Lets’ Fix That by George Lumley

first_imgWhere Did The $ Go by George LumleyMoney appropriated for demolitions is not going toward demolitions based on information provided by the City/County building commissioner Ron Bean and City Controller Russell Lloyd.  Where did the money go,  why is it so hard to find out, and can we believe what we are told?A lack of information almost prevented me from writing this article.  I still have a lack of information; however, the search and request for information is very slow and because time is of the essence, with the city budget season here, I will present this now, and just plan to add to it around Christmas if I get additionally requested information from the City by then.  I may be waiting until hell freezes over.  Yes I know, if I was just nicer and more willing to collaborate with them (join them) they would be more cooperative.  For me collaborate is too much like coagulate.  Plans with good ideas that could flow get collaborated with everyone or compromised down to the same ole same ole going nowhere coagulation.The City’s coagulated demolition history is hard to understand.  For last year’s 2014 budget the city’s nine member Council appropriated money for demolitions but the Building Commission did not spend it.  Well it appears not on demolitions anyway.First let’s look at the money not being spent.  The 2014 yearend financial statement shows that $786,000 was budgeted for “demolition”.  That should take out a lot of houses.  At about $5,000 each you would think close to 150 houses.   But surprisingly the City did not spend all of the money set aside.  According to the same yearend financial statement the city only spent $550,000 on demolition.  So the city did not spend $236,000 that they could have and said they would. This is actually the Building Commissioner not spending the allocation the Council says that he can or is recommending that he does spend.  That sounds good you say, he is saving us money.  Well if you like Evansville having more than 2000 blighted houses that are rotting and promoting neighborhood decay you might like saving that money.  But if you are like most residents or If you happen to live next to one of these zombie houses like the burnt out shell at 2831 Egmont (burned in December 2012) you might be upset knowing that a nine member council authorized funding that could have taken out that house but one Building Commissioner just didn’t care enough to spend the money. The $236,000 not spent could have taken out 40 more houses last year and that forty a year missed each year is one reason why we have such a big problem today.Now let’s look a little closer at the demolitions we did get.  Exactly what did we get for our actual $550,000 spent?   A formal request for a listing of all the demolitions and cost for 2014 and the first six months of 2015, several weeks back, resulted in the Building Commission providing such.  According to the official information provided for 2014: 62 homes were taken out at a cost of $346,000.  That’s a little more per home than my $5’000 estimate, but I see some were over $10,000 with one costing 14,750.  But wait a minute, those 62 properties only total $346,000.  We budgeted for $786,000.What went wrong with the program for 2014?  It does not look good that we the public were promised $786,000 in demolition but ended up with less than half of that.  Maybe the rumor that the city is out of cash is true.  Maybe the Building Inspectors did not see more than 62 houses that needed demolished.  Maybe this program is just being overlooked by the current administration because Hotels are much more exciting than abandoned houses.How about that 2014 money that was spent from this appropriation (riverboat demolitions) but did not go for demolition.  I am sure it did not just disappear; however, something is wrong with this picture where $786,000 was budgeted for demolition, $550,000 was spent for demolition, but the demolitions only cost $346,000.  What happened to $216,000 ($550,000 spent – $346,000 actual cost)?  Did this go for operating expenses that are supposed to be under another appropriation for such or maybe this is where the $120,000 that the DMD director claimed was spent on mowing the 120 land banked Brownfields Corp properties is buried.  I had hoped to tell you where this went but after waiting for an answer and even a formal request for the records, all that I have from the city is a couple of written response letters that state they may have records responsive to my request and they will look for them.Maybe 2015 is going better.  I visited the Controller’s office and spoke with the Controller Russell Lloyd about the 2015 expenditures from the Demolition fund.  Even though we were into the 3rd week of the seventh month Mr. Lloyd said he couldn’t provide the first six month expenditure amount.  He was very nice and personable indicating that the books were not closed out but he planned to do that Monday.  I wondered in my mind why cash basis books would need to be close out to tell me how much had been spent but I left with the understanding that he was closing the books on Monday and I could return for the information on Tuesday.   Well on Tuesday I returned and was informed at the front desk that there were a lot of official requests ahead of mine and it would take some time to process them.  More than a week later all that I have is one of those letters that says they may have information and they will look for it.What do we know about the 2015 demolition account?  The nine member City Council funded demolitions in the budget at $500,000.  The Building Commissioner (officially) shows 24 demolitions to date at a cost of $148,000.  Ok that’s $500,000 with 30% spent for half the year leaving 70% or $352,000 for the rest of the year.  But wait, with all the news about demolitions the City clearly stated that they had to “come up with funds” for the highly publicized W Maryland demolition.  If they don’t have those funds available for demolitions, what happened to them?  What did they spend the $352,000 ($500,000 – $148,000 spent) earmarked for demolition on?The city is going to announce a new plan for demolition with a huge requested appropriation for the Evansville Brownfields Corp (Brownfields) to become a Land Bank.  This is the Brownfields that already has City Department of Metropolitan Development (DMD) in trouble with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) people for land banking properties with Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds.  DMD says we are currently “in compliance” according to HUD.  How can this be when the Brownfields did not dispose of the properties per the agreement between DMD and HUD.  How were those funds spent and where do we stand? This sounds like another chapter in the same old book.  We don’t need more chapters in the same book titled  “Brownfields Corp Secret Deals”.  Please ask you officials to start a new book on blight.  Let’s look at the real numbers in public.  What are we spending on demolitions, what are we spending on maintaining land banked properties owned by the cities Brownfield Corp, why combine the demolitions, land banking, and tax sale into one secret behind closed doors Brownfields Corp, why did the cities stimulus grant only accomplish half of the forecast, what are the other initiatives to fight blight that need consideration and funding?  Ask for and insist on transparency and control while we work on improving the blight situation.by George LumleyPlease take time and vote in today’s “Readers Poll”. Don’t miss reading today’s Feature articles because they are always an interesting read. New addition to the CCO is the Cause of Death reports generated by the Vanderburgh County Health Department.Copyright 2015 City County Observer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.FacebookTwitterCopy LinkEmailSharelast_img read more