Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Will We get Our Cut? or Better Yet, Will We Make it Count?

This Monday past I along with John Miller & Pat Woosley of NA Community Housing had the pleasure of attending a live teleconferenced seminar sponsored by Federal Reserve System entitled Confronting the Neighborhood Impacts of Foreclosure.

The local venue for this all day event was held at the Louisville Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Others in attendance from Corydon, Louisville, and elsewhere who deal with housing issues in one way or another in their respective locals.

The panel consisted of Mayors & Housing Department officials from cities around the country, Federal Reserve Board Members, representatives from NeighborWorks America, National Housing Institute, National Community Stabilization Trust, JP Morgan Chase, and Enterprise Community Partners to name a few.

The presentation centered around the small portion ($3.92 Billion) of the $700 Billion that has been set aside to be deal with foreclosure issues at the local level and how best to utilize those limited funds. Information that any city government could find useful in these trying times.

While most of the legal and financial jargon was well above my pay grade I found a much of what was presented to be germane to our own local conversation.

There were numerous examples of how municipalities from other states have successfully dealt with such financial crisis’ of the past three decades. Instances brought on by plant closings which led to job losses and a decline in population followed by deterioration of housing stock in what were once thriving neighborhoods.

Such things as increased code enforcement, city/county owned land banks, greenfields, small neighborhood parks, urban agriculture, mixed use properties, and much more were sited as successful ways to deal with vacant and abandoned property.

The folks who had initiated these programs in their own communities suggested a variety of ways to tweak them to fit in cities of all sizes in all states in order for them to get the biggest bang for the bucks available.

Does it mean that an adjustment in thinking will be required ? Yes, but it also means that we do not have to reinvent the wheel. Templates are available to any who choose to look at them.

Click on the link below and you will find access to Power Point © presentations from previous sessions in this series. This particular meeting should be available there within the next few days.

Other links of interest include;

NeighborWorks America http://www.nw.org/network/home.asp

Enterprise Community Partners http://www.enterprisecommunity.org/

Housing Partnership Network http://www.housingpartnership.net/

Local Initiatives Support Corporation http://www.lisc.org/

Genesee County Land Bank http://www.thelandbank.org/

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Randy, Doug & Dan!

Last evening’s New Albany Common Council meeting was unique in a number of ways.

For one, Doug England was present from beginning to end. For another, Carl Malysz was nowhere to be found.

Then there was Mr. Randy Smith who rose to the podium to remind the Council of their historic unwillingness to raise taxes & services rates regardless of the need to do so. He also suggested the budget be frozen at 2007 levels and let the chips fall where they may.

To his credit he managed to not be removed from the room although he did get gaveled out of order by President Gahan later in the evening.

And for the second meeting in a row CM Coffey remained calm, cool & collected. Well for the most part anyway. He voice did raise an octave or two when an employee of the New Albany Housing Authority dared to disagree with him about his memory of the origin and distribution of monies within that entity when he was on their board. (circa the1990’s)

The Mayor (that’d be Doug ‘cause Carl weren’t there) came to the podium to inform the Council that the storm cleanup, although expensive, was for all practical purposes done. That was the good news.

The bad news was that your man Mitch (he sure as hell ain’t mine) has yet to declare our fair county/city a disaster area. Further more, there have been no clear indicators of either when or if he will.

Which brings me to a burning question. Where are the Floyd County Executives (i.e. the Commissioners) in this conversation? Oh wait! Floyd County doesn’t have any infrastructure worth selling off to the highest bidder to further pad the State coiffures does it.

But I’m getting off task here. As a result of the untimely storm, the Governors inaction, and the States tardiness in handling our local budget issues we are in fact up the creek without a paddle.

All that being said the Mayor’s position is that he will work within the legal constraints of the budget monies available. If that means cuts in jobs & reduced services to the public, so be it!

He once again reminded all present that we in New Albany have one of the lowest property tax rates in the State. If I heard correctly our rate is $0.80 per $100.00 of assessed value.

Mayor England went on the say that he would balance this budget because he is legally required to and that his administration would work closely with this Council to formulate a 2009 budget that all can agree to. However at the current tax rate and unless someone can wave a magic wand, freezing the 2009 budget at 2007 levels will result in even more reductions in public services. The dollars just aren’t there.

CM Price of course put forward the same ole same ole of parking take home cars, cutting overtime, restricting cell phone us, etc, etc,……….

The remainder of the evening was spent on first readings of various ordinances pertaining to the 2009 budget.

The most telling of which was R-08-43, a Resolution to Reduce 2009 City Budget to offset State Shortfall. This is basically requiring all city departments (except of course Police, Fire, & Safety Services) to trim yet another 10% from the operating costs.

In the case of the aforementioned Safety Services, that cut was a minimum 12 to 15%. A “Good Luck doing that” sigh was felt across the room.

The mayor stated the if necessary we could expect to see Police administration officials on street patrol duty.

Following my 3rd District Councilman’s lead I suggested to the fire chief that he could save thousands if he were to remove the inside dual tire on all of the fire engines and use PVC couplers & radiator hose clamps to repair damaged fire hoses.

Or better yet, let the houses burn completely to the ground thus saving the Building Commission the costs of demolition after the fact. Hauling off a dump truck load of ashes has to be cheaper and quicker than demolishing a half burnt building.

I know, I know, that ain’t funny. But it is about as realistic as a citizenry demanding $3.00 worth of services while only putting .50 cents in the kitty. Cats & rabbits breed fast enough to replenish themselves but I’ve yet to see even pennies, nickles & dimes do so to the scale we are talking about.

At any rate with the exception of A-08-14, which authorized the spending of a federal grant for a new radio system in the Fire Department and R 08-42 which amounted to a 5 year tax abatement for Rite-Way Industries, the other menu items were in one way or another centered around the budget.

There is a Council work session scheduled for Thursday October 23rd @ 6 PM to discuss the budget (again). The Council requested that city department heads attend this workshop to assist in trimming the fat.

As per Kay Garry, the Council has two more meetings in November to get the details hammered out & agreed to. The drop dead date is December 1st.

Happy New Year New Albany!

Just a footnote; I've cross-posted this article over at NA Confidential!

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