Maple Leaf – Stop Digging

Letter to the Editor – Brown County Democrat – “Maple Leaf – Stop Digging” – To be published in next weeks edition.
There is wisdom in the metaphor that states that if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. The Democrat’s article published April 18, 2018, “Maple Leaf bid opening pushed back” continues to reinforce the challenges, consequences, and issues regarding the process and decisions that were made regarding this project.

The fast-track process applied to develop a government-owned and managed venue lacked transparency and the needed checks and balances to ensure citizens that the Commissioners and Council performed their due diligence.  Project originators and leaders who proposed this project included innkeepers that have a conflict of interest. An independent feasibility study was not done on their behalf to provide objectivity and to validate the concept, financial projections, and risks.

Further, Commissioner and Council approved the project and refused to hold public meetings to obtain citizen input regarding the desirability and concerns with this project. The Commissioner and Council also did not review the complete business plan at a public meeting before voting to approve this project. Representatives from the commissioners, council and the Maple Leaf project also refused the League of Women Voters offer to facilitate a community conversation to address citizen’s concerns and questions.

It’s not too late to stop this project. Identify lessons learned and market the project to the private sector. Brown County has the third highest debt per person in Indiana. We do not need more risk and more debt.

This project was forced on the community. If this venue is built and does not live up to expectations, it will likely lead to more conflict and divisiveness. It may also motivate action towards selling this venue at any cost with innkeeper revenue being used to cover any outstanding liabilities.

The county’s application for a State Stellar grant included a series of new projects that were identified without wide-scale community involvement. Community opposition led to the county’s non-selection for the grant. The hard feelings slowly faded away but are not forgotten locally or within the state.

If Maple Leaf is not reconsidered, the opposition could likely grow, and social media campaigns may discourage any company from wanting their name associated with this venue.

Ongoing opposition and conflict may also discourage visitors from attending events and visiting Brown County which can lead to a reputation that the county is a place to avoid. Advocates of this project have the option of raising private capital and financing this venue with their resources.

Tim Clark
Brown County

 

 

County Debt Levels

The “Debt Comparison Report”  as of Dec 31, 2016, provided by the State identifies that Brown County has the 3rd highest total debt per capita in the State.

Since separate legal entities (building corporations) were created to manage the Jail and now Maple Leaf, curious to know if the debt for these facilities figures into the total debt per capita calculation.

The contract for the Maple Leaf land purchase was in 2017. The contract for the Maple Leaf bank loan signed in 2018.

Reference:

See also:

  • County Income Levels
  • GUEST COLUMN: A study of tourism and economic sustainability By TIM CLARK, guest columnist Economic impact studies of tourism in Indiana and Brown County reinforce the benefits of sustaining a tourism industry. However, tourism, by itself, has not and cannot provide a sustainable economic future for Brown County.
  • Per capita defined:
    • equally to each individual; 2per unit of population; by or for each person   

County Economics – Income

The 2016 county income survey indicated that 53% of residents fall within the low to moderate income category.  This makes the county eligible for federal planning grants.  The data also identifies that 52.7 of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

A summary of 2016 Indiana Tax Returns identified that 51% of individuals filing tax returns in the county report income of $30,000 or below.

 

School enrollment and closures

School funding is driven by school enrollment. Projections for Brown County Schools indicate continued declines in enrollment.

The Brown County Schools in their 2017/18 budget recommendations identified three scenarios regarding enrollments that would have an impact on school financing and infrastructure (page 6-7).  Their recommendations also identified the need for an economic and residential development policy.

A potential impact of declining enrollments is the need to close schools. Carmel schools are currently discussing the impacts of declining enrollments in their school system.  Why Carmel will consider closing schools

PROPOSED:   Support for Brown County Schools.  Development of an economic and residential housing policy that will help slow or reverse the downward trend in school enrollments.  Without an effective strategy, Brown County Schools may need to continue to cut the budget and rely on additional tax revenue from referendums.

