Community Meeting – Brown County Matters

 

Aug 25, 2018. 10 am to noon – Library.  Great discussion — it was a fast 2 hours.  Topics included the  local economy, tax policy, need for planning,  the impact of the drug epidemic  on people, culture, courts, police, economy and budgets, local and regional strategies to increase the economic opportunities for our citizens and the need for a community newsletter.

Below are the handouts that were provided regarding the economy and schedule of community meetings to discuss the State of the County  regarding economic development.

On income and property taxes, there is a relationship between the two, e.g, a decision regarding income taxes impacts what you can and cannot do with property taxes. Tax terms  I plan on learning more about:  circuit breaker, growth quotient, levy freeze.

Key Terms and Definitions

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
— William Shakespeare

  • Fact . An event, item of information, or state of affairs existing, observed, or known to have happened, and which is confirmed or validated to such an extent that it is considered ‘reality.’
  • Evidence.
    • A thing or things helpful in forming a conclusion or judgment: The broken window was evidence that a burglary had taken place. Scientists weigh the evidence for and against a hypothesis.
    • Something indicative; an outward sign: evidence of grief on a mourner’s face.
    • Law The documentary or oral statements and the material objects admissible as testimony in a court of law.
  • Hearsay. Unverified, unofficial information gained or acquired from another and not part of one’s direct knowledge.
  • Opinion. A view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.
  • Truth.  Conforming to fact or actuality;  A statement proven to be accepted or true.
  • Data are facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis.
  • Assumption. A  thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof.
  • Speculation. Ideas or guesses about something that is not known.
  • Conjecture. Inference formed without proof or sufficient evidence.
  • Anecdotal.  Not necessarily true or reliable; based on personal accounts rather than facts or research.
  • Hope.  A feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.
  • Theory.  When you have a theory, you have a set of beliefs or principles that might not be proven yet.
  • Experiment.  A test done in order to learn something or to discover whether something works or is true.
  • Risk. A project risk is “an uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on one or more project objectives such as scope, schedule schedule, cost, or quality.” Ref: 5th Edition Edition of the PMBOK® Guide.  See also:  Risk Management Presentation
  • Feasibility Study.  Good overview developed at Iowa State “What is a Feasibility Study?”  The other aspect of the study is hiring a consultant that is experienced in the type of project being proposed. Examples related to a Music Venue:

The Terms applied within a context of a County Decision Making Process.  And the Decision Making Process applied to then proposed Maple Leaf Music Venue in July  2017. This was provided to the commissioners prior to their decision to approve the zoning. They expressed no interest and asked no questions.

Maple Leaf: For the Record

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.

The intent of the documentation (this post) is to keep track of the evolution and impact of the project over time and compare the expected results with the actual.

The complete business plan for this government-owned and managed venue appears to be a work in process. Current efforts (July 2018) identified a need for a strategic plan.

PHASE II —  Management and Construction – Feb 27, 2018to Present

In addition to the coverage of Maple Leaf provided in the Brown County Democrat, current blog posts on the topic can be found at Independent Voters of Brown County, IN and on Independent Voters Facebook page.

