A “Real Offensive” Or “Really Offensive” by George Lumley

first_imgA “REAL OFFENSIVE” OR “REALLY OFFENSIVE” BY GEORGE LUMLEYThe article in the Evansville Courier and Press on Saturday under the “Who Owns That” series exposes the Mayor’s Department of Metropolitan Development (DMD) plan to bail out the Evansville Brownfields Corp (EBC) by tying the troubled not for profit EBC to the County tax sale. It is headlined as “Deal for Large-Scale Demolitions In The Works”.  This article claims “Anti-blight reformers in Evansville city government” are working on a deal that “hinges on CITY COUNCIL approving the real offensive against blight – a proposed $2 million campaign to demolish nearly 2000 dilapidated structures in Evansville”.The first two sentences were all I had to read to be certain I would find the plan really offensive.  First, $2 million is not enough for a real offensive against anything in a city this size with a combined budget of over $321,000,000.  Second, why did they have to take five years to do this?  Third, does the city DMD think a “real offensive” against blight would only be money for demolition?  Forth, knowing that a previous article by Stephanie Brinkerhoff-Riley had already indicated a plan was brewing for $ 2.25 million per year and  the second sentence of the article  reads “A proposed $2 million campaign to demolish nearly 2,000 dilapidated structures in Evansville over the next five years” is actually $2.25 million x 5 years or $11,250,000 for those 2,000 structures.  That was just the first two sentences.The third sentence is the expected news with some slight twist.  The article indicates this is the first stage “if City Council members next month approve converting the nonprofit Evansville Brownfields Corp (EBC) into a Land Bank.”  Now what does that mean?  EBC is already a land bank.  Is this like the fairy tail asking for the frog to be turned into a prince, only we just want the magical council to turn the frog into a frog or more specifically in this case a Land Bank into a Land Bank.  The sentence continues that DMD “has included the money – $1 million of which would be earmarked for demolition and the rest for administration, property management and staff – in it’s 2016 budget request”.  So that is $1.25 million for administration for a million in demolition.  Does that sound right? More to administer the demolition than the actual demolition?The forth sentence mentions the $500,000 budgeted in the past as “traditional” and would remain in place.  Looking at prior budgets I question the “traditional” term.  The appropriation for 2012 and 2013 was $1,000,000 each year.  According to Russell Lloyd, City Controller the appropriation was cut the last two years to $750,000 and $500,000 respectively in anticipation of other sources of funding demolitions: Specifically, grants from the Federal Hardest Hit Fund, in the form of the state Blight Elimination Program.  So traditionally the budget for demolition was $1 million or more (with grants) and the administration for that $1+ million was included in the Building Commission’s budget.  By the way it is “traditionally” the Building Commission that handles CODE enforcement and demolitions not the DMD.The Courier and Press article continues correctly acknowledging the need for demolitions and the fact that it is a combined city county problem with the county holding title to many city properties because of foreclosed tax liens.  But then the article claims the city has to buy the properties from the county.  What, the city has to buy a property before it can tear it down?  I watch the legislation pretty closely and I don’t remember any new laws for building code enforcement that a city has to buy a property before it demolishes it.  No one is exempt from code enforcement. Our Building Commission is a city county building commission; if they say demolish, it’s demolished no matter who owns it. Is the County Government going to fight the City Government on tearing down vacant, abandoned, unfixable, structures? Really?You have got to be kidding! Is this fiction?  The deal is unveiled as an outline negotiated behind closed doors by the City DMD Director Kelly Coures (Coures is also the EBC president), one Council Member (Stephanie Brinkerhoff-Riley), one County Commisioner (Bruce Ungethiem) and the county attorney .  According to the article the County officials (unnamed) agree not to auction the blighted properties if the City Council will fund a $2 million DMD appropriation to bail out the EBC.“But that’s not all” the article claims.  And it is not!  There is more nonsense.In the “Deal” the county wants to get rid of the properties before winter (of course there has to be a rush) and to speed things along Coures volunteers advancing $80,000 from his DMD administered EBC; but, that is only if the $2 million is appropriated. “Coures said Brownfields, a separate corporation administered by his department, also may have another $20,000 needed to acquire 41 auction-bound properties that the Building Commission designated as candidates for rehabilitation.” Any property worth rehabbing is worth at least $10,000 to $20,000.  So there are 41 properties that may be worth $400,000, to $800,000 that DMD’s EBC (Coures’ private “company”) will take off the taxpayers’ hands for $20,000.  And where does the EBC get its $100,000 – from the sale of property bought with city block grant funds.  Now why the rush to change title before winter?  The county has owned some of these houses a couple of years.  Sure If I was a county official I would want to take advantage of this deal as soon as possible.  Especially if the city is going to start going after the owners (in this case the County) for the demolition cost.  Let’s see, the county is the owner of a property that is worthless and has to be demolished and cleaned up.  And the city is willing to take that liability, pay cash to a third party (the EBC), and it will not cost the County anything.   Sure jump on that deal.  Do they have any other liabilities they want us to pay to take off their hands?What is in it for the city?  Why would the city want the properties before winter?  And how about that summer mowing bill once the house is torn down?  The county will not want that one.  Does the city want it?  Coures indicated to me that the city was spending $120,000 to mow his 120 EBC properties.  Now if he gets 2,000 more vacant lots from these homes that are torn down does that mean the city will be paying $2 million for mowing?  And how about that announcement by Coures that HUD was requiring something to be done with the EBC owned properties acquired with community development block grants.  That city/EBC problem is not resolved, why complicate it with more properties that once owned can’t be disposed.They say the city wants the properties to keep them out of the tax sale.  The city or EBC does not have to own the properties to keep them out of the tax sale.  The County does not even have to take title.  The title can remain in the previous owners name and the county can still withhold the blighted property from the tax sale. Does the County not have the same interest as the City in stopping the blighted property tax sale cycle? Nobody really wants these blighted liabilities and the problem is not whether the city owns the property or the county owns the property the problem is funding the demolition.  Now the DMD wants to complicate the funding process with this scheme that raises the funding $500,000 above the historic level but tack on $1.25 million in administration funds for behind the door EBC activities.This deal is not new large scale demolition.  It is just the same annual demolition that has been going on for years.  The two new aspects are: One, the focus on tax sale properties because of this year’s legislative changes that make it much easier for the county to pull blighted properties from the regular tax sale for a special sale that transfers a superior title in a more timely fashion; and two, The attaching of a ball and chain, the DMD diverting funding that could go to demolitions to convert its “tax funded, private EBC Land Bank” into a “tax funded, private EBC Land Bank”  with an additional tax revenue flow from the city general fund of more than a million annually.This deal is not a “real offensive against housing blight”.  A real offensive against housing blight will include much more than demolition.  A real offensive will focus on the many aspects and tools for prevention.  We already have effective tools in place that are not working effectively because they are underfunded or mismanaged.  Demolition is just one of those tools.  We do not need to fund the EBC to have more demolitions.  To efficiently effect more demolitions we would fund the Building Commissions Demolition budget. If the Mayor asked for a plan on blight and this is what they came up with then DMD is suffering from tunnel vision on funding their EBC land banking activity, doesn’t understand blight and does not realize we have a City/County Building Commission.Please take time and vote in today’s “Readers Poll”. Don’t miss reading today’s Feature articles because they are always an interesting read. New addition to the CCO is the Cause of Death reports generated by the Vanderburgh County Health Department.Copyright 2015 City County Observer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.FacebookTwitterCopy LinkEmailSharelast_img

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