Commissioners Candidates – Response to Questions

The responses by the candidates for Brown County Commissioner – District 2 to the questionnaire provided by the League of Women Voters. Responses were included in a Voters Guide published by the Brown County Democrat. Copies available at the Democrat.

See also: 2018 Voter Guide – Commissioner Candidates.  Includes commentary on the incumbent’s response to the question on planning.

'If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!' - Benjamin Franklin

 

Inconvenient Truths about Maple Leaf

The Maple Leaf Music Venue and Performing Arts Center is to be a Brown County, IN government-owned and managed venue. It is a 12.5 million dollar facility that is funded by revenue from the Brown County Innkeepers Tax.

Project Timeline

June 20, 2017. A group led by local innkeepers propose a government-owned and managed performing arts center (music venue).

August 22, 2017. Request for Zoning Change, Area Plan Commission, Recommend approval by the Commissioners.

September 6, 2017.  9:00 am Commissioner Meeting. Zoning approved. It was stated that the approval was for zoning and not the project and that public meetings would be held regarding the desirability of the project.

The only official public meetings that our commissioners and council held on this $12.5 million county owned and managed music venue were  to approve it. 

November 15, 2017. Commissioners approve the project.

November 20, 2017. Council approves project.

Dec 20, 2017. Commissioners pass a final resolution approving the project.

SUMMARY –  Extracted from the following article: Dec 27, 2017. GUEST OPINION: The role of process in the future of Brown County. The Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center (MLPAC) project and the process used to fast-track approval may represent a turning point for the future of the county.  

  • In April 2017, owners of hotels and inns, who are also appointed to the Convention and Visitors Commission (CVC) and Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) decide to use the revenue collected from the innkeeper’s tax to invest in an asset that will promote tourism. The Innkeeper’s Tax is a pass-through tax paid by the party renting the overnight accommodations.
  • CVC members are appointed by the county commissioners and council. The CVB is a non-profit organization established to manage tourism related promotion on behalf of the CVC.
  • CVC/CVB members decided on a music venue and performing arts center and also determined the size, location, scope, cost (12.5 million), and overall governance plan for the facility. Given that this investment is expected to result in overnight stays, their businesses will directly benefit from the investment, and the asset values of their establishments will likely increase.
  • Initially, county citizens were told that revenue from the innkeeper’s tax would be used to pay the principal and interest on the mortgage for the venue. Any profits were to be used for community and county infrastructure priorities.  The final terms of the deal are that profits would be used to make the mortgage payment and the revenue from the innkeeper’s tax would only be used if profits were not sufficient to make the payment.
  • A common perception in the county that was reinforced by the president of the county council, may be that the revenue from the innkeeper’s tax is “their (CVC) money.” This inaccurate perception may have contributed to a lack of transparency over the years regarding the management and expenditure of these funds.  This revenue, per statute, is a county asset. Commissioners and Council (elected by citizens) appoint CVC members who are subordinate to the citizens and their elected officials.
  • The approval of a 12.5 million dollar loan using the revenue from the innkeeper’s tax as collateral was approved by the commissioners on Nov 15 and the county council on Nov 20. The commissioners approved another resolution approving the project on Dec 20. In case of default, the venue would become the property of the bank, and per the county council president and the county financial consultant, county taxpayers would not be obligated to assume the liability.
  • No public meetings expressly focused on this important project were scheduled by the commissioners or council before their meetings to approve the project. The League of Women Voters of Brown County offered to facilitate a public meeting to address citizen questions, concerns, and issues regarding the project. Members of the CVC, the CVB and the informal team working on the Maple Leaf project declined to participate, as did several key elected officials.
  • The editor of the only newspaper in the county – The Brown County Democrat, did recuse herself from being the primary reporter because of a conflict of interest — her husband serves on the CVC. The Democrat welcomed opposing opinions in Guest Columns and Letters to the Editor.

More information and references: Maple Leaf Project – For The Record