The City of New Albany has scheduled a press conference and a major public relations release for tomorrow, Thursday, July 7, 2005. Not the mayor. Not one or more city council members. The city. Us.
The message we send tomorrow will be heard on Hauss Square. It will be heard on Grant Line Road. It will be heard in Georgetown and Floyds Knobs.
It will be heard in the affluent neighborhoods and the poor neighborhoods. And it will most definitely be heard in the 1st and 2nd council districts, the area of the city that stands to gain the most from the city's commitment to Scribner Place, Phase I.
It will be heard and understood in the chamber of the Floyd County Council, too. When they meet next Tuesday at 4 p.m., the message will speak volumes.
The message we send tomorrow will be heard in Clarksville and Jeffersonville and Corydon and Sellersburg. It will be heard in Indianapolis and in the greater Louisville metro area.
It will be heard in the financial markets and in investment houses across this country.
It will be heard in the boardrooms of companies large and small: venture capital firms, manufacturers, retailers, and restaurateurs.--------------------------------
It seems obvious that New Albany's City Council will make a commitment to fund the bonds for Scribner Place with EDIT monies for the next decade-and-a-half. A majority of council have already indicated their support. Those who oppose Scribner Place have made themselves irrelevant to that decision. But absent a win Thursday, they are doing everything in their power to make it an ongoing political issue.
One would presume that opponents of Scribner Place believe it is too costly. One opponent is all for
Scribner Place - he's willing to spend zero dollars and zero cents to convince you of that support. Another is unalterably opposed to its mere existence, despite the fact that it is his district that stands to gain significant benefits from this infrastructure investment in the city's future. Another is so out to lunch on the issue that he wakes each morning desperately trying to figure out a way to stop progress in the way he has done for so many, many years.
But no, it's not the cost. It's the power.
Faced with a defeat in council, they agitate for a plan designed
to cost the city more
money. Called "Option 3," this plan would have the city pay in the neighborhood of .25% more interest. This plan would require the city to create a cash reserve of $1.4 million and keep that money squirreled away for the next 16 years.
Having lost in their efforts to stop Scribner Place, they plan to demagogue it in coming years in order to hang on to power. They rely on the fact that most people don't pay close attention to the details, but are quick to follow anyone who appeals to their sense of injustice and victimhood.
The better choice is Option 1, and this is where opponents feel they can throw a wrench into the works. Option 1 proposes that the city pledge its taxing authority as a backup guarantee for the bonds. That includes its power to tax personal and real property.
Opponents of Scribner Place are aggressively misleading inattentive voters into believing that the city proposes to raise
property taxes in order to fund this economic development project. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I believe these opponents know that and are cruelly causing upset among a segment of the city's residents. Why? To smear their political opponents and to consolidate a patriarchal political power relationship with those same residents.
When property taxes are raised (and it is an inevitability given the budget moves made by the state legislature and Gov. Daniels this year - particularly with regard to schools, but even with respect to muncipal governments), they intend to blame it on Scribner Place.
As a political tactic, it has a long pedigree. A politician who can persuade voters to listen only to him and to discount whatever else they may hear can use that to bind those voters to him. And for those all too ready to believe lies, it's too late to reach them.
But not every council member is out to feather his or her nest. Not every council member is serving merely to wield power. Believe it or not, some council members have the best interest of the city, its residents, and its future at heart. It is these council members who need to know that a vote in support of Option 3 buys them nothing.
Option 3 is folly. Council knows that. But some are still tempted to bargain with the devil that is Option 3.
Let's speculate on why they would even consider Option 3.
Let's say Jeff Gahan, council member for the 6th district, knows that Option 1 is the only prudent choice. But several of his constituents have heard that their property taxes are going to be increased because of Scribner Place. They've heard that Option 1 requires the city to pledge to back up the bonds with its property taxes. Confused, they equate that with a hike in their taxes. Rather than dispel the rumors, Gahan might be tempted to take the easy way out. Instead of helping his constituent understand the matter, he mentally registers that voter as one who can't be educated. Instead of responsibly explaining it, he promises to vote "no" on any option that uses property tax as a guarantee.
But here is the devil's due. Those who buy into the lie that Option 1 will raise their taxes will easily buy into the lie that any supporter of Scribner Place wants to raise their taxes. These aren't voters who can be kept.
Mr. Gahan, why would you think that a voter who can't grasp the nuance of the present situation, who can't be made to understand the issue now
, will suddenly be capable of understanding your position when the next
lie is floated?
Council members are responsible for explaining matters to their constituents. But if they can't get through to them now, how can they reach them later? These are "lost" voters, no matter which option you choose.
