needs to be in the right place and the right type. He wants public input, especially through the Planning Zoning office. We don’t want this based on input from a handful of people. The Aurora TIF and 129 is an area of potential. We don’t want to finance infrastructure up there just on a promise.

Charlie Fehrman- The biggest chunk of the $780,000 is marketing at $500,000.

Mike Comparato- London Witte asked us to give a combined worst case scenario- so that’s why it’s that much. We might need it if we have to give a slick glossy presentation to attract a master developer. Maybe they’ll market us- and we won’t spend any- but we don’t think that’s a likely scenario…

Charlie Fehrman- You’re not going to build, buy, or recruit any company. Just study costs vs. rewards- costs from Vieste and rewards info from London Witte. [NOTE: Charlie may not understand how this is proceeding… How do you do a feasibility study if you don’t market and know what the options are for potential business? The Phase 1 report even says that.]

Mike Comparato- (hesitates) - we’re doing a Comprehensive Capital Plan- intermediate and long term.

Dan Boeringer- Maune Road- Citizen- Where does marketing fit into an economic study??????

Mike Comparato- Marketing only occurs only if and when the analysis says it should go.

Charlie Fehrman- It’s after the fact that marketing occurs.

Mark Mitter- There is no other way to say this than to be blunt. As a Councilman overseeing taxpayer dollars I have concerns. We know nothing about Vieste other than what you provided. Did you ride down with Mark (Branaman) tonight? (Yes) Mitter then said he asked a direct question to Mark on the phone this evening and got one of the most smug answers I’ve ever had a s a Councilman. It has jeopardized my support. How can we get answers to any issues with this attitude?

Mike Comparato- I will make a brief comment- I am more than happy to review what Mark (Branaman) has been involved in outside of Vieste, but it’s not good to do this in a public meeting. Everything we were asked about and our advisors and lawyers say that nothing was done illegally or improperly and felt comfortable working with Mark (Branaman).
I could take you to public/private sector client’s to show Mark’s work. We could just remove Mark from the work on this- we have other projects for him to do. [NOTE: Comparato gave him up pretty quickly. There are some interesting parallels in the Branaman issues with the Mayor of Lawrence IN and the water company and the Vieste issues with Dearborn County. Branaman contributed over $4,000 to the mayor’s campaign and he was their former city engineer. The meetings to sell the company were done in private with NO bids.
Vieste’s affiliates (London Witte, Level 5 Engineering, PSA Dewberry (jail contract) and Jungclaus Campbell contributed $500 each to Commissioner candidate Frank Linkmeyer’s campaign in early Nov 2006. How did they decide to contribute to him? Their plans and proposals have been out of the public eye for about a year. Vieste was selected without a bid and it’s unclear where and how much advertising was done to get candidates for this work. It would be better to have selected a company accustomed to garnering public input and support for a project. This project has been devised without public input and even when the Plan Commission and Master Plan committees sought Vieste’s input and participation it was not accepted. That speaks volumes.]

Mark Mitter – I tried to perform due diligence and got no answer from Mark (Branaman).

Mike Comparato – I’d be happy to do it in private- I’m an open book- I’d be more than happy to address all those issues with you…

Council granted a 5 minute recess for Mitter and Comparato and Branaman to speak privately on Branaman’s response.

Mitter returned and said – he wanted no appearance of back door deals- they only discussed the working relationship with Vieste.

Fehrman- There are 3 possibilities tonight- $778,000 was requested for the study. You can vote to approve and control every step of the way. The marketing can be pared out at $420,000 and leave $358,000 for the economic development portion. Or you can deny.

Tom Cheek- I’m cloudy on this- I’m missing details on some issues…

Cary Pickens- Auditor- reminded them that the money comes from the 197 and 147 accounts into the Capital Growth Fund.

Fehrman- the $350,000 would take them through April.

Cheek motioned and Mitter 2nd to TABLE this again. Council will meet in executive session Wed March 21 to discuss this issue about Mark Branaman. No decision will be made at that meeting

Alicia Sackseider- asked why is the same group doing the study and then they are in on the results of the study? [NOTE: It’s kind of like asking a farmer how much hay you need and then letting him sell it to you. There is no incentive for Vieste to do anything except the most expensive project possible- as they get about 15% as project managers.]

Sandy Whitehead- was quite upset and told Council she didn’t think they were listening. She said Cheek said he had his mind made up at the beginning…

Cheek said- I also said I’m not comfortable with this.

Mitter- Just because we don’t comment doesn’t mean we don’t hear you.