  • Sept 26, 2018. Candidate questionnaire – Response by Darren Byrd (page 17) Brown County Council on the justification for approving Maple Leaf: ” Locally, we have been waiting for almost 10 years for the return of the Opry. We had a few circumstantial choices. 1: Publicly fund a private venture with your  tax money. 2: Continue to wait with no end in sight. 3: Use local tax money to build a new place. 4: Step outside the norm and fund a resident-owned venue with funds that do not subject locals to any burden or risk, but actually benefit all of us with a return to economic activity, and returns excess profits to the county taxpayer. We chose 4.
    • At the candidate forum on Oct 3, 2018, Darry Byrd also stated that it was decided that excess profits will be donated to the Community Foundation (75%) and 25% would go to the county.  (1) Another candidate for council (Dave Redding) remarked that he would not rule out a loan for Maple Leaf using taxpayer money.  Note that commissioners  (Diana Biddle) and councilmen (Dave Critser, Darren Byrd) are on record of stating that no taxpayer money would be used to fund the project (with the exception of the 30K used to pay the “county’s share” of legal expenses.
    • (1) Regarding the 75/25 profit agreement: Facebook response from
      “Darren Byrd: Tim J. Clark, it is part of the Administration Agreement between the Management Group, the Building Corp, the CVC, and the County. It was a result of the public negotiations between all of the groups and boards. There were two things that I and others insisted on; this would not be allowed to put local tax payers/residents on the hook in any way, AND that tax payers would receive benefits from it. That was my main requirement in order to even consider this. All funds will go to the Operations and Maintenance fund. After overhead and operations are covered, a Capital Improvement (buffer) fund must be maintained at $1M. All revenue after that will be divided between the Community Foundation and the County (tax payers.) This is in a written agreement and isn’t subject to future Council discretion. Council has already agreed and that was resolved in the Agreement. It can’t be reneged on. (Also, part of the operating costs is a Payment in Lieu of Taxes that will cover the Property Tax equivalent to the county. (ML will be paying property tax.)”
  • August 22, 2018. Guest Opinion: Tim Clark. Maple Leaf: A Failing strategy? For “non-supporters” of Maple Leaf, the process used to fast-track this project can be characterized by deficiencies in three areas: Check and balances on power, due diligence and respect.
    •  Brown County Democrat – Facebook Responses to the article
      • My last post : “To summarize a key point, if private money was being used for this project, we would not be having this discussion.  When using money collected from taxes (aka tax money), you apply a different standard. Citizens (see Constitution) have the responsibility to ensure that projects will result in outcomes where everyone benefits or at least, are not any worse off in the long-term. Meeting this standard requires that you have public meetings and ask citizens for their input, ideas, and feedback. Since only the commissioners and council had the authority to approve the ML project, these meetings should have been conducted by the commissioners and council. Elected representatives “SERVE” the citizens. FACT is that despite assurances to the contrary, these public meetings NEVER took place – we were NOT served. A few individuals decided what was best for everyone and now expect to have community support for “their” project. Is the process applied to fast-track this project one that anyone should be proud of?”
    • The Facebook posts identified the need to identify and define terms.
  • August 18, 2018.  MAPLE LEAF BRIEFS: Entertainment tax; director search; naming rights; permit received
  • July 25, 2018. GUEST OPINION: Tim Clark. Maple LeafWill more money be a recurring theme?  This project was sold as “too good to fail.” Let’s hope that’s true. The public and voters will determine if the decisions and process used to fast-track this project are in the best interests of all county citizens. 
  • July 17, 2018. Additional loan sought for Maple Leaf project Not long after the groundbreaking on July 10, the Maple Leaf Management Group voted to allow co-president Barry Herring to look for another $200,000 loan. That money would allow wooden beams made by local company The Beamery to be…
  • July 17, 2018New ‘leaf’ turned: Work begins on performing arts center Barry Herring stepped to the podium under the tent shading spectators from the sun. Programs were being used as fans against the summer heat.
  • June 27, 2018. Brown County Playhouse in need of financial help My concern is that the taxpayer-backed Maple Leaf (and I hear Hard Truth Hills will soon boast its own amphitheater) will make it even more difficult for the Playhouse to thrive. …Compounding the problem is a general downtick in support for local live entertainment …Perhaps Brown County is so special it can buck the trend and attract plenty of ticket-buyers. One certainly hopes so. Still, it could be argued that spending millions on new, larger venues (or propping up older ones) is not prudent, as it ignores this cultural shift in people’s down-time habits. 
  • June 26, 2018, BCD: Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center groundbreaking date set Shovels will break ground at the site of the Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center on Tuesday morning, July 10. The announcement comes more than a…
    • “We’re about $680,000 away to get the venue of our dreams,” said project co-president Barry Herring.  .. Cuts included not having wooden beams in the venue’s lobby and not paving the parking field, he reported at the June 14 Brown County Convention and Visitors Commission meeting.
    • At the June 14 CVC meeting, board member Mike Patrick said donations could come anonymously from the community, …  “If there’s someone in the community willing to spend $26,000 to move that blue house, surely there is somebody willing to spend $600,000 to pave a parking lot,” he said.
  • May 22, 2018Maple Leaf sewer service debate settling?
  • May 22, 2018.  Maple Leaf arts center pushes on: Construction bid accepted; cuts made to project After negotiating to cut more than $700,000 from the initial bid, the Maple Leaf Management Group recommended that the Brown County Commissioners hire Brandt Construction Inc. to build the Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center. The commissioners unanimously approved that recommendation at their May 16 meeting.
  • May 8, 2018Maple Leaf bid opening pushed back. Legal counsel reviewing plans to see what contractors included in bids
  • May 2, 2018.  Maple Leaf – Stop Digging by Tim J. Clark. Published in the May 2, 2018 edition of the Democrat. with the title: ‘ Stop digging’ on Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center.  There is wisdom in the metaphor that states that if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.
  • May 1, 2018.  Letter: Location of new performing arts center ‘troubling’
    I picked up a copy of the spring Visitors Guide and read the article about the Maple Leaf … That facility — its location and the infrastructure it will demand — could signal real problems for Nashville’s continued success, and not just for the Brown County Playhouse.
  • April 24, 2018.  Residents scrutinize Maple Leaf processes.  Blog post about the article.  
    • “… having an independent review of the county-owned concert hall project before bids to build it are opened makes sense. There is insufficient transparency, and too much dependence on one person, and lack of oversight. I don’t want my name to be included as being the oversight when I am not. … I was supportive, and am supportive if it’s done right.” – Bill Austin, who resigned as a member of the Maple Leaf Building Corp and is a former County Commissioner.
  • April 17, 2018.  Sewer service territory questions emerge on Maple Leaf project  (Note: Unlikely that this issue was considered in the planning by the county)
  • April 17, 2018Maple Leaf bid opening pushed back CVC Secretary Derek Clifford expressed concerns about cutting corners to keep the project within budget and whether it would still be realistic to build it if bids came in too high. …. “Everyone has put so much time into this. Is there a problem with tunnel vision?”

