student-vote-democracy-word-cloudTonight Mayor Bob Hall celebrates what he considers a major accomplishment of his administration – the sale of Charlestown’s water utility to a private, for-profit water company. 

Tonight I find myself tongue-tied as I try to express my extreme disappointment with his celebration. How do I find adequate words to describe a person’s elation about his ability to circumvent and adulterate the democratic process upon which our government is founded? 

Before you think this is yet another post about why we shouldn’t sell the water, let me stop you and make sure you understand fully the meaning of this post.

My irritation has nothing to do with with whether or not the sale was a good decision or a bad decision. Whether you want the sale or hate the sale is unimportant tonight. 

Tonight we should all be united as one mind on this: disgust at the way the current administration ignored democratic principles to force this sale through. 

We should have had a vote.

The petition and remonstrance process was completed as allowed by law. Last year’s ballot should have included a referendum asking the simple question, “Shall the City of Charlestown sell its water utility? Yes or No.” Instead Mayor Hall used a legal loophole to deny us that vote.


And this is what Mayor Hall celebrates tonight. Not the solution to Charlestown’s long-term water issue. Not the successful implementation of an election promise. He celebrates complete disregard for our democracy.


For those one-third of the water customers who signed the petition seeking to bring this issue to a vote – I feel your pain tonight. 

For those who have supported the sale from the beginning, I hope you will pause and honestly reflect on the process that denied even you the right to vote in favor of the sale. You happen to stand on the winning side tonight, but can you guarantee that you will always do so under the leadership of someone who disregards the fundamental processes that govern our community? 

When words fail we have but one option…

We must let our VOTES speak for us.

When you cast your ballots in the elections this year vote in favor of democracy. Vote in favor of leaders who remember that all governmental power is “inherent in the People.” 

Words fail me tonight so let me close by borrowing the words of one of my college mentors that most adequately summarize my thoughts: 

“Nothing is more vital to democracy than public discussion, spirited and lively debate, and advocacy.”

– E. Culpepper “Cully” Clark 

 

Screen Shot 2019-02-14 at 3.44.03 PMYesterday the City of Charlestown, under the leadership of Mayor Bob Hall, publicly shamed ten citizens on the city’s official Facebook page which has over 2,500 followers. 

What should have been a simple announcement about the status of the Petition for Rehearing filed in the Court of Appeals in January by NOW, Inc, became an abuse of power with extreme politicization in an official city message. 

This announcement is problematic for a number of reasons. In addition to being factually inaccurate, the announcement suggests more than what was stated in the court order and implies that the court issued some kind of affirmation of the city’s claims of judicial abuse. 

First, of the ten names listed in the post, only ONE is currently a member of NOW, Inc. In fact, of the ten names listed in the post, only THREE have ever been members of NOW, Inc. No good or ethical reason exists to list these names. This action represents a juvenile, knee-jerk decision making process that should alarm us all. Who will want to disagree with the city’s leadership if doing so gets you publicly shamed? Who will hear our redresses if not our elected officials? How can we attract new families and investors if our city is known to attack citizens like this? 

Citizens have a right to petition the court for redress and to challenge their leaders when those leaders do not act in the citizens’ best interests. Both our state and federal constitutions guarantee this right.


Power in government is constitutionally granted to the PEOPLE.


Equally as damaging as shaming citizens this way is the spin placed on the wording of the announcement. The court did not “reaffirm” anything. The court did not issue a statement that said the opposition to the sale of the utility “is about delay, politics, and driving up the cost” as Mayor Bob Hall claims. The court said: 

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That’s it. The court denied the petition for rehearing on matters of the law. If Mayor Bob Hall has official documentation from the court that does otherwise then let him produce it. And let him keep his political stunts to his campaign page less he paint the entire city with the same shameful brush.  

The City of Charlestown should edit or remove this post to reflect a more ethical, fair, and non-political announcement. The City should also issue a public apology to all ten people named in the post. To do less sets a standard for our future that is quite alarming.

Under my leadership you will never be shamed for expressing your opinion.

Under my leadership you will be given access to complete and factual information.

Under my leadership you will see what it truly means to put Charlestown First.


READ both the Petition for Rehearing and the Order Denying the Petition HERE: Recent Water Sale Court Documents   

 

 

Moving Charlestown Forward by Keeping Charlestown First begins with providing Financial Accountability.


