Friday, September 26, 2008

Where Did Our Jobs Go?

Marcey Wisman asked me to spread the word on an upcoming event concerning job retention in our community & state.

This coming Monday (September 29th) there is going to be a discussion entitled "Outsourcing and Job Loss in Indiana" in the IU Southeast Library from 2-4PM.

This meeting is sponsered by the "Campaign for Change" and will be moderated by Ms. Wisman.

It is open to anyone interested in the topic.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Experiment Failed!

Well it turns out that the temporary closure of Scribner Drive created more problems than it resolved.

 People being people took the path of least resistance and instead of going all the way to State Street to make their way over to Main, they simply turned right onto West 1st to get there.

That in turn led to more traffic crossing State without the assistance of a traffic light which created a safety issue at that intersection as well as alongside the city/county building.

All this coupled with a public hearing at which no one in attendance spoke in favor of Scribner being permanently closed resulted in Deputy Mayor Malysz announcing at this mornings Board of Works meeting that the barracades would come down and remain that way for the forseeable furture.

 He also indicated that Scribner is in need of repaving due in part to the heavy truck traffic that it carries but that is a discussion for another day.

In addition Carl requested that the BOW declare a state of emergency in order that the administration could move forward with securing both the Tabernacle and the city's road salt shed roof against further damage to both. He stated that  the insurance adjuster had given them the go ahead to do emergency repairs within reasonable limits.

Kay  Garry indicated that of the two, the salt shed should be priorty #1 as the city spends $40 to $50k per season on road salt and that availabity for this winter is already questionable. "We shouldn't risk loosing what we have on hand in the event of rain!"

The remainder of the meeting dealt primarily with various street closures relating to the upcoming  Harvest Homecoming and the events surrounding it.

Meeting adjourned with everyone still smiling.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

And Now, Another Episode of "As the Council Churns!"

In our previous episode; A proposed ordinance (A-08-12) for an appropriation of $250K to fund the drug task force restart (10K), the city’s new tow-in lot ($50K) and $190K for purposes not yet named was introduced for 2nd & 3rd readings by D5 Councilwoman Ms. Benedetti.

Following which a lively discussion between (primarily) CM’s Messer & Coffey concerning the advisability of handing the England administration a “blank check” for $190K.

Although testimony from several sources (including previous statements from City Controller Kay Garry) that the dollars could not be spent without further council approval, Dan successfully squelched the $190 and the Mayor’s office walked away with only $60K!

And now, tonight’s episode;

Going in, this the second September meeting of New Albany’s Common Council looked to be short & sweet. The only agenda items were a report for CM John Gonder concerning his Housing Committee, a resolution for the transfer of funds (R-08-40), and the 1st reading of a bill to annex 40 acres of fringe property to expand our industrial park area (X-08-01).

The Gonder report was without incident as after two meetings nothing of consequence has occurred save the realization that code enforcement in any meaningful way is not happening. (Old news)!

During the public comments section, there was only one gentleman who approached the podium to speak about the smoking ban only to find that it wasn’t a topic of discussion for this evening.

No Public Officials had anything to say and the Mayor (i.e.; Deputy Mayor Malysz) presented an update on the city’s post hurricane cleanup activities.

Then the fun began. R-08-40 (a transfer of funds request of once again, $250K) to pay for the cleanup thus far was introduced by CM Coffey.

Coffey came out of the box in ardent support of this appropriation without question. “We have an emergency and the people need help!” he quipped.

Some council members asked why this request differed from A-08-12 (the one from the previous meeting for the same amount).

The Coffey response was the $190K asked for on September 4th, had no specific earmarks attached.

CM Messer countered that this one did not either. It was merely a blank check for “cleanup”. There were no specifics on to whom,  for what, and how it was to be distributed.

CM Coffey came back once again that this was an emergency and the need was dire.

CWM Benedetti offered that if the full $250K had been approved at the last meeting, the administration would be 2 weeks closer to having at least $190K in hand to deal with the current issue. In addition, none of it, thewn or now, can be distributed without further Council approval.