Bank Documents

Indiana Gateway Bond-Lease Reports:

OrganizationAs of April 10, 2018.

  • Maple Leaf Building Corporation. Robyn Bowman, Mike Laros, Susan Gaudin (New) – Bill Austin resigned
  • Brown County Maple Leaf Management Group INC.
    • Kevin Ault, Tourism Commission – Co-President
    • Diana Biddle, County Commissioner
    • Darren Byrd, County Council
    • Bruce Gould, CVB Board of Directors
    • Barry Herring, Tourism Commission – Co-President
    • Dena Patrick, Treasurer
    • Jim Schultz, At Large
    • Reference: Maple Leaf Organization as of April 10, 2018

PHASE I — Approval Process – April 2017 – Jan  2018.

Decision Authority:  The commissioners and all council members voted to approve funding for the project.  They declined to hold any public meetings to get input from the citizens regarding the desirability and concerns related to the project.

  • Commissioners: Dave Anderson, Diana Biddle, Jerry Pittman.
  • County Council: David Critser, John Price, Glenda Stogsdill, Debbie Guffey, Darren Byrd, Keith Baker, Art Knight.
  • Maple Leaf Project Committee:
    • CVC: Barry Herring (Brown County Inn), Kevin Ault (The Seasons Lodge, Hotel Nashville),
    • CVB: Bruce Gould (Cornerstone Inn,) Jane Ellis (CVB Director).
    • Other: Doug Hardin, Venue Designer, Jim Schultz, Community member

2017 Board of Directors CVB

CVB Articles of Incorporation

CVC Contract with CVB Jan 2016-Dec 2018

CVB Contract 1994000518

Innkeepers Tax Ordinance

IC 6-9-14 Chapter 14. Brown County Innkeeper’s Tax 

Tax Forms (IRS Form 990) and more Info 

The “Fast-Track” Timeline

  • August, 22, 2017,  Area Plan Commission (APC) – Recommends zoning change.
  • September 6, 2017,  9:00 A.M. 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.
  • 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: By Tim  Clark. 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.

