"The posts in this blog are not the opinion of the MKNA Board, any given member of the MKNA Board, any employee of MKNA, or any volunteer from MKNA."


Posted 1:09 PM by

In a previous installment, I talked about crime, and police, but also a little about money.  If you remember,or can scroll back a little, Indianapolis, is looking at pretty flat tax collections, both for property and income taxes, for the foreseeable future.  Since inflation is a given, that likely means a higher and higher percentage of revenue is going to be spent on public safety, and correspondingly, less and less on everything else.  It’s also driving the instinct to privatize services, particularly for large up-front payments that can be used for non-public safety purposes.


The past couple of administrations have had similar thoughts on this problem, which is mostly that we need to boost government income in Marion County.  That, however, is a problem, since our highest income earners have tended to leave Indianapolis for the surrounding counties, leaving us with more people who require services, and less who pay for them.  The solution, for Indianapolis, and for almost every urban area in the country is the millennials, the 20 to 34 year olds who are assumed be the job creators of the future.  Indianapolis wants them to come here, see here, and settle here, and it’s building a city primarily to attract them.


Millennials don’t particularly like, or want, cars.  They’d prefer to walk, bike, or use public transportation.  They want smaller living spaces  (but nicer ones).  They prefer urban over suburban.  They expect their shopping, and their entertainment, to be close by.  They want jobs that are collaborative.  They prefer neighborhood businesses to the big box.


So, Indianapolis is perfectly happy to turn downtown into millennial  park.  It uses events  (sporting events, conventions, festivals, etc.) to get them to come see the City.  (Why do we fund the Pacers, Colts, race track, Natatorium, etc?  It gets people from elsewhere here, and it gets our image of Indianapolis on television.)  It uses tax dollars to fund apartments.   It’s going to, somehow, fund a public transportation system for them.  And, it’s all done to create the flypaper that will make some of them stick here, create jobs here, and pay taxes here.


OK, hooray for downtown, but what does that have to do with Midtown?  Well, millennials also like neighborhoods  -  walkable, bike-able neighborhoods with nearby shopping and entertainment and served by public transportation.    Simply, they like the Midtown that, thank goodness, was once serviced by the interurban and created a grid of small business nodes, almost all of which are within walking distance of our homes.   They mostly like our homes, because they were built on smaller lots. They’d prefer to have a lot more apartments, which are plentiful south of here, but those are areas that currently don’t have the other things millennials want.  Try finding a restaurant, or a grocery, or a hardware store between Maple Road and 16th St.


The City currently assists developers to do what they want done through TIF Districts.  Originally downtown was funded through tax credits, a mechanism wherein the Federal Government allowed the states to sell what amounted to tax payments to folks who owed taxes  (if they’d build low income housing) and the states doled out the proceeds to the cities.  Most of Mass. Ave was built that way.  That means of financing somewhat dried up as other mechanisms for tax avoidance appeared, so cities turned to TIF Districts, wherein the property taxes developers pay go to fund the next development, sometimes in part, sometimes in whole.  After some period of time, mostly 25 years from when the first bond in the district is issued, the property taxes come back to the City’s general fund, though downtown had been allowed to operate differently.


Whether that’s good, or bad, depends a lot on whether you believe things would get built the way the City wants them built anyway.    In other words, if you think everything that’s been built downtown would be there without the assistance of TIF money, than the City just wasted about 25 years of tax proceeds from what was built.  I’ll leave that to the reader, but would also note that the City was doing it under both Ballard and Peterson, and will be doing it under future administrations until a new development tool is invented.  Both administrations, and probably the next one, see it as a way to grow property taxes over time, since, in 25 years, the revenue from taxes that was going to pay off the bonds that helped build downtown will start flowing back to the City.


It’s possible to believe that only “friends”  (read “contributors’) to a given administration receive TIF funding for their projects, but it’s also pretty hard to find a developer who didn’t contribute something to both campaigns in a given municipal election, so “friendship” ends up as a fairly broad term.


Our job, as neighborhood associations, is to convince whatever administration that’s in place, that what we want for our area overlaps with what the City as a whole needs in that it will make people who will pay taxes want to live here, and people who are paying taxes want to stay here.  That, in turn, means paying attention to what current residents desire, but with an eye towards what the next generation of residents are going to want.  Demographics show that we’re headed in the right direction, since we’re already a young neighborhood, and getting still younger.  We have room for future development along College Ave,, along Maple Road, and along the Monon Trail, and all three areas are places that our heroes' the Millennial’s, are already finding attractive.


Neighborhood Associations, particularly collective groups of neighborhood associations, are uniquely suited to deal with local government, especially in our area, where government officials tend to live already.  It’s a perfect reason for you, especially our younger residents to get involved with MKNA.


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Floodwall Redux, Redonedumb

Posted 1:03 PM by

Start here for a much better explanation of what happened so far.


Now on at least the surface, things don’t seem altogether awful.  Admittedly, the Corps. has chosen the two alternatives that no one really wants, but at least the City has nixed both, and at least says it prefers the west of the canal alternative that everyone seems to like.


