PALLADIUM UPDATE

As an official mayor of Carmel, I was delighted when the mayor reported the huge success that the Palladium has become.

In his State of the City – 2018 address, his honor provided information I have been trying to pry out of City Hall for more than a year.

“Since the Palladium opened in 2011,” he said, our Center for the Performing Arts . . . (entertained) more than 1,800 performances, welcoming more than 840,000 patrons.” Note, he starts with the Palladium but adds the rest of the Center to come up with 467 patrons per performance. Presumably, the per-performance number is smaller for the theaters (one of which is a theatre).

In next point is true brilliance: “That is something that would not have happened without our investment in The Center.” No hall, no ball.

The City Attorney refused my request for revenue and expense data for the Center, but what information I could find (circa 2015) showed revenue of $9.1 million of which 52 percent was contributions and grants. Among the grants was $3.5 million from governments. The current City Hall budget includes a $2 million item in the mayor’s budget for the Center.

No subsidy, no ball.

In none of this is mentioned made of repaying the $175 million borrowed to build the music hall. That’s $1,924 per resident. The Stonehenge of Song could have been replaced by the Mount Rushmore Memorial ($1 million in 1940; $17.8 million in today’s dollars) and the St. Louis Arch ($13 million in 1965; $104 million today).

In that case, whether 840,000 visitors showed up or not, we’d still be more than $53 million ahead.

AWOL

Glaringly absent from the mayor’s highly forgettable “State of the City – 2018” sermon was any reference to the Hotel Carmichael.

This up-scale, chic, luxury, expensive, gaudy, unnecessary brainstorm of the Progressive spenders in City Hall was touted a year ago in speech and YouTube video.

This year, nada.

I mulled that over in deference to the mulled (heated, spiced) wine shack going at the hotel’s neighboring Christkindlmarkt. You’ll recall the civic puff piece on video a year ago saying, “You’ll soon be able to sip drinks at the Feinstein Supper Club at the boutique hotel.” (The video has been seen by 2,800 people or an average 7.7 persons per day since going viral.)

Yes, I mulled that over as I sipped mulled coffee at the Ronald McDonald Supper Club on Carmel Drive.

And it hit me. They’re AWOL.

Both the city and the developed are or at least were absent without loans.

Beginning in mid-year last year the city and a pet developed began looking for $40 million outside the usual municipal bond channels.

It took the developer almost a year to pony up its $22 million. Last word was the city was close to cashing in $10 million and $8 million bonds backed by income from the hotel and, failing that, local income taxes and a special benefit tax on property within the city limits.

Have no fear. Sipping time is coming.

We can welcome back the prodigal spenders from their AWOL.

(Oh, and remember, Michael is no kin to Sen. Diane Feinstein.)

ANOTHER YEAR OLDER AND DEEPER IN DEBT

One year ago, the renowned credit rating agency of Standard and Poor’s warned the City of Carmel of impending crisis.

In downgrading the city’s credit rating, S&P wrote, “the downgrade reflects our view of the city’s rapidly increasing debt burden, with mounting leverage that can pressure flexibility and budgetary performance over time.”

For perspective, the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance (IDLGF) summaries of total outstanding debt obligations for Carmel were $914 million in 2014 and $1.2 billion one year ago. Today, that figure is $1.4 billion.

At the time of the S&P warning, city officials were quoted in the Indianapolis Business Journal as disagreeing with the IDLGF, saying they were not up to date.

The IDLGF website then, and now, notes state law gives Carmel “one month to report debts.” If the figures were not up to date then, or now, the fault lies not with IDLGF.

Stung by the downgrade and deaf to the math that puts $15,120 as each resident’s share of the current $1.4 billion load, civic leaders have turned to the private equity market to finance the luxurious Hotel Carmichael.

In the run-up to the May primaries, voters deserve straight answers, not excuses.

One useful straight answer might be to the question:

What assumptions have been made on future revenues — especially the $900 million lease payments the city predicts are coming in? Any blip in the current economic boom might — just might — throw a monkey wrench into the best laid plans of civic elites.

Certainly one assumption would have to do with interest rates. Since the downgrade, the prime lending rate increased 25 percent to 5.25 percent. It appears to be going higher still. It won’t impact the IDLGF data but it will impact future borrowing — a dead certainty with the deficit spenders at City Hall.

