2018 AND COUNTING

As an official non-mayor of Carmel, you can rightly celebrate the passing of another year.

It marked the 20th anniversary of the first attempt by City Hall to meddle in the commercial life of the city — the first tax incremental financing bond issue to rescue Merchant’s Square. To celebrate, a friend and I visited the Square and counted 22 empty storefronts.

Old 2016 also marked the 21st anniversary of Carmel’s first roundabout — at River Road and 131st Street (later renamed Main Street). The first 60 roundabouts are credited with reducing injury accident rates — 6.8 percent of the population in 1996 to as low as 1.9 percent in 2010 (72 percent drop). Since then, injury accidents have invovled 2.2 percent of the population.

Total accident rates haven’t changed at all — 23.7 percent before and an average 23.5 percent over the last 10 years and 24.8 in 2017. Nor have fatal accidents changed — 1 or two, sadly, every year except for 5 in 2007.

In 2018, property taxe rates stayed at 0.788 — up 82 percent from 2007 or three times the cumulative increase in the consumer price index.

Debt reached $15,107 per person in the city or $42,000 per household.

And the ratio of Carmel’s $1.4 billion total debt to $143 million income was 9.72 to 1 compared with the Federal debt-income ratio of 6.29 to 1.

As for amusement, we learned the Center for the Performing Arts averages 467 patrons in its combined 2,300 seats since it was built and that 42 percent of its revenue comes from government grats, gifts and donations.

True to form, the City Council ended the year providng $125,000 for seed money for an international film festival, bringing to more than $1 million dedicated to festivals and snazzy events.

Can’t wait to see the deficit spending , subsidies, silly sculptures and a brand, new $125,000 Monon Blvd. bocce ball court will look like in 2019.

BLUE ICE

As an official non-mayor of Carmel, I read with interest the latest edition of the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

It holds little good news for the Ice at Center Green (ICG), formerly the Great Carmel Slushie.

Winter 2018-2019 promises to be warmer than normal. And wetter, too.  January looks to be 6 degrees warmer; February, 5 warmer; March, 2 below average.

Prudence dictates you wait a bit before sharpening your skates.

Compounding ICG stress was an announcement by City Hall that charges to skate of $9 for adults plus $1.35 processing fee. The nearby indoor Carmel Ice Rink, Arctic Zone and Ice Skadium each charges $8, flat.

The operative fact isn’t the 25 percent price difference; it’s the word “indoor.” That means ice 24/7 there and a meteorological lottery outdoors.

Taxpayers may wonder why ICG costs more, given that the Carmel Redevelopment Commission bought the rink and the Street Department stores, sets up and removes the ICG and wasgifted with supplemental funds taken from Fire Department monies to cover Markt and ice rink utility bills.

Meanwhile, the the City Hall publicity machinery pumps out puffery about it all the time as local merchants who also offer ice skating opportunities and Seasonal trinkets and wine and munchies get nary a mention

Save this item and compare it with actual experience as the City continues slip-sliding deeper into debt.

HEIR-HEAD MATH

As an official non-mayor of Carmel, you doubtless passed 5th Grade math.

In that study, you learned of ratio and proportion. You learned how to normalize police traffic statistics for population, getting a rate-per-thousand in the process.

You thus could understand that roundabouts haven’t lowered accident or injury accident rates for the last 10 years — for the last 75 or 80 roundabouts built with borrowed money.

So far, so good.

But, whether in math class or in consulting your moral compass, you also see through the following direct quote from the mayor’s highly forgettable State of the City 2018 address:

“Most of the debt that the City carries is for projects that make our transportation network more efficient, our network of storm and sewer drainage systems better, and our utilities more capable of handling additional demand.”

Not so.

According to the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance, Carmel’s total outstanding debt obligation is $1.4 billion. Of that, two-thirds (64.3 percent) involve lease payments. These are projected revenues from the rental of offices, retail stores, apartments, etc., built with money the city borrowed without your permission.

The balance — $299 million principal, $178 million interest — grew more than $156 million since the first of the year.

Bottom line: $15,120 per capita of indebtedness, most of which involves hope, forecast, visionary dreams and the entrails of chickens.

Not all of it is borrowing under the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) scheme. The City borrows millions in the hope that what is built will produce rental and tax incomes adequate to pay off the debt. The mayor says, “Our use of Tax Increment Financing is truly a gift to our future generations.

“Our children and grandchildren will be in great shape compared to others who have not invested strongly.”

How did the kiddies’ react when they unpacked that $15,120 IOU this Christmas?

Beware of heir-brained financing.