About this point both CM’s Coffey & Price pointed out to Ms Benedetti that she needed to listen and learn!

She responded that she was learning everyday and she still didn’t see the difference between this request and the aforementioned one.

This makes the second meeting in a row that she has been reprimanded publicly (by CM President Gahan at the last meeting)  for daring to voice an opinion.

If I may interject, you’d think she’d understand the status quo doesn’t appreciate being challenged by freshmen CM's any more than they do the public.

However, on the other hand I say with gusto “YOU GO GIRL!!”

CM Price then said that this should be a “wake up call” for the city. “We need a rainy day fund just for such events” he continued. “This just underlines the need for the city to watch its pennies! (Paraphrased quote)

In the end after nearly an hour of quibbling, the measure passed unanimously.

Then came the introduction of X-08-01 (the Grantline Industrial Park West Annexation) for 1st reading.

Mr. Malysz presented the details including the need for infrastructure & utilities to serve the annexation and it also passed with little ado.

The gavel dropped and Mark & I retired to the city hall annex (i.e.; Studio’s) for the regularly scheduled post-meeting meeting.

We thought our cohort (Bluegill) was going to join us but he apparently got detained for further discussion with various council persons & city officials following our departure.

Perhaps we’ll hear more on that later.

One final note; Mr. Malysz said he’d been assured by Duke Energy that all power for New Albany will be restored by sometime Saturday. And stay away from those power lines still entangled in downed trees!

OH! and did I mention this was one long meeting for just two agenda items??

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

IF I MAY.........?

If I may (or even if I may not) I’d like to respond to the latest contribution from our friends over at Freedom of Speech.

Their post this morning entitled “YOU BOYS JUST DON’T GET IT” brings up some interesting points. Many of them, I in principle, agree with. Others however I’d like to expand upon.

First things first. My take is that the Council Committee really is looking for ways to make New Albany safer, cleaner, and healthier for its citizens (children & seniors alike).

As to why the administration’s entities charged with effectively enforcing the ordinances on the books are not doing so is question I also would like answered.

My suspicion is that the answer lies in part to the lack of staff & resources.

I’m convinced after attending several public meetings on the subject that a lack of understanding of the applicable laws is in play as well.

And finally I think it goes without saying at this point that there is a lack of will (political or otherwise) to take the lid off that particular can of worms.

It is true that there are over 22,000 parcels of property listed as being within the cith limits of New Albany
 in the data bases of the Assessor, the Auditor, the Recorder, and the Platt Room computer systems.

However, that information very often does not match from one office to the next. There are in fact parcels listed as vacant lots that have (and have had for 2 years or more) houses on them.

There are in fact houses on parcels of property that the transfer of ownership has never been recorded. In other words, persons building structures on property they do not legally own at least in terms of a recorded deed transfer.

There are in fact instances (including those like the ones mentioned in the previous paragraph) where said structures were constructed without permit one being applied for much less approved by Zoning & Planning.

There are in fact cases of owners of multiple properties claiming homestead exemptions on more than one of them. Once again, my understanding of the statute is that provision is one per customer.

All of these examples add up to a loss of income (via property taxes) for New Albany. The net result is a lack of dollars available to the city for its many needs to be met.

I don’t mind paying taxes to pay for city services. As a matter of fact, I’ll gladly do so in order to retain that cozy feeling of safety when I lay my head on my pillow at night.

I do however object profusely when I find that not all are required to carry their portion of the burden because they managed to slip thru the cracks.

Are there a lot of these instances? At this point, I honestly can’t say. However one or a hundred it begs the question of “who’s minding the store?” Is the water cooler talk of favoritism more than just talk?

Answers anyone?

And just what does all this have to do with code enforcement and the call for rental property registration?

Well first of all, it explains in part why there are so few dollars that have to be spread so far. It explains in part why the work load overwhelms the staffs in place.

 I will agree that in the case of owner occupied homes, access to the responsible party is relatively easy. He/she lives in the home in question (usually).

However, in more than a few cases locating the individual(s) who have the authority to address a code violation issue for rental properties is much more difficult and time consuming.