Excessive and abusive use of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) over the last decade has sabotaged development efforts and increased the tax burden on residential property owners.


The present administration has repeatedly claimed that its use of TIF has not raised taxes. A mayoral candidate who makes such claims based on Charlestown’s current TIF strategy is either deliberately misrepresenting the process or doesn’t understand how TIF works. 

Abuse of TIF produces higher property tax bills. 

Here’s how:

  • Property tax bills are calculated by multiplying the value of a home by the tax rate. 
  • The tax rate is flexible based on a formula driven by the total value of properties within a taxing unit and the amount of money needed to operate a city or other unit.

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If we want to compare Charlestown’s taxing of homes to a sister community that does not abuse TIF we need only look to Sellersburg. The two communities have similar populations and approved budgets for 2018.

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*Keep in mind that a state statute has a property tax cap of 1% for residential property, so the owner will not be required to pay more than 1% of its assessed value. In the Charlestown home example the actual amount owed before any other possible deductions would be $1,500.

As you can see, Sellersburg has a similar budget need, but a much higher property value which gives them a much lower tax rate than Charlestown, because Sellersburg does not abuse TIF. 

When the tax rate is kept low, property owners benefit. 

Abuse of TIF districts raises the tax rate and places the burden for meeting the budgets of our city, county services, library, schools, and fire protection district on residential property owners. 

TIF is not inherently bad. When used in moderation TIF can help provide important infrastructure improvements. CHARLESTOWN’S current use of TIF is dangerous. Typically, TIF does not take away funds from other units. It just freezes their revenue for the duration of the TIF (25 years). HOWEVER, as Mayor Hall has admitted, “When any branch of government owns a piece of property, there are no taxes paid on that property.” Every time the City of Charlestown, through its Redevelopment Commission led by Mayor Hall, buys property, it steals money from other taxing units because it reduces the assessed value to zero in a shell game that involves removing the property from the existing TIF then placing it back in to restart the clock. 

TIF use like this throughout Indiana has cost other taxing units as much as $320 million, with the greatest negative impact on our schools. One recent review of TIF found that statewide, the money diverted from schools because of TIF could have funded the salaries of an additional 2,400 teachers!

You have my promise that if elected I will review our existing TIF districts and ensure that they are being used in ethical ways that do not negatively affect our economic health.

 

This is particularly important for residents who live farther away from the city center and outside of established TIF districts. If you live in communities like Ashley Springs, Danbury Oaks, or Hidden River Valley, then your property taxes are kept artificially high so that Mayor Bob Hall, self appointed president of the Redevelopment Commission, can fund projects in the downtown area. Ask yourself, are you reaping the full benefit of your investment? 

TIF has been used throughout the country since it was first created in California in the 1950s. But that old adage about jumping off bridges after your friends should bear heavily on our decision to use TIF in Charlestown. Following in the footsteps of other cities’ bad decisions and risky investment practices should NOT be in our plan. California significantly restricted TIF and did away with their Redevelopment Authorities in 2011 after abuse of the funding had a disastrous effect on their schools and other public service entities.

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You see, TIF is too liberal, even for California!

 


 Sources:
DeBoer, 2016: https://pcrd.purdue.edu/ruralindianastats/downloads/The-Use-of-Tax-Increment-Finance.pdf?fbclid=IwAR3vWHgQVhVqBmR46x1XmBjq9-AD5GVF4-G1VoHBTo5fGEA1oW9jVOmJs64
Ball State research: https://projects.cberdata.org/reports/TifEconEffects-012815.pdf?fbclid=IwAR3mWhuTULAC0UZ62j1nXDQWoIo3OI_wU08pXYIFnuLf3jlSXWL1OPL6QSU
IBJ: https://www.ibj.com/articles/57112-study-tif-districts-divert-320m-annually-from-local-needs-in-indiana?fbclid=IwAR0oeNPUKUsqIbojDKnJGVRlr0MrAj7aoAk1ibkf-C9wl3_0_RE06IaNN0E
Lefcoe and Senson, 2014: https://www.planningreport.com/2014/07/24/demise-tif-funded-redevelopment-california
2018 Clark County Budget Order: https://www.in.gov/dlgf/files/Clark%20County%202018%20Certified%20Budget%20Order.pdf