TAXES

As official non-mayors of Carmel, we long ago learned the third-rail of politics here is Property Taxes. They’re low. They’re what make Carmel special. They’re untouchable.

Well, not so much.

From 2007 to 2018, the property tax rate increased 82 percent here — from 0.4329 to 0.7887.

That’s 5.4 percent per year or three times the 1.7 percent annual Consumer Price Index increase.

That got me thinking about taxes, in general. A tax, the dictionary says, is a charge usually of money imposed by authority on persons or property for public purposes. Taxes can be direct or hidden. A sales tax is direct. A business tax is hidden in the purchase price. (Thus a double-tax to you.)

In the vernacular of the street, however, taxes are confiscation and government is parasitic. To cover the fact that they’re not spending their money but yours, governments employ propaganda.

This takes the form of such claims as, “Demand for services is so great, we need more money,” or, “It’s your duty as a citizen to obey all the laws and our taking your hard-earned cash is legal.”

In addition, governments since Rome provide circus with the bread. Free concerts. Parades. Fireworks. Recreation and entertainments that are at once facile and vapid, appealing to emotion and “fun,” and — though costly sometimes — evaporate in the night air. In short, governments provide frivolous consumables.

Now, comes the hard part. It’s called the Special Benefit Tax (SBT). Special, in that it is an emergency measure when all else fails. Benefit, in that it is directed at a specific need. Tax, in that . . . . you know.

SBT’s are the insurance policy the city elites have written to cover shortfalls in the $900 million lease rental payments predicted for the next 30 years. That’s the money we hope will come from renting apartments, stores, offices, etc., in all those buildings going up over town with borrowed money

Should the renters default, move out or just forget to pay, you and I will be billed for the shortfall.

How clever is that?

A CLARIFYING VOICE

As a non-mayor of Carmel, you probably are looking for ways to help the City Council save money and improve the lot of mankind. And, avoid insolvency as we face together our $1.4 billion debt.

On Nov. 1, the City Council trumpeted its new “Let’s Talk Carmel” website and Facebook page. “We feel we owe it to our constituents to be astransparent as possible about the things we do,” opined Council Vice President Jeff Worrell.

“Let’s Talk” affords a way to ask council persons questions and get the straight skinny.

On Dec. 1, writer/consultant/Kristkindlmarkt president Dan McFeely submitted an invoice for research, writing and editing one month’s worth of “Let’s Talk” answers: $250 for 5 A’s to 5 Q’s or $50 per Q&A.

Wonderful.

So, here’s what you need to do: Write up your questions for the City Council and throw them away.

Each Q for which you won’t receive an A saves the City 50 bucks. Cha-ching. Cha-ching. Just think of the savings.

Oh, does it strike you as odd that only five non-mayors had questions in the kick-off month? What happens when the novelty wears off? (The Facebook page got three hits, by the way.)

One more thing: McFeely also serves the city in handling job applications. The official municipal website states, ” If you would like to submit your resume to companies in Carmel, please send it to: Dan McFeely at dmcfeely@carmel.in.gov.”

The City pays well. Cha-ching. Cha-ching.

CHRI$TKINDLMKT

As an official non-mayor of Carmel, you join with me in awe-struck wonder at a second incarnation of the Christ child.

I mean the Christkindlmkt, a 16th Century German idea — as was the Reformation, you might recall.

Adding to the Carmel carnival atmosphere this year will be a 33-foot-tall Gluhwein Pyramid — mulled wine dispenser — built at some exorbitant price.

The term “sacrilege” comes to mind. That’s the term for violating or profaning anything sacred or held sacred, the stealing of anything consecrated to the service of God, according to an on-line dictionary I consulted.

So what, you might ask.

Pew Research estimates 70 percent of us are Christians. Insulting some insults all, of course. For those who hold the name of Jesus Christ to be sacred, naming a shopping scheme “Christ-anything” is insulting.

The American Civil Liberties Union and countless civic governments across America have worked diligently to separate church and state  — up to and including the banning of nativity scenes, models of the birthplace and those involved at the birth of the Christ child.

I am not familiar with the number and variety of nativity scenes on city property. If there are, they probably turn a coin or two.

The mayor boasts more than 150,000 people flocked to the Christ Child Market and The Ice at Center Green last year to spend $1.4 million. How much of that went to retire the loans floated to erect those objects of awe and wonder remains a mystery.

Sacrilege is punished by death in many cultures around the world.

In Carmel, it is rewarded.

THREE TESTS

As an official non-mayor of Carmel, I am intrigued by all the solid advice and wisdom based on experience which City Hall blithely ignores.

