City council hears both sides of EID argument

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The proposed economic improvement district for Greencastle's downtown business sector caused quite a stir at Tuesday's special meeting of the Greencastle Common Council.

Around 30 concerned citizens and property owners gathered for Tuesday's Public hearing at which the first reading of the proposed ordinance took place and afterward the floor was open for public comment.

However, no decision on the move was made Tuesday, as the council tabled the vote until its next regular meeting.

Approval of the district would mean that property owners in the district, which would run east to west from City Hall to Market Street and north to south from Columbia Street to Walnut Street, would have the value of property assessed yearly, and from that assessment would pay into the EID.

Although the funds are collected through the property tax system, they are not a tax. In spite of this, many opposed to the district see them as such.

"Whether you call it a tax or an assessment, It's a compulsory payment," said Putnam County Senior Center director Jim Stevens.

The funds, once collected, would be used for improvements in the district, which could include tree care, annual flower planting, weed control, snow removal, a part-time maintenance employee and Christmas decorations.

Upon Mayor Sue Murray's first reading of the ordinance, Trudi Selvia, one of the originally petitioners for the move, spoke to the council and citizens. She gave a brief history of how a group of owners had decided to pursue the move.

Selvia pointed out that the petition well exceeded the minimum requirements by the state for the percentage of property owners and the percentage of assessed value represented by those supporting the move.

She also pointed out that the courthouse and owner-occupied residences within the district would be exempt.

After Selvia, though, a number of speakers took the floor and made their arguments against the move.

Jane Bitzer, who owns Catalina Beauty Salon argued that the timing of the district coming before the city is not good, considering the economic hardship the country is facing.

"I find it very hard to believe that at a time of economic disaster, a group of people want to implement a new tax on business owners," Bitzer said.

George "Jerry" Hecko, owner of a downtown auto repair business, made a similar argument.

"The timing of this is unbelievable," Hecko said. "You have no idea how bad our economy is going to be."

Another point raised by a number of people was the personal accountability of owners taking care of their own property.

"I think this should be voluntary," said Bob Bitzer. "Proud property owners take care of their properties. If they want to band together to do it, they should."

John Danberry, who owns a business on East Franklin, said the owners on his block already help each other out, but do not need a larger organization to help them.

"Where we are on East Franklin, we help each other, and I'm thankful for it," Danberry said.

Another point brought by a number of dissenters was the difficult burden the assessment would place on non-profit organizations. Stevens pointed out that the Senior Center is not taxed by the federal or state government, and yet would have to pay this assessment. He said the center struggles enough to raise funds, and an added burden would not help.

"This assessment is going to be a hardship on us," Stevens said. "Our assessment would be $560. I don't have to tell you how many bake sales that would be."

Randy Seipel, representing the Masonic Temple Association asked that if non-profits had to be included, then the council might at least allow them to pay the minimum possible assessment to reduce the hardship.

A couple of owners of rental homes in the area also voiced their concerns. In one case, the couple purchased the house but had to move for accessibility reasons, as one of them has multiple schlerosis. Currently, they rent the house, but to a family that was flooded out of their own home. At the low rate they charge, they make no money.

Another couple in a similar situation expressed the same displeasure in a letter to the council. The letter from Minique Hartley and Mark Mansfield said they purchased a house with the intent of selling it to the current renter. However, the increased burden on them would make this more difficult.

"Only the small businesses would benefit, so they should bear the load," read the letter.

However, the meeting also had its share of ardent supporters of the move. Dave Murray said he owns a business downtown, but much of what he does is outside of the district. In spite of this, he said he cares about the city and that something needs to be done for the future of the city and its central district.

"The businesses of the 21st century are going through this downtown. If it looks the way it looks now, they're going to walk away," Murray said. "They city ought to be doing this, but the city doesn't have the money."

Murray also went on to address concerns many had expressed over the district. They felt it was hurried through and perhaps a "done deal" before they ever even knew about it.

"I apologize if we didn't do this perfectly, but it's the only source of reliable income we have for a long time to come," he said.

People also questioned the way the district was drawn, but Murray assured them it was only to minimized the number of residences actually included in the district.

