The DeKalb City Council put in motion a plan to speed up downtown TIF construction projects that will put several downtown business owners at risk of failure. At a recent Renew DeKalb Rise and Revitalize meeting downtown businesses were told that it is necessary to accelerate and combine Lincoln Highway and Locust Street construction projects for completion in late 2010 or early 2011 because the “climate may change and the finances may not be available” if the original plan is followed.
The climate has changed from back in 2005 when the community, including this member, expressed support for a grand downtown revitalization plan. We were told then that the council was not approving the details of the plan and that this plan was flexible so it could adapt to unforeseen problems.
The climate has changed. In 2005 DeKalb County had a total of 2650 homes sold at an average price around $200,000 per home. In 2008 we sold just over 1100 homes at an average price near $160,000 per home. In 2005 our unemployment was somewhere near 4%. It is closer to 10% now. Foreclosure was rare news in 2005. It’s at historic national and local all time highs now.
If the reason to hurry up and borrow money to spend it on what is described by the City Manager as aesthetic improvements — because the climate has changed – perhaps we should read the assistant City Manager (Finance) warning that our FY2010 operating budget could be facing as much as a $3 million revenue shortfall as a signal that the climate has changed.
This project is funded with TIF but that alone does not mean it is without risk. To finance the TIF projects we are selling general obligation (GO) debt bonds, which places the taxpayers at greatest risk. TIF revenue bonds should be sold to finance the debt. Yes TIF bonds earn higher interest than GO bonds but that is because the bond buyer is taking more risk. But selling TIF bonds requires a much tighter plan. The investor has to see a plan they believe works. A plan that assures them that they will see a return on their investment.
Maybe city council members should ask, on behalf of their constituents, when we will see a return on investment. Using GO bonds instead of TIF bonds is bad policy.
Retired planner Paul Rasmussen (DeKalb) told the city council that, based on his experience on similar projects in Beloit and Aurora, he would guarantee that within a few short years no one, or hardly anyone, would complain or even admit that they were ever opposed. He did not, however, offer any personal guarantee on the debt repayment. He also gets a Great Disservice Award for not mentioning that he nor anyone else in attendance has experienced the current economy.
Several members of ReNew DeKalb spoke in support of accelerating the projects. I couldn’t help but notice that many of them spoke with a sense of urgency that the council might vote to stop the downtown revitalization in midstream. Perhaps an overzealous member, director or supporter is unduly promoting fear as a tactic? I’ve yet to hear a single person, speaking to the council, say they want the project stopped. Adapt to change? Yes. Stopped? No.
Are their overzealous ReNew members? Yes. Just as there are overzealous bloggers, even on the Daily Chronicle’s comment section (oh my).
Get a load of this (from the Citizen Community Enhancement Committee Meeting):
Chairman Matya advised that at the suggestion of City Manager Biernacki, he and Mr. Barnes met with Mr. Biernacki, Mr. Espiritu and Mr. Herb Rubin regarding the City’s image on blogs, etc. It was suggested that the CCEC speak to the Daily Chronicle to see what can be done regarding untruths and personal attacks on the City and its employees. […]
[…]Mr. Barnes stated there are not enough people countering these bloggers; he added there needs to be more activity. Additionally, he suggested posting links to the City’s website which gives correct information on issues. However, Ms. Small said, responding gives them credibility and will only prolong their discussions. She added their comments indirectly affect policy.[…]
[…]Ms. Small announced there is an open house on Tuesday, September 22nd from 4-6 p.m. at the Chronicle. She added the Chronicle may be motivated to take action if they are pressured by their advertisers.[…]
ReNew DeKalb members in bold text.
Ms. Small is an assistant director of the DeKalb Park District. The park district is prepping for a multi-million dollar referendum in the Spring of 2010. Promoting such an idea as pressuring the Chronicle through their advertisers is troubling when it comes from an appointed public employee.
Here’s an idea: Follow Mr. Barnes suggestion and post comments that support and/or clarify ReNew DeKalb positions and by all means post links that give accurate information. When a post contains untruths or personal attacks then report it. Such posts are in violation of the Chronicle’s policies and I’m sure they will remove them. I hear Herb Rubin has probably had more posts removed than anyone in town.
Speaking of Herb… I recall sitting on one of the park benches at Van Buer Plaza with Gracie admiring the view. Herb and Bill Feldman approached us and wished me well on my recovery from a heart attack. Herb, kiddingly I assumed, asked me to consider donating the money needed to put a fountain in the circle. He said if I did they might name the fountain after me. The point was that if a fountain was to be placed there it was going to have to come from private funding. I couldn’t help but notice a line item for a fountain in the Van Buer Plaza’s accelerated plans. Is there no honor?
Several fine speeches were given last night. I thought John Duerk gave the best speech. Succinct and powerful. Check it out (H/T Mark Charvat).
And here’s mine (same hat tip and thanks Mark):