Jan 23, 2018.  Working toward ‘a more perfect union’ By Tim Clark, a guest columnist. ”As individuals, we may not have too much direct influence over what happens politically at the national level of government. At the county level, our efforts can certainly be directed to local issues. We can choose to determine the quality of government that we want and need.

  • In my first guest column on this topic, “The role of process in county’s future,” I identified that the process used to fast-track the Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center (MLPAC) might represent a turning point for the future of the county.
  • In the follow-up column, “Coming together is a beginning,” I identified possible outcomes from the fast-track process regarding scenarios that included “status quo plus,” “transformative” and “collaborative planning.”
  • The feedback I received on the columns suggested additional scenarios that included identifying the best case and a worse case. Best case is that MLPAC exceeds all expectations. A worse case is that the venue does not meet expectations, requiring a decision as to the disposition of an underperforming venue.

Jan 11, 2018.   Land, loan set for Maple Leaf project – Brown County Democrat.  The Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center officially has a home and a $12.5 million bank loan to build it. The Maple Leaf Building Corporation signed an agreement with Chuck Snyder on Dec. 20 to buy his land. The sale closed Dec. 28. A tentative agreement had been in place since July to buy 13.472 acres …

Jan 11, 2018GUEST OPINION: ‘Coming together is a beginning’ By Tim Clark, guest columnist. In the first part of my series, “The role of process in county’s future,” I suggested that the process applied to fast-track approval of the $12.5 million investment in the Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center (MLPAC) might represent a turning point for the future of the ... Three scenarios – Status Quo Plus, Transformative (Party Central), Collaborative Planning.

Jan 9, 2018Letter: Maple Leaf Committee needs to answer questions To the editor: It is obvious to me that the Maple Leaf Committee is not going to answer questions about the performing arts center and to have “no more forums.” Someone needs to immediately file a lawsuit against the committee and compel them to answer all questions in writing! Michael B. Smith …

Dec 26, 2017. Letter: In response to Maple Leaf ‘no more forums … – Brown County Democrat To the editor: When we saw the headline in this past week’s paper, we were shocked. After much thought, we have concluded that this letter is necessary. As far as we know, no true forum which seemed designed to solicit genuine input from our county’s residents on the viability of the proposed Maple Leaf …

Dec 26, 2017Letter: More questions about the Maple Leaf center – Brown County …To the editor: Someone once told me “If you’re not prepared to deal with the answer, don’t ask the question.” It seems to me that many of the questions raised since the Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center idea was introduced have not been fully considered or answered.

Dec 19, 2017Maple Leaf Building Corporation meeting Wednesday. Members have been appointed to the Maple Leaf Building Corporation, and they’re having their first meeting Wednesday afternoon. Local attorney Andy Szakaly will serve as the registered agent for the Maple Leaf Building Corporation.

Dec 12, 2007. Brown County Democrat.  Maple Leaf committee: No more forums Sufficient input time has been given at past public meetings, group says. The offer by the League of Women Voters to facilitate a public meeting was refused.  

Nov 28, 2017. Council approves pledging innkeepers tax to fund Maple Leaf venue The Brown County Council voted unanimously last week to pledge innkeepers tax revenue to pay the mortgage of the Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center. That was the third of three board votes needed to move the project along to the next step.

Nov 22, 2017, Print Edition Brown County Democrat:

  • Maple Leaf funding progresses. Published on Facebook Nov 17, 2017, as Steps taken to fund Maple Leaf venue
  • Guest Column: Planning for project success is a choice. Published on Facebook Nov 21, 2017, as Guest Opinion: Success is a choice, Tim Clark
    • “Without better planning, we will continue to take a reactive “whack-a-mole” approach as issues bubble to the surface.”

Nov 20, 2017, 6:30 p.m.   County Council Meeting. County council unanimously approved the project. The audio recording of the meeting (See: Public Meeting Audio, County Council Minutes Audio Link 11/20/2017). Copy of the questions provided to the commissioners on Nov 15 also provided to the council.

