Sunday, February 14, 2016
Who Is Running Dearborn County?
Who Is Running Dearborn County?
I get tired of attending county meetings when complex decisions are made with inadequate background information.
The county has been making decisions involving large amounts of taxpayer money, and the boards making those decisions appear to be rubber-stamping a decision that was made before the meeting. While developers and business people have a right to lobby county officials, county officials have a DUTY to look out for the interests of the taxpayers and not the SPECIAL INTERESTS of people needing their vote to advance their personal fortunes.
After going to Council, the County Redevelopment Commission (DCRC) approved several resolutions for expanding and revising the West Harrison TIF district. (Yeah- my eyes glaze over every time I have to read thru those kinds of documents too, but bear with me.) These resolutions passed on Feb 4 had not been given to the DCRC board members prior to the meeting. Yet, they were summarized, voted on, and unanimously approved. They go back to Council Feb 23.
The new expansion area was given the name Skally’s Bakery TIF Area but it includes more than what it is named after. Skally’s is a promising family business from North College Hill in Cincinnati that uses agricultural products. It may fit with our recent flour mill, though the mill doesn't make the exact flour needed by Skally’s yet. Skally’s brings $40 million investment, 45 jobs to start, and receives acreage for $1. The DCRC paid $1,677,000 to Stone Properties for 41.6 acres in 2013 per county tax records. Skally’s gets about 36 of those acres. They also get $800,000 in bonds with 25 years from March 2015 to pay. The payment is coming from the TIF money that Skally’s pays in personal property taxes.
Tagging along in this Skally’s Expansion area is property, called West Harrison, LLC, registered to Randy Maxwell at Maxwell Construction’s Greendale business address. This piece of land is 90.3 acres that West Harrison LLC purchased from Tootles Trust in January 2016 for $1,628,000 per the county’s tax records. In executive sessions with DCRC Randy Maxwell touted a strategy to build something to offer to prospective businesses. The big plus per the DCRC, Terri Randall (Economic Development Director) and Randy Maxwell is that Maxwell is supposedly “taking all the risk and the county is the conduit.” That purchase is listed in the feasibility study as being worth $2.53 million and then later in bond issuing documents as being worthy of $3 million of bonds for 25 years. This payment on bonds is coming from the personal property TIF money that SKALLY’S pays. So Maxwell’s bonds get paid by Skally’s success. His bonds don’t get issued until two years go by to get Skally’s built and running.
Randy Maxwell stated at the January Council meeting that he is “frustrated that development hasn’t happened faster. Every time we can take advantage of an opportunity we are going to do it.” That’s what private business does. Randy Maxwell resigned from his consulting position with the DCRC on Feb 11, 2015 stating that he had “decided to continue to focus on the private side of real estate development in and around our County.” Yet he was present at nearly all of the executive sessions for DCRC from then on and is credited for landing Skally’s.
Previously the DCRC noted that we have a competitive redevelopment edge because we have more large pieces of land than OH and KY. Now the county administrator claims that 75% of her leads need an existing building. It’s never been clear how many leads that really is or if these are really viable leads for the county to “lure” to our shores. No documentation has been discussed at the DCRC meetings. This proposed Maxwell building is speculation. And the county taxpayer is essentially funding it with future taxes that could go to something else.
The county is big on Economic Development. They list it as their first priority. Placing development appropriately and PACING it so that the taxpayers can absorb the costs is critical to the economic well being of the residents of the county.
It seems they forgot about the nearly $12million spent on the jail last year, the nearly $12million earmarked for the proposed Courthouse Annex this year, (both managed by Maxwell Construction) and a Bright Connector road (with Maxwell on the Advisory committee) on the drawing board to have its first public meeting Feb 17th. Don’t forget the $1,957,961 that the state said we had to CUT from our 2016 budget. Council intends to replace that money with Riverboat revenue also, at the same time that the Riverboat money is decreasing.
When a county focuses so narrowly on economic development that they fail to look at the unintended consequences of their actions, the taxpayers need to be yanking the chain on their elected officials. Waiting for elections will be too late for this one.
Schools Are Affected:
One of the largest recipients of property tax money is our schools. When business is lured here and 25 years of their increased tax base goes back to economic development and its infrastructure, what happens if the economic development brings in more workers and their school age families? Economic development is not just about jobs and political pats on the back. It’s about advancing the education and advantages for our residents.
When the school board appointee to the DCRC never comes to meetings for 2 years- then the school kids have no voice. Terri Randall, the county administrator/economic development director, suggested they appoint John Maxwell (recently elected to Sunman Dearborn School board) as the new representative on DCRC. The DCRC board has proposed Jamie Graf. Oddly, the item is on a future agenda for SD School board- so how does anyone know who this representative will be? Commissioners get to appoint the rep to that spot. Someone who has kids as a priority over real estate and development needs to be there to balance the mindset of the DCRC.
Council Set to Vote:
County Council heard the first presentation of these two sets bonds and is set to approve one, both, or none of the ordinances allowing these bonds on Feb 23. At Council’s January 26th meeting, several members were singing the praises of BOTH of these proposals without even having the data in hand. Umbaugh’s Jason Semler orally presented the numbers and feasibility study to back up this plan. There was no handout and in fact the Council had none of this information in advance, evidence of another complex issue without preparation. Umbaugh and Randall promised to email it to them the following week. I requested it and posted what I was given on the Dearborn County Public Forum Blog. The letters accompanying the study were dated Jan 13 and Jan 21.
I am a firm believer in competition and open discussion as ways of getting better results. The bottom line is that the DCRC and several on Council seem content to be told what to do without doing any legwork or brainwork.
So I ask myself and you the taxpayers: Who is really running our county?
Christine Brauer Mueller has attended county meetings for 21 years and posts her notes on those meetings to the Dearborn County Public Forum Blog- www.dearborncounty.blogspot.com