As others in support of the district came forward, they expressed the same concerns as those opposed, but had very differing viewpoints on how to take care of the problems facing Greencastle businesses. Several saw the troubling economic times as the perfect point at which to pursue this action.

"If we don't protect that downtown, then you're going to see the sale signs in the windows," said Jerry Barcus of Main Street Greencastle.

"Please remember that in lean economic times, it is important to pool the limited resources we have," Leslie Hanson said.

With so much to consider from both sides, Mayor Murray urged the council to table the measure. Additionally, council member Adam Cohen was not present at Tuesday's meeting, and the other members chose to wait for him to be involved in the decision.

The board also approved three resolutions regarding temporary loans from one city fund to another to keep all items in the black for the end of the year. $150,000 went from the rainy day funds to the Parks and Recreation fund. $600,000 transferred from EDIT funds and into the general fund. $37,719.77 moved from Riverboat Funds and into the Park Sinking Fund.

These loans merely cover costs which cannot be met due to the state's delayed distribution of property tax dollars to the city. Once funds become available after the final installment of tax dollars on Jan. 23, the loans will be repaid.

They also authorized encumbrances of $2,012.85 in the fire department general fund and $4,425.82 in the park non-reverting capital fund.

The Greencastle Common Council meets on the second Tuesday of each month at city hall.

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  • Good to see that the commission is independant. This looks like a done deal with Mr. Murry for it, I guess Mrs. Murry will be for it also. Why doesn't the city take care of the downtown? Aren't taxes paid? Maybe the budget needs to be looked at when it comes to people and professionals working isnide the walls of city hall.

    -- Posted by NeverChanges on Wed, Dec 31, 2008, at 7:05 AM
  • What the he.. is a "Park Sinking Fund". I still do not believe that a flower will add value to the structure of a building. This was a done deal. Most business owners have still not been "Officially Notified". Talk to the business owners downtown. You'll find that they do not want this. The so-called board (self-appointed) only talked to what they call the "heavy hitters". Why did they not let the downtown appoint or suggest board members. Sylvia, business owner; Gail, business owner, Murrya; not sure if he actually owns the building or not and the list goes on. It was stated that the city has had their funding cut in half, do you think an individual has not had their funding cut in half?

    -- Posted by whodouthinkur on Wed, Dec 31, 2008, at 7:28 AM
  • s c a m

    -- Posted by mike andrews on Wed, Dec 31, 2008, at 9:19 AM
  • There are many other solutions than this proposed solution....which targets a select few with a very high dollar these horrible economic times. How about organizing a downtown merchants association? What about Main Street Greencastle, and fundraising? Why assess a tax/fee on just a select few? All community members benefit from having a thriving downtown. The business owners are already struggling and they should be commended for even HAVING businesses in our downtown district. What happened to people getting out and doing the work themselves, instead of sitting behind a desk making phone calls and hiring expensive contracters to do simple labor like planting flowers and hanging christmas tree lights. Has anyone contacted DePauw university? They have a lot of resources and a lot of helping hands available to make our town a better place, more attractive, more desirable. The relationship between the university and the 'town' needs to be better developed anyway - as we all know. Engaging business owners and the university would be mutually beneficial. Then there is the department of corrections. Put these kids to work making our town a better place. Manual labor never hurt anyone. Has anyone ever asked or tried to organize these tasks with the kids under the supervision of the department of corrections? These offenders cost us money, let them give back to our community ... and hopefully it will instill a sense of pride in them for their community. Then there is grant writing...isn't their money already available for this type of use...enhancing historic downtown districts, such as ours? ... Where a big box corporation like Walmart has all but destroyed our downtown district.

    I am against this assessment. It is a lazy way to get things done and is not necessary. What IS necessary is to make our downtown even more attractive and prosperous. Let's hope our community leaders can find a better way to accomplish this.

    -- Posted by just a local on Wed, Dec 31, 2008, at 10:55 AM
  • What is Main Street Greencastle?

    Main Street Greencastle is a local organization affiliated with both the National and State of Indiana Main Street Councils. Incorporated in 1983, it supports the promotion, economic revitalization and preservation of Greencastle's valued, beloved and nationally recognized historic downtown district. Working with local business, government, industry, institutions and individuals, Main Street is consistently engaged in developing and implementing projects to preserve and promote the unique heart of Greencastle.