County Council Statement 20 Nov 2017.   Copy of the questions provided to the commissioners meeting on Nov 15 also provided to the council.

Nov 17, 2017Steps taken to fund Maple Leaf venue. The Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center has received two votes of approval from government groups, and it will go before the Brown County Council for an additional vote on financing Monday night. 

Nov 15, 2017, 9 a.m.  Commissioner Meeting.  Commissioners voted to approve a resolution requesting council approval for financing.  Copy of questions provided to the commissioners.

Nov 6, 2017, Commissioner and Council Meeting.  Maple Leaf update provided to commissioners and council in a “working session”-  not advertised to the public.  Copy of the timetable provided at the meeting: Oct 24, 2017, Project Timetable.

Nov 1, 2017 9 a.m. Commissioners Meeting.  Maple Leaf update provided to commissioners – not advertised to the public.

Sep 20, 2017.  Guest Column: A study of tourism and economic sustainability.  By Tim Clark, “However, tourism, by itself, has not and cannot provide a sustainable economic future for Brown County. Further, too much tourism can have …”

  • Note: The proponents of the Maple Leaf project claimed that Maple Leaf “….  could be what it takes to turn things around economically for Brown County.”  This article was written to offer another perspective.  The county is funded primarily by income and property tax.  

Sept 6, 2017. Memorandum to the County Commissioners preceding their vote to approve the zoning change for the Maple Leaf Music Venue.  Encl 0 Memo for Commissioners 2017_09_06

July/August 2017. RDC INITIAL ANALYSIS –   ENCL 6 RDC Working Draft Project Analysis and Review 201709v10a – Proposed Maple Leaf Project

August 29, 2017.  Guest Opinion: Maple Leaf: What are the other options?  By Tim Clark guest columnistThe Maple Leaf in a different location (Gnaw Bone? Bean Blossom? Ski World?) could be an “anchor” facility that could support further …”

Aug 29, 2017. New developments prompt county planning discussion “Clark asked fellow members of the Brown County Redevelopment Commission on Aug. … in a permanent increase in year-round tourism in Brown County,” Clark wrote in a letter to the board.”

August 22, 2017.  Letter: ‘Zoning for Maple Leaf: Not in the plan’ – Brown County Democrat ,Tim J. Clark  “Although the proposed Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center has not been formally approved by the commissioners …”  

August 21, 2017. Letter to the Area Plan Commission preceding their vote for the zoning change for the Maple Leaf music venue. Encl 2a Letter to APC on Maple Leaf Zoning

Aug 17, 2017.  Letters: Find a better site for Maple Leaf concert hall – Brown County … The proposed Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center would put a 2,000-seat concert hall next to one of the prime retirement communities in the state of Indiana. While the performing arts center is a good idea and has been talked about for many years, the chosen site is not only poor planning, it is a bad idea.

Aug 8, 2017. Letter: Maple Leaf proposal: Let’s not fail to plan By Tim J. Clark. For those where planning may be an abhorrent concept, Benjamin Franklin is credited with the axiom that: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”

At the July 13, 2017, RDC meeting, a County Commissioner stated that the initial process that was outlined by the county attorneys was changed to the extent that project reviews and approval no longer required the involvement of the RDC. An updated outline and timeline has yet to be shared with the public.

  • Note: When the source of funding became  a loan as opposed as bond, citizens did not have the right to remonstrate. Thus no “legal” requirement to involve the RDC.
  • The RDC did develop develop a plan for vetting this project through all effected government offices and the plan included holding public meetings. Commissioners declined RDC support.
  •  Timeline of tasks and responsibilities developed by Barnes and Thornburg. June 24 2017 B&T Timetable
  • July/August 2017. RDC INITIAL ANALYSIS 17_08 v10a RDC Project Analysis and Review Working Draft Proposed Maple Leaf Project

June 20, 2017.  Building a destination: Maple Leaf Performing Arts plans “A group of people were waiting for the Brown County Playhouse doors to open for a public rollout meeting and presentation about the Maple …”

Maple Leaf Playhouse Presentation June 2017 (43 pages). 