As I have said in previous posts on this site and others as well Pam Badger, & Ron Hartman both have cited instance upon instance of not being able to locate said individual which adds weeks, months and even years to a satisfactory solution to the issue.

So as shown by other cities/towns/burgs/puddle stops around the state/country, registration of rental property and the requirement that the owner or his/her agent live either in the city or an adjacent county cuts the time, money, & resources required to solve said issues substantially.

There need not be a fee attached for registering. However failure to do so can result in some serious fines.

Registration need not be a cause of fear for those landlords that are keeping their properties up to snuff. Contrary to popular belief, I choose to think those folk are in the majority.

What it will do is shine the spotlight on those that are not (i.e.; slumlords). While I will acquiesce that “ghosts” may be and probably are hard to locate I’d submit that if efforts could be shifted to doing so instead of being spent digging thru four separate data bases to weed out the offenders from those doing the right thing, the focus of enforcement could shift and become more productive.

As I have mentioned before, after getting the registration data base in place, it will be up to the various entities of the administration to follow thru all the way to a solution case by case.

While it is true that at there may be a requirement for an additional staff person to create, administer, and keep the data in this program current, I can’t envision it being a major budget item.

Anyone with a working knowledge of Excel can put this thing together. Once in place it should not be that difficult to keep current. Assuming of course the person(s) involved want it to remain so.

To paraphrase a quote from FOS, “It ain’t that complicated Boys (Girls)”






Only if the administrators choose it to be!

Only if we the people sit quietly by and allow our elected/appointed government officials to continue doing “business as usual”!!

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Who's Job Is It Anyway?

This past Wednesday evening heralded the second in a series of meetings called by New Albany’s Common Council Committee on Housing issues. This committee was formed to look at ways to gain some semblance of control over our ongoing unsafe/uninhabitable housing units within our city limits.

From our point of view, based on how other cities around the country have dealt with such, the starting point would be to have a data base of contact information on all rental property in our city.

Right out of the box jumped the suggestion that requiring rental property only to be registered would somehow give owner occupied homes a free pass from enforcement. Nothing could be further from the truth.

With few exceptions (and yes Ethel, there are exceptions) the responsible party of owner occupied homes is usually pretty easy to track down.

With rental property, that is often not the case. Names change, people move out of state, transfers are not recorded, banks sell mortgages to other banks, etc., etc,…!

Again, citing how others handle these situations, a database of contact information for a locally based responsible party provides a starting point in solving most (not all) of these issues.

An obvious truth came forth that if a ghost landlord did not want to be found, registration would be pointless. I disagree on two points.

First of all, not all problem properties are owned by “ghosts”.

Second, if those that can be found are registered it takes another segment of properties off the extended search grid which saves time, resources, and money for the already overworked enforcement entities. That in turn saves wasted tax dollars and gets us down the road farther & quicker to reclaiming our city. Some of those saved $$"s could then be used for Ghost Hunting!

Somehow the conversation got off track and turned to trash pickup and grass/weed control. Although I’ll agree the city could and should do a better job of both, I fail to see how a landlord justifies the concept that neither is his/her responsibility if the property has a tenant.

While I understand the tenant has rights & responsibilities, I think it behooves the property owners to monitor their property and deal firsthand with their tenants. I don’t see that the city has the obligation to absorb that responsibility from the landlord.

I know that in any State approved rental agreement there are statements of the rights & obligations of both. I don’t read in the statue anywhere that the owner can pass that responsibility off to the city.

Then came the age old discussion of who picks up what for whom as it relates to garbage, trash, & yard waste.

So once again, here’s the skinny as I understand it. I’m sure I’ll be corrected if I’m wrong although probably anonymously on another blog site.

Southern Indiana Waste Systems will pick up recyclables weekly. It is not the same truck but it is usually on the same day as one’s garbage pickup. Any who don’t know can find out what is or is not recyclable by calling S I W S @ 812-948-5356 and ask for Stanley. Or as an alternative you can call Matt Denison @ 812-948-5333.