Take the three questions used to assess technologies before being applied in society:

  1. Does it potentially benefit everyone equally?
  2. What are the risks and rewards?
  3. Does it strongly promote dependence or independence?

The three are the intellectual product of a distinguished fellow at Carnegie Mellon University’s College of Engineering and a marketing communications executive in the Silicon Valley.

I suspect “Carmel” to them refers to Carmel-by-the-Sea not Carmel-by-the-Roundabouts. And, I would bet neither one knows we have more roundabouts than any other city in America.

But, their triple test well would have given roundabouts and the bulk of the city’s $1.4 billion indebtedness.

Pick a project. Any project. The Palladium.  The Tarkington Theatre. The Ice Rink.

Does any one of them benefit everyone equally, produce rewards greater than the risks, or make Carmelots more independent?

The vast majority of us non-mayors have to answer “No” to all of the above. Only the smallest fractions of us use, benefit or are more self-reliant now than we were before the money was borrowed without our consent and spent by dictate from City Hall.

Fittingly, the three rules are spelled out in a fine new book:

“The Driver in the Driverless Car.”

How ironic, should Carmel ban driverless cars when they come to the Capital of Roundabouts.

ANALOGY

As an official non-mayor of Carmel, I recently was challenged by a friend when I pointed out the danger implicit in City Hall’s adding $172.5 million more this year to our total debt.

If that amount were added each year, the debt would total $3.1 billion in 10 years; if the rate of growth (14.1 percent) were to continue, the total would be $5.2 billion.

To which my friend replied, “I gained a pound today. If that trend continues, I’ll weigh over 500 lbs. by next Christmas.”

This argument by analogy fails to convince on at least two levels:

First, he didn’t gain weigh by borrowing food from his children and grandchildren.

Second, his doctor would have institutionalized him for radical treatment before gluttony killed him.

Arguing from analogy is dangerous. If the analogy fails at any level, the argument fails entirely.

Thus it is that, when a city council person argued from analogy about the debt (on the city’s new Let’s Talk website), that effort crashed on the rocks of reality, too.

The city argues its $1.4 billion debt is okay because its annual payments are just 19 percent of income ($23.8 million of $122 million) and home buyers typically qualify when the ratio of income to debt is lower.

Well, there’s a non-sequitor for you. Loan payment to income and income to total amount borrowed. One doesn’t follow two. Analogy fails.

Further, home buyers have to tell the lender what they already owe. 

If Carmel were a home buyer with income of $122,000 a year rather than $122 million, and debt of $1.4 million instead of $1.4 billion; and, if Carmel were already paying $23,800 a year on its old debt instead of $23.8 million — do you think the lender would gladly fork over more?

And, of course, Let’s Talk didn’t talk about how much Carmel proposes to borrow with that neat-but-irrelevant 19 percent ratio.

Analogy fails and fails and fails. And the city borrows and borrows and borrows.

Like a 500-pound glutton, it needs serious professional intervention.

YOU GOTTA LIE

In analyzing the death throes of Liberal Progressivism, historian victor Davis Hanson wrote an essay with the same title as this rant.

In it, he noted the entire enterprise pivoted on deception and the erosion of language on campus and in politics and the media. In other words: lies.

Why? Because advocates of the Liberal Progressive playbook don’t trust the common sense of We, the People.

That mistrust leads to secrecy. Secrecy leads to deception which leads to lies. Lacking moral compass, elites also lack regard for the decency of the truth.

Internationally, Hanson points to the great weather modification fiasco as cover for a basic disgust with capitalism, economic growth and the benefits from it. When impartial evidence put to the lie to global warming, the crisis was renamed “climate change.” Who can argue with the statement that weather changes?

Locally, a Liberal Progressive deficit spending program to build roundabouts was justified as a safety measure, a way to save fuel and a way to save time. When impartial evidence showed safety rates didn’t change no matter how many roundabouts were added, when City Hall produced not a shred of evidence of fuel and time savings, civic elites tried to muzzle critics, ignore the questions and apply lipstick to the engineering sow with expensive landscaping and silly sculptures.

In the process, Carmel has become a Sanctuary City for lawyers, contractors and bankers who share financially and, by association, morally with the elites.

The $1.4 billion price tag doesn’t rate a mention in public discourse. Instead, the chief executive of the city proclaims, “the people and institutions of Carmel, Indiana, will continue to be a shining light — a beacon of hope — for others to see and to emulate.”

Hard to see a beacon masked by deception.

Irony of ironies, Council Member Sue Finkham charged the $8,200 Let’s Talk website development fee to her charge card, then presented the bill for payment without a purchase order or evidence of ever seeking competitive bids. Let’s Talk is designed to tell the council’s story. It certainly does that.