  • This presentation of the proposed project (not a concept) was an extended version of what was introduced at the April 9 meeting (see below).
  • Slide 18.  The statute does not mention a requirement for “overnight stays” e.g.,  “Statute provides that those funds be distributed to non profit agencies for the sole purpose of marketing Brown County to potential guests who will spend the night in the County.”
  • Slide 23. Analysis of economic impact.  “Assumption” that a 2000-seat indoor music venue is “feasible” in today’s market.  Assumptions supporting the economic analysis should also be analyzed as part of an independent feasibility study.

April 9, 2017.  Brown County Redevelopment Commission (RDC) members attended a presentation that outlined the concept for the Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center (MLPAC). In a follow-up contact following the presentation, the RDC reinforced their support for the concept and the importance of aligning the project in the context of a county plan and strategy. The RDC had no further involvement in the project.

  • The adhoc group that developed the proposal requested that the information presented remain confidential/secret – not to be discussed. The reason provided was due to ongoing negotiations for land.  It was stated at the meeting that two (2) million was budgeted for land purchase and site prep. The Snyder Farm site was purchased for 2 million or approximately $145K an acre.
  • At this point, funding was going to be provided through a bond that would have given citizens the right to remonstrate.   Community meetings would be critical in order to obtain citizen support for the project.
  • The “concept” for me was using excess revenue from the innkeeper’s tax to invest in a project (s) to promote tourism.

2019 County Budget Hearings – Debt, Taxes, Revenue, Future

The budget hearings occurred Aug 20-21.  Agendas below.

Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF).  The 2019 Budget will be balanced with no indications that a tax increase will be required.  However, future spending and revenue projections indicate higher taxes on fewer people.  Assessed value – from which property taxes are derived, has not been keeping pace with inflation which adds pressure to increase income taxes.

The IU/SPEA Graduate student assessment on the Brown County economy concluded that the current policy of high income and low property tax may not be sustainable.

Observations and Commentary

  • Good to attend at least one meeting.  This is the second year I’ve attended the budget hearings that are sparsely attended by members of the public.  I would recommend that citizens attend at least one to get an appreciation for the process.
  •  A big thank you to the Council, Commissioners, the Auditor’s Office and all the other county offices who defended their budgets and made the needed changes.
  • Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA). On the cost of living issue, Keith Baker led the development of an extensive fact-based salary study that compared pay and benefits to other counties of our similar size. The study identified the need for a few modest adjustments that were approved by the council. Overall, with the changes, the conclusion was that pay and benefits were competitive to the extent that a cost of living increase was not recommended this year. I applaud the leadership of Keith Baker and the council on this issue.
  • A budget process is usually tedious and hard work. Typically, you look at the past 2-3 years of expenses and revenue and work to balance the current budget with expected revenue.  As things change during the year, you make adjustments.  When you can’t balance the budget, you look to increase tax or cut/delay spending.   A tax increase was not justified in the budget hearings.
  •  “Adjustments” –Per State law,  are made via transfers between accounts that have to be approved by the council and identified through public notices in the Democrat.
  • The fact that there will be unexpected expenses is predictable but not the amount. Consequently, “contingencies” are built into some accounts.  In 2018, un-unbudgeted expenses included the following:  $270K for the Regional Board,  $77,545.60 to settle the Van Buren VFD issue, and legal expenses of 30K for Maple Leaf.
  • Concerns?  Upward trends in drug-related crimes have a chain reaction effect on the Courts, Probation, Prosecutors Office, Child and Family Services, Schools, Sheriff’s Department, and community.  This can lead to significant increases in costs that may contribute to the need to increase taxes and/or cut costs in other areas.
  • Our current tax policy of high income and low property combined with the projected loss of population is very unlikely to meet the county’s needs.  Good timing that we will be starting the community conversations on an economic strategy.
    • Debt. We have the third highest debt per capita in the state. (This debt includes $12.5  million for Maple Leaf.  Although collateral is any profits and revenue from the innkeeper’s tax, the debt can be transferred to the taxpayers. Ref: Debt Comparison Report by County
    • Income Tax: We are the 5th highest in the State.
    • Property Tax.  Although we are among the lowest in the State for property tax rates, property taxes can increase every year based on the market.  The county and schools can also add additional taxes.
    • Local Tax and Finance Dashboard. Ref: Indiana Gateway. From 2012-2017:
      • County Property Tax rates increased by 33%.
      • County Total Tax Levy increased by 40.4%.
      • Certified net assessment (from which property tax is derived), increased by 5.5% (cumulative) which is below the inflation rate. This contributes to the need to raise income taxes.
  • Population Growth Projections. Stats Indiana.  Population peaks in 2020 to 15,393 and decreases to 13,281 (2040) 12,785 by 2050.
  • Convention Visitors Commission (CVC) Budget. Only included a line item for the expected revenue and expense.  The CVC contracts with the  Convention Visitors Bureau (CVB) for marketing services. The CVB budget, which would have included the additional detail on the expenses, was not included in the presentation which has been the past practice. The Maple Leaf Management Group will be receiving revenue from the innkeeper’s tax via the CVC to cover mortgage obligations and perhaps other expenses as well.  The budget review and approval process for the Maple Management Group is TBD.