The logical choices are Option 1, or a total "no" vote. Option 3 is a "compromise" that buys its supporters nothing. You are either for Scribner Place or you are against it. Option 3, unfortunately, is a fool's choice. It plays right into the hands of the opponents of progress.--------------------------------
In addition to the required reserve of about $1.5 million, Option 3 costs a minimum of $105,000 more each year. That's $105,000 that won't otherwise be available for economic development, city operations, or other lawful purposes. Throwing that money away makes it more
likely that the city will have to increase property taxes in the future. The conservative
approach is Option 1.
That's what the Floyd County Council is wondering about. If, as Mr. Kochert says, he won't support Scribner Place without county support, why then would the City Council even consider throwing away what is, in effect, the entire county contribution?
Why should county coffers be drained to pay for some kind of incumbent-protection scheme? Option 3 is nuts, and the County Council knows it. That's why their majority is rethinking support for Scribner Place bonds.
To the surprise of some, County Commissioners came out in enthusiastic support of making Scribner Place a joint city-county project. After a few days, it became clear that a County Council majority was also willing to participate.
Now, with more than one City Council member flirting with the financially disastrous Option 3, several members of that County Council majority have indicated they could only come in if the city sets this up in a financially responsible manner; that is, by passing a resolution that includes the details of Option 1.--------------------------------
Failure to proceed with Scribner Place will be the final nail in the coffin for New Albany. Instead of bringing new development to the treasure that is our downtown, I've heard of several businesses who will take that as a sign that New Albany doesn't want their investment.
Failure of the resolution on Thursday evening will be the same as putting up a sign at all the city's gateways that says "New Albany: Closed for Business."
Failure will reinforce the image of New Albany in the minds of our neighbors as a city that can't or won't exploit its tremendous advantages. Every stereotype about New Albany will be magnified once again.
Jeffersonville would "kill" to have our resources. Louisvillians will once again scratch their heads and ask "What's the matter with New Albany?"-------------------------------- Talking Points
1. Scribner Place is the essence of what a city can do to spur investment.
2. Scribner Place offers the lifestyle amenities demanded by prospective new businesses and residents. Furthermore, it creates an environment that will foster investment in more such amenities.
3. Scribner Place takes full advantage of the already-built infrastructure of downtown and promises to bring restaurants, pubs, music venues, retailers, and office jobs back to downtown.
4. The best financing plan does not threaten to raise property taxes. Option 1 would conserve city resources, promote a stronger and more vibrant tax base, and keep property taxes lower than they would otherwise be.
5. The aquatic center is more than a swimming pool for the "elite." It will offer a place for recreation and exercise to all comers, with city (and presumably county) residents able to buy passes. Its possible management by the YMCA, extended hours, and year-round operation makes it a real draw to outlying communities that could make it a revenue generator.
6. A "yes" vote sends the signal that New Albany is changing its attitude toward commercial investment, tourism, and lifestyle amenities. A "no" vote will likely be the death knell for downtown and will relegate New Albany to years of faltering services and higher taxes. As a bedroom community for Louisville, New Albany and Floyd County can't survive on residential development alone.
7. Downtown is uniquely suited to the type of specialty independent retailing that contributes most to a community. Independent businesses throw off 75% more to the local economy than does the same size chain store. A thriving and compact downtown business district, once rejuvenated by Scribner Place, will be a benefit to the environment by curbing the trend toward urban sprawl.
8. Having a livable community is the goal. Scribner Place is a big step in that direction.
9. Investment capital will look to the city and county as partners instead of as impediments. As participants in development, the city and county can create a development environment that serves their citizens instead of the speculators and slumlords. Scribner Place announces that smart growth is the future for Floyd County.
10. With city/county involvement, the YMCA can proceed to build a state-of-the-art facility that will be the gem of the metro region.
11. With city/county involvement, further development initiatives can begin right away. One investor is considering immediate investment by building additional stories above the YMCA for offices and conference centers. The demand for that space is there right now, with one tenant ready to sign a lease if the private investment comes through.
12. Isn't it about time Floyd County and New Albany as governments
began to see a return on the outlays we make to accommodate a nearby casino? Can we possibly turn down $20 million in private money from Caesars Foundation?--------------------------------
Constituency for Progress will be once again holding a teach-in before Thursday's meeting. Join us, even if you can't stay for the council meeting. Any of us will be happy to talk about this decision and its ramifications for the future of Floyd County and New Albany. We invite any of the elected officials in the area to address the crowd or to hold an impromptu press conference with our group. We'll be there from 5 p.m. onward. It will be a great opportunity to meet with your elected city representatives and let them know how important this vote is.--------------------------------Randy Smith, firstname.lastname@example.org