Friday, January 6, 2017

Picking Winners and Losers

Conservatives often talk about government not picking winners and losers. By that I suppose it is meant that government should not advantage some citizens over others, at least not unnecessarily. But a quick look around Hamilton County shows that our local governments do exactly what they profess not to support.

When a city offers tax incentives, or even free loans, to a business to move in, they advantage that business against those in the same market space which are already there. Worse, when the incentive is Tax Increment Financing (TIF), the property taxes go to pay the debt for the loan the city took out to provide that incentive, but don't go for core services, police, fire, libraries, roads, and yes, schools. Who picks up the difference?  The people who didn't get the incentives, chiefly homeowners.

At a minimum, this is blatant hypocrisy. It may also be largely unnecessarily, and in the case of Carmel and Fishers, excessive. Further, not all of the projects that at one time or another gain favor and at least the promise of incentives ever work, and many don't get off the ground at all.

Fishers, the city where I live and know the most about, is littered with failed projects backed by town, then city, government and totally failed.  A short list:

  • Riverplace, the proposed multi-use development on the northwest corner of 96th and Allisonville.  
  • The 96th and Allisonville "Michigan Left". Fishers spent $10 million, including cost overruns, for this project, "needed" in part due to the added traffic from Riverplace (see above). You now have to go thru 5 sets of traffic lights to turn left.
  • The water park at SR 37 and 131st.  Some ground work was done, then it failed and the property was foreclosed, then redeveloped. 
  • The auto mall on the west side of SR 37 and north of 131st. An additional turn signal and road was put in for this, and placed in a TIF district. Never got off the ground, and city administration quietly took the property out of TIF. 
  • The Saxony sports complex.  A novel idea with too little financial backing, which caused some concerns about traffic and parking. Eventually their financing failed due to appraisal issues.
  • Bub's Burgers downtown Fishers location. The Carmel burger icon's proposed second location, near both subsidized and non-subsidized eateries, was ballyhooed by city administration, then it quietly dematerialized. 
  • The 2007 proposed redevelopment of downtown. Town Council promised $40 million in incentives, but the developer went broke and filed bankruptcy. Honestly, it was a good thing, the design was ugly and it would have displaced numerous local businesses and a school. 
  • A proposed real estate building on Maple St. just north of 116th. The former building was torn down, then the real estate company had second thoughts. 
  • The strip mall at 116th and Hoosier Rd. Much fought-over for years (it was the crux of the famous "flying gavel" council meeting years ago), it went thru various developers, who have only ever managed a day care and a Fresh Thyme market, the rest is vacant. 
If you have philosophical issues with this, fine. But the party that runs Hamilton County all CLAIM to be "conservative" then do this. On a more practical note, Carmel now has over a BILLION DOLLARS in debt, and rising, and Fishers has at least a quarter of that, all of it incurred since 2007. As I noted before, it is homeowners who primarily shoulder that burden, and it is a partial factor in schools seeking referenda to approve tax hikes. Whatever your party label, this should be in the mind of all residents.  Pay attention people!