The problem, of course, is that unless the Corps. can be persuaded to change its mind, the City would have to pay for the west bank alternative by itself, and the City likely doesn’t have the money to accomplish that.  Even that is a way, way best case scenario, since just what the Corps. might pay for, even assuming it’s persuaded that the West Bank scenario actually works, is also going to be a matter of getting the Corps. also persuaded to pay for all or part of it.  Further strengthening the City’s “woe is us” position, the City seems to have commissioned a study that somehow concludes that the west bank alternative would, contrary to what even the Corps. thinks, have to extend all the way to 38th Street, and therefore cost something over twice even the Corps.’ lousy alternatives.  Left at that, you have to figure either noting ever gets done, or the City eventually claims it was forced into accepting one of the Corps.lousy alternatives.


Now, there seems to be a better way to handle this, as noted in the much better written article I’ve referred you to above, but it’s apparently not simple for more than a few reasons.


First, for the Corps. to actually change its mind, it needs to be persuaded to change its mind, and whatever you might think about federal bureaucracies, it’s generally true that their conclusions start out etched in stone and get changed either by politics at the federal level, or by proving to the bureaucracy though the intervention of someone it concedes understands the bureaucracy’s stuff as well as it does that perhaps the stone the decision happens to have been etched in might have been sedimentary and not igneous.  Refer to your high school geology if that’s confusing.  In a late development, the City is apparently trying to hire the Corps. to perform a study that will somehow change the Corps.’ mind about the West Bank Option.   Even thinking that makes sense ought to scare the other players.  


The City does not generally build flood walls, and its consultants, at least the ones they tend to use, really don’t either, so their persuasive powers from the perspective of the Corps. are at best cute.  There are, fortunately, a number of well placed and well thought of engineering firms out there who have worked directly with the Corps. in the past, and which, in the past, have in fact persuaded the Corps. to change their mind.  Getting to that point ought to simply involve hiring one of them, and clearly defining what it is you want them to study, with the goal, assuming they agree, of changing the Corps. mind.  That’s the part that hasn’t been done, and doesn’t seem to be getting done.


Why?  Well first, it’s not unconscionably expensive.  Rough estimates seem to be in the $50,000 range, which, given the actually expense of building the darned flood wall, it essentially chump change, and it’s still chump change at twice that price.  The City, or either of a couple of players most effected by allowing one of the Corps. “bad” ideas to ever get built, could easily afford it.


So, again, why isn’t that being done? Well it’s possible I suppose to argue that the City really doesn’t want to get on the hook for building anything, or that the City just doesn’t like the idea of working with firms it doesn’t know well and can’t control, or even that the City’s own bureaucracy is getting in the way.  Who really knows?  But surely Citizen’s Energy, which really, really, really doesn’t like the idea of the proposed mechanical gates shutting off it’s supply of water  (OK, 60% thereof) might have an interest in being absolutely sure that the gates are, as the Corps. seems to believe, the only real alternative, and doing it for a lot less that it’s costing to beautify a mile of the canal’s banks before it throws in the towel.  Maybe their Board, having recently gotten a pretty good deal from the City while buying the City’s water company is a bit squeamish about  staking out a logical position, or just offending the City by doing that, but gees, it’s got a huge interest in the outcome.  Perhaps even Butler University, which if it allows either of the two alternatives proposed by the Corps. to be built will never, ever be able to protect the northwest corner of its campus from flooding, might have an interest.  But, maybe Butler is a bit edgy about offending the City, which picked up a good chunk of its Sunset Ave. improvements recently. and coincidentally has one of the Council’s Republican leadership on staff?  Still, Butler would seem to have a huge interest in knowing where it might, or might not, be able to build as it plans its future.      


Maybe it’s just to slippery a slope for any one of these entities to take on the study as “it’s” thing.  But, “it’s” not just their thing.   Warfleigh has a clear interest in all this, and so do Broad Ripple, Butler Tarkington, Meridian Kessler and Midtown.  All of those entities have homes in the floodplain that are subject to the vagaries of whatever crude beat the Biggert Waters Flood Insurance bills morph into in this and future congress’.  Even Rocky Ripple, which isn’t specifically protected under any of these plans, risks losing any opportunity to ever be protected under either of the Corps. plans.  (Rocky Ripple stiff holds out hope that the wall will go around Rocky Ripple and the City will pay for it.    In this go around, their best bet is probably still the West Bank Option, but with some assurance that its design would allow a future Rocky Ripple Levy project to connect thereto.)  All have ongoing relationships with Butler, Citizen’s and the City, (and with each other)  and all, especially collectively, have a clear interest in the future of the flood wall.  Individually, there’s some risk that the discussion devolves into “me first”, or worse, that nothing at all happens.  Collectively, however, there’s a real opportunity for all to get on a path towards something positive. And, all of them, collectively, can comfortably stake.


The City seems to be in a process of telling whatever stakeholder who happens to be in front of them at a given moment what they want to hear.  Given that we’re about a year away from an election, that’s not wildly unusual behavior, but it is going to lead to some splintering of a potential coalition.  It appears for now that the 2016 election is going to be all about crime, and since neither Rocky Ripple, or Warfleigh (probably the two stakeholders with the most disparate views on what result could be termed a success) have much more than 300 homes, even a mass vote by either or both is likely to change the 2016 result.  There’s also no chance that this project gets built  (or finalized) within the coming year.


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