Oh, one more thing.

Should Hotel Carmichael financial conjectures fail, the new loans are secured by a Special Benefit Tax on any and all property within the city limits.

Comments and dissenting arguments are welcomed at bill@gatea.com

 

DEBT IN PERPETUITY

As an official non-mayor of Carmel, I was stunned to read Proverbs 22:7 that other morning.

“The borrower is slave to the lender.”

Does that include governments? Neither China nor Japan borrowed their way to sustainable growth, according to the Aug. 4 edition of The Economist.

A Ponzi Scheme has been described as appealing to short-term advantage without regard to long-term consequences.

Discussing debt and financing in his State of the City monologue, the mayor said he has a multi-year fiscal plan (which no one outside City Hall has seen) and Tax Increment Financing (TIF) “is truly a gift to our future generations.” Well, TIF is debt secured by promises of future revenues and, failing that, future Local Income Tax (LIT) and Special Benefit Tax (SBT) confiscations.

City stargazers, astrologers and soothsayers claim future funds will roll in and repay $1.4 billion. Their predecessors claimed the Titanic was unsinkable.

Suffering under a tyranny of the unnecessary, we carry $15,120 as our share of $1.4 billion; $60,480 for a family of four. Meanwhile, we are told the artifacts of excess are a no risk, no purchase necessary, batteries not included, custom-designed, world-class, free, hospital-tested, luxury-style bargain. Some assembly necessary.

Reality demonstrates the universal story of narrow, unregulated, self-interested elites protecting privilege and income from the winds of change. Taking money from the pockets of Carmelinians 20 and 30 years hence is no way to run a government.

Doing so without the consent of the governed only compounds the deception.

In 1810, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “To preserve our independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt.”

Where’s Tom when we need him?

LUXURY HOTEL; LUXURY TAXES

There once was a mayor of Carmel;

Who wanted a classy hotel.

Despite no demand,

He took cash in hand,

And bid lower taxes “Farewell.”

Unreported in the hoopla over the new, glamorous, chic, with-it Hotel Carmichael is one petty detail.

How can a city of 91,000 afford it?

According to the City of Carmel Redevelopment Authority request for loans referred to two taxes securing the loans: the LIT Lease Rental and an SBT. LIT stands for Local Income Tax. SBT means Special Benefit Tax.

I asked City Councilor Jeff Worrell to explain, as simply as he could, what local income taxes and special benefits taxes were. Jeff hasn’t replied.

Now, if LIT bucks from successful operations at Hotel Carmichael prove insufficient, not to worry. A new SBT will be levied “on all taxable property . . . (within) the boundaries of the city.”

Of course, these bonds aren’t your run-of-the-mill kind routinely rated by such credit rating agencies as Standard and Poor’s.

You’ll recall S&P warned City Hall a year ago of “the city’s rapidly increasing debt burden, with mounting leverage that can pressure flexibility and budgetary performance over time.”

But, what do they know, anyway?

Oh, since S&P wrote that, the total outstanding debt obligation compiled by the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance increased $156.5 million more.

Let the good times roll!

 

 

 

ROMANCE

On page 14 of his 17-page State of the City sermon, the mayor of Carmel attempted to justify the borrowing and subsidies that have the city’s total outstanding debt obligation at $1.4 billion.

He was describing “what I call low urban-density in our downtown areas.”

You know. The jammed sidewalks and thriving retail shops up and down Main Street.

His analysis centered on five-story buildings that produce $400,000 in property taxes to the city as opposed to ugly sprawl of that unenlightened mass of humanity that hasn’t achieved Carmel.

The mayor asked, “Do you know anyone who has gone for a romantic walk past the Wal-Mart parking lot lately.”

No, I don’t. Nor do I take romantic walks past the great Mausoleum of Music or the failing civic financial bust at Merchants’ Square. Nor do I know why Wal-Mart built its stores outside Carmel. Nor Gucci nor Apple nor Brooks Brothers.

I do know that Sam Walton had a pretty good grasp on both marketing and finance. And, I doubt the Westfield outlet is $1.4 billion in the hole.

That the mayor knows as little about finance as he does about romance does not bode well for the future of the city Native Americans once called Tadpoles’ Glory.