2019 County Budget Hearings – Agendas

Mon Aug 20. Brown County Council — 5 p.m., County Office Building, for budget hearings. Tentative schedule: 5 p.m., budget discussion and other unit reviews; 5:20 p.m., circuit court and probation; 5:40 p.m., prosecutor; 6 p.m., clerk and election board; 6:15 p.m., public defender; 6:30 p.m., recorder; 6:40 p.m., treasurer; 6:50 p.m., auditor.

Tue Aug 21. Brown County Council — 5 p.m., County Office Building, for budget hearings. Tentative schedule: 5 p.m., Area Plan Commission; 5:10 p.m., parks and recreation; 5:25 p.m., Veterans Affairs; 5:40 p.m., emergency management; 5:50 p.m., soil and water; 6 p.m., coroner; 6:10 p.m., surveyor; 6:20 p.m., Brown County Purdue Extension; 6:30 p.m., assessor; 6:40 p.m., county council.

Wed Aug 23. Brown County Council — 5 p.m., County Office Building, for budget hearings. Tentative schedule: 5 p.m., Area Plan Commission; 5:10 p.m., parks and recreation; 5:25 p.m., Veterans Affairs; 5:40 p.m., emergency management; 5:50 p.m., soil and water; 6 p.m., coroner; 6:10 p.m., surveyor; 6:20 p.m., Brown County Purdue Extension; 6:30 p.m., assessor; 6:40 p.m., county council.

ROI — The “So What?” People with a Plan

ROI – Ready Schools: Initiative aims to align school districts to the education and workforce needs of employers and industry in the Indiana Uplands.

The Southwest Central Indiana Uplands Region – Brown county one of the 11 counties in the region,  is projected to have more good jobs than people.  (Our region does not include Bartholomew County where Columbus is considered a world-class manufacturing hub.)

The regional average wages range from a high of $85, 582 in the Information and Communications Technology Industry to $24, 477 in the Hospitality and Tourism industry. (Source 2015 Strategic Plan for SouthWest Central Indiana)

The ROI grants – Ready Schools and the recent $500K grant (Brown County Schools awarded ROI Ready Schools implementation grant) support our K-12 students (and adults through the CRC), to take advantage of the educational, training and career opportunities that will provide them with the capabilities that will help them to have productive careers.

The quality of our workforce can also attract small employers which can lead to an increase in the number of good job opportunities available within the county.  Encouraging and supporting entrepreneurship (designing, launching and running a new business ) provides even more opportunities for individuals to turn their ideas and dreams into economic opportunities.

The county has also recently received a planning grant to create an economic development strategic plan that provides the community with a plan.