The same folks (different truck) will pick up your garbage once a week. Garbage being everyday household trash. Not yard waste, tree limbs, leaves, construction leftovers, etc. In addition, they will (or can by wording of the contract) pick up one (that’s 1 as in singular) other item such as a broken chair, discarded lamp, etc.

Now we come to the street department’s obligation. They will, if you call and politely request, come by and pick up yard waste, tree limbs, bagged leaves and even an occasional couch or mattress upon request. In addition, again if you ask, they have a contact that will come by and remove old appliances such as stoves, refrigerators, etc.

They are not however responsible for nor have the manpower to haul off an entire households furniture & personal belongings.

By ordinance in Chapter 50 Garbage & Refuse; Section 50.08, the city can and I think should, levy a charge of $5 per item for the disposal of large items such as furniture, air conditioners, etc. However I have never known that to be done. Here's the link.$fn=default.htm$3.0$vid=amlegal:newalbany_in

Perhaps if they did and did so consistently, this conversation wouldn’t be as necessary.

Another alternative is for the property owner to call southern Indiana Waste Systems or an alternative waste hauler to dispose of such. Or better yet in the case of rental properties, require a more substantial upfront deposit from the tenant to cover the costs of disposal.

The whole point being ownership carries with it responsibility whether one lives on the premise or not. It is not my job to clean up after neighboring property although many of us have done so and in too many cases continue to do so.

Likewise, it is not the city’s job to do so either. That burden falls squarely on the shoulders of the deeded owner.

I understand that there are those among us that have neither the, health, income, nor family backup to perform costly maintenance on a home they have lived in for years. Thankfully, there is any number of programs throughout the community to address these circumstances.

I also understand there are those who make their living by renting homes to others. Some of those renters are in the same shape as those aforementioned. To the landlords who are carrying that burden, my hats off to you.

However, if all of your tenants are in that shape and you are loosing money on every unit you own, you as well as they are doomed to fail.

If that is not the case, perhaps you should reach out to a more responsible renter clientele and raise your fees in order for you to cover the expenses of helping the needy and maintain your property as well.

Or perhaps you could form an association of like minded landlords and form a slush fund to help those in need.

Before you say it "If you're so damned smart, why ain't you in  business yerself?" let me say been there done that. How do you think I got this smart?

Anyway you do it, letting the property deteriorate just to keep a roof over the tenants head is not a long term solution. Not for the tenant, the landowner, nor the city.

Now to the big dogs! Earlier on this very blog site (Mayor Englands 1st Semester Report Card) I patted this administration on the back for a job well done during its first half year. I sited their reports on bringing to a close many code violations, unsafe houses, and zoning issues.

Having said that, it is evident that these accomplishments while good are only the first peripheral layer of this decades old onion.

We still have city owned property that is overgrown with weeds & debris.

We still street department employees drive by one pile of limbs to pick up another.

We still have multiple police units sitting idly at single traffic stops.

And we still have to question why there are so many outstanding violations of many stripes that have not been addressed.

Nearly every neighborhood association, Board of Works, Building Commission, or Common Council meeting I attend I hear of yet another situation that has allegedly been reported repeatedly and is still unresolved.

We were promised by this council and this administration that actions to do so would be addressed early on. There was much talk of an increase in staff for the city law department to address such matters.

If there has indeed been forward movement in that direction and if some of these issues have been resolved, please tell us. We would love to give you another ‘Atta boy!

If not, understand that the clock is still ticking, this year is nearly over and 2011 looms just over the horizon.

Tic-tock, tic------

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Some Old Habits Die Really, Really Hard!

My Momma brought me up the old fashioned way. Hug’s & kisses for job well done. A Hickory switch across the back of the legs for antisocial behavior. (I got to hand pick the switch from the tree!)

One of the most egregious behaviors (mine) was interrupting when someone else was speaking. (Wait until you’re recognized! Raise your hand!)

Although those precepts are from a bygone era, I’m having a hard time adjusting. The memory of that Hickory switch still stings. ( By the way, I finally pulled a George Washington and drove several boxes of nails in the damned tree in an attempt to kill it!)

So Wednesday past I came to the Council Committee meeting with a prepared statement and politely waited to be recognized while most of the room took control of the meeting.

