By BRADEN LAMMERS
In July, Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore presented a list of 10 projects that he would like to see undertaken during the next six years.
Moore’s plan was to pay for the projects using the city’s Tax Increment Finance money and it was estimated to cost $38 million. During the last two months of 2012, the administration has been working to amend bond resolutions for the TIF money to include two projects - the city’s stormwater conveyance system and the construction of a new police station. The resolutions amend the city’s Inner City Roads Tax Increment Finance district and the Falls Landing TIF to include both projects and is a requirement City Attorney Les Merkley said Jeffersonville had not followed under its previous bond counsel.
Merkley explained in order to use TIF dollars for projects there must be an economic development plan, including those two potential uses, for the money.
But at a recent Jeffersonville Redevelopment Commission meeting, board members claimed that they had not been given a masterplan of the projects included in the mayor’s proposal that would likely rely on TIF money as their funding source.
Redevelopment Commissioner James Lake called for improved communication between the Redevelopment Director Rob Waiz and the commission at the group’s December meeting.
“We’ve gone through an entire year now as a new commission, we’re going to start new here in January,” Lake said. “We [need to] start new with complete open communications. Things need to be timely, if they’re late they don’t need to be here.
“We need a masterplan of projects, presented in public, at this commission for what is intended ... in 2013,” Lake said later in the meeting.
He specifically pointed to the city’s winter newsletter and the projects proposed as potentially using TIF dollars.
“Several of them I haven’t even heard of before,” Lake said of the proposed project list. “One of which the redevelopment commission has whole-heartedly disavowed. It shouldn’t be on there.”
The plans presented in the newsletter were the 10 projects Moore deemed as priorities, which he presented to the City Council in July. Among the projects were plans to complete Big Four Station, the 10th Street widening and reconstruction, improvements at Veterans Parkway and Holmans Lane, development of a new downtown marina and a Falls Landing Park proposal.
The projects were also discussed at the redevelopment commission’s Nov. 27th meeting when the city’s financial adviser Umbaugh and Associates presented a comprehensive financial review to help determine the reimbursement for funding a new police station and to determine the remaining capacity the city could pay, or bond, out of the TIF districts. Lake was not in attendance at the meeting.
The purpose of determining the remaining capacity was to ensure that the city could pay for Moore’s priority projects out of the TIF funds. Brian Colton, adviser with Umbaugh and Associates, said the projects could be paid for with TIF dollars based on the current figures, when asked by Moore.
Merkley, who also serves as the redevelopment commission attorney, said to amend the bonds further to include any additional projects, the process would have to start with the redevelopment commission and follow the same approval trail through the planning commission and the city council.
Despite having the 10 projects and costs listed in the Umbaugh report, Lake and Stevens said they were given information too late.
“For many of these projects, there was no advanced communication, no discussion or review of the contracts for design or engineering services,” according to a letter the pair sent to the News and Tribune. “In many cases, we are asked to approve a project without having proper time for due diligence.”
But Waiz pointed to instances of the projects being presented to the redevelopment commission, including a presentation made at the group’s Oct. 15 meeting where The Estopinal Group and Jacobi, Toombs and Lanz outlined a masterplan of projects, which included the Falls Landing Park, the marina and Big Four Station. That contract to proceed with design work was also unanimously approved.
Lake said projects need to come to the redevelopment commission before having a plan already in place.
“The discussions the administration has been having with Umbaugh should be taking place in commission meetings, in public,” he said. “It was obvious there was not enough discussion to have a vote on it,” he said, referring to the questions raised about the resolutions during the November redevelopment meeting.
Stevens echoed Lake’s sentiment.
“I was under the impression that was not what the vote was for,” he said of adding projects to the possible uses of TIF money. “I thought we were updating what we had already done ... to make it current, to be able to reissue the bond, to make it sellable in 2013. It was never really a list of projects. I think there are a lot of times when not all the members are up to speed on all the projects. In the past, that’s not really how it’s happened.”
Lake added that the concern does not mean the commission members are opposed to the projects presented.
“We want to accomplish the police station, [but] we’ve never had a chance to talk about it when Umbaugh presented it in a final bond,” he said. “I’m not against the project, I was just never given the opportunity to discuss it.
“I think for some reason the administration is fearful to present their vision. I just want to have that open, honest discussion. I think the commission has been excluded on the vision of the administration.”
“We want to have a workshop meeting to discuss projects we want to tackle, not just being handed one thing and saying you’re going to pay for it,” Lake said. “I feel like the commission is just looked at as a rubber stamp.”
Another project the two commission members cited as moving into the planning stages before it was discussed with them is a plan to reconstruct the marina along Riverside Drive near downtown Jeffersonville.
“The marina ... the first time we’ve heard of it was when a schematic design was presented to us,” Lake said.
At the Aug. 29 meeting, the commission approved a contract with The Estopinal Group and engineering firm Jacobi, Toombs and Lanz to move forward with the marina design. The motion was unanimously approved.
When asked why he approved a plan at the same meeting in which the plan was presented, Stevens said, “I think it’s a good project, but I didn’t have any input into it.”
He added that by the time the project plan came before the commission, the architect already spent money on design for the marina.
Moore said he went ahead with enlisting The Estopinal Group to draft a design for the reconstructed marina because the design firm agreed to do it pro-bono.
And despite having a design in place, Moore and Waiz said the redevelopment commissioners were welcomed to provide input.
“I believe the best way is to get something down on paper,” Moore said regarding why a plan was drafted before it was presented to the commission. “It’s been a very transparent process.”
Waiz added that what was presented in the marina design was not final.
“What was presented was ramp [and] putting in boat docks,” he said. “We welcomed any type of input. Whenever it’s presented, we’re asking for questions ... [and] it’s always good to have something in place.”
The process is different than how projects have been presented in the past, according to Lake and Stevens.
“I feel like I have less information now than I have in the past,” Stevens said.
Future projects that are brought the board with plans in place will be tabled to make sure the commission has the right information, he said.
A two-way street
The lack of communication about redevelopment projects also falls on the shoulders of the commissioners, according to Moore and Waiz.
Waiz said the process before a redevelopment commission meeting is to send out an agenda the Monday before the Wednesday night meeting.
“If they have any questions they can call us,” he said. “If they need something we’ll give it to them. We’ve been doing the same thing ... for a full year. Just come talk to us. I have an open door, they have my cell phone, my email ... communication is a two-way street.”
Moore added that the commissioners did not have an issue coming to the redevelopment director under the previous administration and asking questions.
“They utilized it quite a bit the four years before I was here,” he said of the redevelopment office. “If there’s a lack of communication, questions should have been coming to us. I think it is their responsibility as commission members to ask questions; they’ve not done that. I will continue to have an open door to any redevelopment member ... [but] it’s not my responsibility to track them down.”
At the December redevelopment commission meeting, Lake requested a list of potential projects for 2013 be presented to the commission.
Waiz said he had a meeting with Lake and Stevens after the last meeting and discussed some of the city’s ongoing confidential projects. He added, as requested, he will be putting together a presentation for the January 30 meeting.
“We want better communication from the administration and the director,” Stevens said. “The goal is to have the communication improved on both sides.”