    Our mission: To preserve, enhance and promote the downtown business district.

    Organization is the key to a successful downtown revitalization program. A strong, viable organization provides the stability necessary to build and maintain a long-term effort.

    Main Street Greencastle is composed of a board of directors of up to 15 members, an executive director and four standing committees as recommended by National Main Street. The four standing committees are: Organization, Promotion, Design and Economic Restructuring.

    Since its inception in 1983, Main Street Greencastle has maintained this structure to favorable outcomes.

    So tell me again why we need EID??

    How many downtown groups do we need?

    And explain to me how a part time maintenance worker would possibly be able to take care of snow removal, salting etc... on a night such as we had last week when the entire town froze over?

    We are a small business downtown. What they are proposing won't work, regardless of the fact that the petition exceededs the minimum requirements by the state for the percentage of property owners and the percentage of assessed value represented by "those supporting the move".

    -- Posted by townielove on Wed, Dec 31, 2008, at 11:51 AM
  • The Town of Cloverdale has an attorney that can help out Greencastle. He has plenty of comparisons to Avon and Danville to offer.

    -- Posted by Xgamer on Thu, Jan 1, 2009, at 9:50 AM
  • Code enforcement activity has been on the rise nationwide with the failing economy reducing local governments' revenues and local bureaucrats desperately trying to take money from anywhere they can get it, using any excuse.....just a thought...

    -- Posted by mike andrews on Thu, Jan 1, 2009, at 9:58 AM
  • We rent the building we're in. The landlord has agreed to paying this"tax". He doesn't live here. HE'S MERELY A LANDLAORD. I'm willing to take care of my block... is anyone else?

    -- Posted by townielove on Sat, Jan 3, 2009, at 2:37 AM
  • the economic improvement proposal,is a scam to get monies from a group of people to benefit a few...the proposed budget of this (proposed) assessment

    is nothing more than basic business upkeep....

    snow removal,cleaning sidewalks, weed control,

    planting of flowers/trees, trash bags, salt....

    this dosen't say much for the so-called "proud" greencastle business/property owners!!!!

    well maybe it does....the proud property owners didn't sign the petition...they were already keeping their properties in good shape

    without trying to scam others to pay for

    general maintanance.

    maybe the city should introduce an ordinance

    for property owners/business to keep said

    areas clean & impose a blanket assessment.

    if you are a property/business owner within this proposed district and disagree with this

    pending proposal you should come to the town meeting on jan 13th, at 7:00pm and let people know.

    -- Posted by downtown on Mon, Jan 5, 2009, at 4:21 PM
  • looks like the monies have dried up from other funds like mainstreet, ibm endowments, ect....we have the same business owners who helped go through this money to make greencastle a show place (to no avail)and are trying a new twist....lets plan to get assessments through a proposal...happy times again if it passes & it will be from taxpayers money since greencastle city hall and several greencastle parking lots will be included in the proposed economic improvement district to a total of $4461.75/year,based on its assessed value.if this passes,people of greencastle watch out...this assessment proposal needs to be voted down, not passed...let you're voices be heard at the city hall meeting tue the 13th at 7:00pm

    -- Posted by downtown on Tue, Jan 6, 2009, at 12:50 PM
  • "The funds, once collected, would be used for improvements in the district, which could include tree care, annual flower planting, weed control, snow removal, a part-time maintenance employee and Christmas decorations".

    The items listed WILL cost a lot more that what is being collected. Do not let the items listed fool you into thinking that you will have it all. A tree removal is going to be $900.00 just as an example. A part time worker is going to get paid what? Snow removal at todays salt prices? Flowers, weed control and Christmas decorations put up and taken down. Is anyone happy downtown with the $107,000.00 for lights or the cost of the green benches? What else will they think they need. I would like to see the bids and the companys chosen for these two high end costs. Is there a personal gain in this? Sit down and really think about what you would pay for the same service. Who would even get something done is they needed it. Is there a board or a vote to see if a certain building would get a service? This will not work. Focus on the facts and read into it.

    -- Posted by Focus on Tue, Jan 6, 2009, at 1:26 PM
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