Finally, three speakers after John Gonder issued a last call, I broke training, elbowed my way to the podium and presented my speech. Unfortunately by that time many of those who really needed to hear it (Dan Coffey, the press, some of the most outspoken opponents) had already left.

So here it is in its entirety for all to read. I’m sure it will get out this way in spite of the claims of many that they never read the blogs!

Our goal is to construct a way to make it easier for the Code Enforcement entities of the City of New Albany to do their respective jobs in a more timely manner. Those entities as pertains to this discussion being the Code Enforcement Officer(s), the Building Commissioners office, the Planning & Zoning Office, and the City Attorneys Office.

As it stands currently there is way too much time involved in getting from point A to point B.

Lack of staff, lack of funding, & lack of other resources all play a part in this calamity.

However, one of the biggest hurdles occurs early on in the process. That being identifying who the responsible party for a given parcel is as well as how to contact that individual.

Admittedly for an owner occupied home that is usually (though not always) a relatively simple task. (Even for me)

However when it comes to rental housing, the process becomes much more difficult.

People buy groups of housing at sheriffs auctions. Some of these buyers are local folks while others live in other states or even other countries.

Title of said properties are not always transferred & recorded in a timely manner.

People walk away from mortgages and the properties land in foreclosure proceedings.

Business entities change their names from one LLC to another without recording said change with the city/county.

And the list goes on. But the point is someone has to wade thru this paperwork jungle to get to the source which in many instances, does not want to be found.

The result is we find utter rat holes being inhabited (legally or not) and no contact source to deal with them.

Verbal rental agreements with no lease. (It’s happening in New Albany!!)

Multiple families in single family dwellings without variances’ to do so.
(It’s happening in New Albany!!)

Furnaces venting directly into living quarters. (It’s happening in New Albany!!)

Raw sewage in basements or under houses. (It’s happening in New Albany!!)

Bare wiring, leaking roofs, commodes falling thru floorboards, and on and on and on. ( It’s happening in New Albany)

Add to all that tenants who are too afraid of being put on the street to complain and landlords who can’t be found and you have the reasons we are here this evening. That being unsafe, unhealthy housing that someone somewhere is making a profit off of while the property values around it are going down the drain.

So we come to our proposed solutions that we think are fair and that do not have to break the bank. These suggestions are not or our origin but come from other cities around Indiana and other states who have dealt effectively with similar situations.

1) A requirement that all rental and abandoned housing be registered with the city free of charge within 60 days of passage.

2) A contact person living either within the City of New Albany or in an adjacent county (Floyd, Clark, Harrison, or Jefferson, KY) be listed with the registration. This person having either the authority to take action or able to contact the owner in a timely fashion to resolve whatever issues may arise with said property.

3) A stiff fine structure be established that will be levied for non compliance of both the registration and upkeep of said property after a predetermined time has elapsed, (10 days, 30 days, etc) Once again examples from other cities range from $50 per day to several hundred dollars per day.

4) A verbal public commitment from the administration and City Attorney to when necessary take appropriate measures thru the courts to assure compliance with these and other codes already on the books as they pertain to all building issues be they housing, rental, or commercial.

I can see no unfairness here towards anyone who is putting forth the effort maintain their property at minimally acceptable standards.

Those who can’t or won’t should no longer be allowed to do so at our expense both as taxpayers and a city as a whole.

If we can get these concepts in place the City of New Albany can begin the process of once again becoming a safe, healthy, & prosperous place to live.

In the hall after it was all over my very on Councilman Steve Price walked over to say that it was a good speech and to inquire if I had written it myself. Yes Steve and thanks for asking!

Later today I’m going to do another post on the meeting and hopefully shed some more light on some of the side issues raised.

Is it true that some people get paid for research and consulting services?

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

On The Eve of Another Council Housing Committee Meeting.........

The 2nd meeting of New Albany Common Council’s “Committee on Housing” is this Wednesday evening at 6 PM in the 3rd floor assembly room in the City/ County building.