Sandy Whitehead- “It’s easier to say stop now than to say oops later.”

Mitter- We are looking at the TIFS and we are looking beyond the NW Quadrant- at the whole county.

[NOTE: Vieste and Company have had a year behind the scenes to forge relationships with all the political players. The citizens get a couple meetings to try to express their concerns or ideas. It is psychologically difficult to gain the same level of "influence" with Vieste in that short a time and at the end of the line. This is why the public needs to be involved from the beginning.]

Meeting adjourned at 9:30 PM

Christine Brauer Mueller
Lawrenceburg Township


Anonymous said...

Dennis Kraus, Sr.:

We shouldn’t rubber stamp whatever comes in front of us. We are having meetings to tell people of the direction etc. Does that sound like they are having public input? Audience answered- NO!

Way to go Mr. Kraus!

Mark Mitter:

He asked: What is the role of the players? Who’s driving the boat here? Roles need to be specified and the process needs to be open and transparent.

Way to go Mr. Mitter!

Bill Ullrich:

The NW Quadrant is a prime location- prime farmland- and that’s also a business. Economic development needs to be in the right place and the right type. He wants public input, especially through the Planning Zoning office.

Way to go Mr. Ullrich!

Tom Cheek:

We don’t have enough staff to do all this- we are going to have to hire professionals. Messmore told them they did the process and Vieste won out of 2 who put in for RFPs.

You sound a bit off-balance Mr. Cheek. An objective observer would note that you appear to really want to play with these “big boys,” but now, that the public is involved, you are somewhat reticent.

Charlie Fehrman:

You’re not going to build, buy, or recruit any company. Just study costs vs. rewards- costs from Vieste and rewards info from London Witte.

How about just asking the question, instead providing leading, softball questions Mr. Fehrman?

Mr. Lansing:

Speak up more, let the public know where you stand.

Ms. Morris:

Same advice as with Mr. Lansing. And, how about, as a republican, you support republicans, next election cycle? Please do not hem and haw like the disingenuous Mr. Nugent…we know what you did.

Anonymous said...

One major problem I see is that 2/3's of the commissioners and 3/4's of council have their minds made up before even going to the meetings. The mentality of these people is sad, very sad. Why run for these offices if not to serve the people you are elected to represent?

Anonymous said...

Prior to this meeting Fehrman had discussed “myth busting” on WSCH 99.3 regarding eminent domain and the NW Quadrant.

Fehrman needs a vacation.

When someone presents himself as keeper of all the answers, like Fehrman...then you can feel relatively assured that they have little grasp of the issues.

Anonymous said...

One major problem I see is that 2/3's of the commissioners and 3/4's of council have their minds made up before even going to the meetings.

The rubber-stampers appear to be running a tad timorous, finding themselves in the brilliant and bright lights of the "Public Express," gunning down the boulevard unswervingly towards them.

They grasp, I am sure, that what happened to Vera Benning, was not an accident of coincidence, relative to her snuggling and cuddling up with the same types of notable rogues and her exodus from public office.

For every action, there is an opposite an equal reaction.

Anonymous said...

Fehrman needs to step away and aside from public office for a time.

He needs to breath again the un-smug air of the average citizen.

He is becoming, in a very unbecoming way, a bit full of himself.

We are the Lords, he is the servant…in his smug and self-satisfied confusion, he appears to believe otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Bill Ullrich:

The NW Quadrant is a prime location- prime farmland- and that’s also a business. Economic development needs to be in the right place and the right type. He wants public input, especially through the Planning Zoning office.

Way to go Mr. Ullrich!

**Please do not give Ullrich any credit. He is going to say anything he thinks the public wants to hear. He is a politician.

Anonymous said...

**Please do not give Ullrich any credit.

Credit withdrawn.

With sunlight and the magnifying lens, some folks shine…others get burned.

Ullrich just got burned!

Alan S.Freemond Sr. said...

I’d be happy to do it in private- I’m an open book-

This quote alleged to be from Comparato is an absurdity. It si an oxymoron.

In one sentence he contradicts himself. He's an "open Book"

The other part of this sentence is that he's for private discussions.

Unforunately Mitter gave him a private conference and what Mitter reported is nonsense. If Camparato only said what Mitter quoted him as saying what was the need for a private conference.

Mark, what is going on here?

Anonymous said...

mark branaman also owned cea. which is now level 5 engineering.
the trust factor w/ this person is
going to get you in trouble. his company left many bills unpaid.
most of all cea employees are now
level 5 employees. these companies
your your area is working w/ has a
maze of uncertainty. get away from
them before they take your money too.