TRAFFIC STATISTICS

TRAFFIC RATES

 

YEAR ACCIDENTS RATE INJURIES RATE POP.

(US Census)

ROUND-

ABOUTS

 
1995 686 25.8 200 7.5 26,557 0  
1996 752 19.7 216 5.7 38,172 0  
1997 898 22.1 221 5.4 40,698 1  
1998 948 21.8 238 5.5 43,403 3  
1999 1,027 22.1 213 4.6 46,274 3  
2000 1,055 17.4 214 3.5 60,585 3  
2001 1,032 16.7 232 3.7 61,894 5  
2002 1,112 17.6 201 3.2 63,304 7  
2003 1.303 20.0 200 3.1 65,141 10  
2004 1,288 19.2 227 3.4 66,964 17  
2005 1,397 20.3 222 3.2 68,669 27  
2006 1,541 21.9 249 3.5 70,314 34  
2007 1,654 23.1 185 2.8 71,753 47  
2008 1,680 22.3 150 2.0 73,788 53  
2009 1,629 21.6 177 2.4 75,315 61  
2010 1,754 22.0 154 1.9 79,780 73  
2011 1,551 19.0 212 2.6 81,663 77  
2012 1,538 18.4 208 2.5 83,619 79  
2013 1,739 20.2 197 2.3 85,923 79  
2014 2,154 24.9 220 2.5 86,588 81  
2015 2,200 25.0 241 2.7 88,088 93  
2016 2,271 24.9 215 2.4 91,065 102  
2017 2,295 24.8 207 2.2 92,198 116  

 

FAKE CLUES

In his 2018 State of the City address, the mayor of Carmel said:

“When roundabouts replace traditional signalized intersections, there is a reduction of fatalities by 90 percent, a reduction of injury accidents by 80 percent and a reduction of accidents overall by 40 percent.”

He cites no source for those claims. His own Police Department Annual Reports tell a different story.

In the years prior to any roundabouts, Carmel drivers suffered one or two fatalities; in the years since, one or two, and in 2007, three. No 90 percent drop there.

There were 200 injury accidents in 1995 and 207 last year;  686 total accidents in 1995 and 2,295 last year. That’s a 3.5 percent increase and a 70 percent increase.

Perhaps the mayor meant “rates” rather than raw number of accidents. In that case, the rate of injury accidents was 7.5 per 1,000 residents in 1995 and 2.2 last year — a 70 percent difference, not 80.

Police data do not break out traffic signal intersections, however. Where the mayor got those numbers remains a mystery.

SIMPLE

As an official non-mayor of Carmel, I mused as I maneuvered through the new Range Line Obstacle Course (RLOC) about the safety of it all.

Amid the euphoria of National Roundabout Week recently, scant attention was paid to one little uncomfortable fact.

Roundabouts aren’t safer than what they replace.

“Traffic Safety Facts” from the U.S. Department of Transportation indicated the national injury accident rate fell 1.9 points from 2004 to 2015 (9.5 per 1,000 population to 7.6). Comparable rates for Carmel from 0.7 points (3.4 to 2.7).

The national rate fell more than two and one-half times that of Carmel.

This hides in plain sight the most glaring notion of all.

Carmel was a pretty safe place in which to drive when we had just 27 roundabouts (2005). Now we have 100 more at costs ranging as high as $3 million each.

Muse on that next time your waiting to enter the car carousel.

THE EMPEROR’S NEW POSE

As an official non-mayor of Carmel, you have probably had the same thoughts I have had in the run-up to the May Primaries.

One looks in vain for evidence to support claims that the debt is under control, that roundabouts improve traffic safety, that silly decorative belches are art. And more.

All of which got me thinking about Hans Christian Andersen’s wonderful story about a self-absorbed emperor who cares about nothing but wearing the best suit of clothes in the realm. A bunch of weavers who are also con artists convince him they’re using a fabric invisible to anyone unfit hopelessly stupid and obviously unfit for a positive of responsibility.

You know the rest. But, you might have forgotten the final paragraph. So, here are the last lines of that great moral tale:

“But he hasn’t got anything on,” a little child said.

“But he hasn’t got anything on!” the whole town cried out at last.

The Emperor shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, “This procession has got to go on.” So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn’t there at all.

And, that worries me.