This whole process has caused quite a stir within neighborhood groups, local realtor organizations, landlord’s coffee breaks, bar’s, pub’s, blogs, and various city government offices.

Those opposed to any accountability for their business practices ( Ooops I forgot…rental housing is not a business silly boy!) have resorted to calling advocates of such measures to solicit  support! Say what??

In their latest contribution to the cause, the folks over at the premier (Hrrrmmm!) community affairs blog (Freedom of Speech) went to great lengths to tell us what we already knew.

We also have read the New Albany Code Book thank you! We've found it wanting in some areas.

They also informed us that Code enforcement Officer Pam Badger was well versed in wading thru the 4+ separate local government entities to determine who owned a particular piece of property as she is also a part time employee of the assessor’s office.

Well excuse me maam, err…sir, but she is the first city official (there have since been many others) to tell me how difficult, time consuming, and many times dead end that process is. This wheel is broken and we are merely suggesting ways of fixing it.

At any rate being as I have nothing better to with my time (cough, choke) I went to the sacred halls of the City/county Building and looked for myself.

After asking many questions of again, many offices I’ve finally learned how to read much of the hieroglyphics involved in ascertaining the genealogy of a given parcel of land in this city.

What I’ve found is very enlightening. There parcels listed on the tax roles as vacant lots that have houses sitting on them.

There are houses in single family zoned areas that have been made into multifamily living quarters that never went thru the process of acquiring the proper variances’ to operate as such.

And my personal favorite, there are instances of homeowner homestead exemptions on multiple properties of the same ownership. I always thought that was a one per customer gig. Perhaps I am mistaken. If so I’m sure FOS will let me know.

Now before someone starts on the Building Commissioner, Zoning & Planning, the Code Enforcement Officer, etc know this. There are within New Albany Township, there are well in excess of 22,000 parcels of land.

To expect any of the above mentioned offices to do other than put out wildfires as they pop up is ludicrous. With the budgets, staff, & resources they have at their disposal just keeping up with new construction is cramming 12 hours into an 8 hour day everyday.

I can attest that when they become aware of a problem they proceed to do what they can as quickly as they can. Having said that, once it leaves their desk to the next step in the process, it invariably drops off into the abyss.

Hence our suggestions of ways to make their jobs just a little easier.

Hence rental property & abandoned housing registration.

Hence requiring that a responsible party live in or around New Albany (i.e. a surrounding county)

Hence the concept of investigating how other cities around the country deal with these issues and possibly adopting them for New Albany.

By the way, it is our belief that if our Council has the intestinal fortitude to pass legislation that gets deep into the pockets of those who choose to ignore the law and our Mayor’s administration (i.e. law department) has the political will to uphold said legislation thru the courts when necessary, we can see a difference within our city without raising taxes and breaking the bank.

In other words, the fines should pay for the costs of collecting them and the additional staff to do so.

It’s only money folks and our Council President Gahan assured me recently that there is plenty of it here in New Albany. Sounds to me like we just aren’t collecting it.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

A Nice Riverfront Weekend, But Where Were the Promoters??

There were two evenings of entertainment on the New Albany waterfront this past holiday weekend and both were, as I understand it, sparsely attended. (I was at the Sunday night festivities)

Saturday evening a musical venue at which local talent performed selections of their  favorite styles. Sunday night was an outdoor showing of the movie "Happy Feet" via the Greenpeace organization.

Both were free and open to the public. Both offered the City of New Albany an opportunity to promote itself.

Both were well enjoyed by the few that were present.

Neither were well advertised in advance.

Neither were well represented by either their organizers or city officials.

Neither apparantly, were covered by the local press. But then they're having overtime issues.

So again the question pops up. How are we to advance our agenda for growth & advancement if our leadership will not show up to support their own endeavors?

Or is this yet another venue that private citizen groups must shoulder the responsibility for?

Will we ever learn to make the most of what resources we do have available to us?

Is there an unwritten law somewhere that says the elected are to remain unseen in public save for election season?

What better time for them to take heed of the heartbeat of the general populace than an evening on the riverfront?

Oh that's right. They all have familys & full time jobs!  My Bad!!

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