A “plan” is a written account of the intended future course of action (scheme) aimed at achieving the specific goal (s) or objective (s) within a specific timeframe. It explains in detail what needs to be done, when, how, and by whom.

Brown County schools are working to ensure that all our students graduate with a “plan” for their future. The Career Resource Center (CRC) can help adults develop and execute their plan for improving their uniques capabilities and a “community with a plan ” can provide the inspiration and strategy that will contribute to Brown County remaining a desirable place to live, work, and play.

“The connection with enrollment trends and development strategies for attracting young families can’t be understated.  Without policy change related to affordable housing and daycare (ages birth – three), we will lose young families to more urban environments where access to these two non-negotiables is “easy.”  Laura Hammack, Brown County Schools Superintendent

Maple Leaf: A failing strategy?

Guest Opinion: Published in the Brown County Democrat – Aug 22, 2018.

Will more money be a recurring theme?” was the subject of my last Guest Opinion published in the Democrat on July 25, 2018, on the topic of the government-owned Maple Leaf music venue. I described the fast-track process, deliberate lack of public meetings, questionable efforts to ensure due diligence and a disregard for conducting a thorough review of a complete business plan. I also stated that County taxpayer money should never be considered in support of this project. (1)

As Maple Leaf attempts to work through their current financial challenges (they have requested support from the Community Foundation and have recently identified a need for a line of credit of $200,000),  some citizens are suggesting that since this government-owned music venue is being built, that the community should come together to ensure its success.

To support the involvement of more citizens, the Maple Leaf Management Group has commissioned the development of a strategic plan that will now involve more citizens in building support for this project. The management group acknowledged to the consultant that they did not have a feasibility study. Councilman Darren Byrd, who is also a member of the Maple Leaf Management Group, stated that an informal study was done when some members took a trip to Effingham to look at a venue there and looked at numbers when the Opry (1975-2009) was thriving.  (2)

A feasibility study generally precedes strategic planning and a strategic plan typically is developed to support major decisions. The major decisions that will determine the success or failure of this venue have already been made.

Regarding the value of a feasibility study, the Commissioners required a feasibility study at the cost of $17,250 to help justify a proposed $10 million Justice Center but not the Maple Leaf at an estimated cost of $12.5 million and climbing. Further, in support of the Justice Center study, the County Council contracted for a financially related feasibility study that included an estimate of the individual property tax increase that would be needed to fund this project. (3)

Development of a strategic plan includes an analysis that considers the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (risks).  A thorough analysis would involve a series of public meetings to obtain input from citizens. At the Maple Leaf Management Group meeting conducted on August 7, 2018, the preference expressed by Commissioner Biddle is to rely on input provided by focus groups as opposed to open public meetings. This approach is consistent with the strategy applied to fast-track this project. The needed focus at this point may be damage control and risk mitigation. (4)

For “non-supporters” of Maple Leaf, the process used to fast-track this project can be characterized by deficiencies in three areas: Check and balances on power, due diligence, and respect.

Checks and balances on power are needed to ensure that a proposed project will result in outcomes where all citizens benefit, or at least, are not any worse off in the long-term.  In this case, the innkeepers on behalf of the tourist industry initiated this project with collateral to be provided by profits and revenue from the Brown County Innkeeper’s Tax. The revenue from this tax is a county asset and can be used to promote “any” type of tourism. Only the commissioners and council were authorized by law, to approve the Maple Leaf project.

Long-time Brown County business owner and icon Andy Rogers reinforced the need to maintain the right balance of tourism. He remarked: “We don’t need to be slick and highly commercial” which is supported by the lack of citizen support for an electronic sign for Maple Leaf.  He also stated: “We need to be more country. Country is what we sell. I always talk about the flavor of Brown County. Brown County is many things, it’s many architectural styles, some rough, some not so rough. … We’re just a flavor. You have to come down here and savor it. We need to maintain that. Once you destroy that, it won’t come back.”

Citizens can demand that a strategy for tourism be included in the County Comprehensive Plan and aligned with development and economic plans. Commissioners and Council can direct how revenue from the innkeeper’s tax should be invested in support of the tourism strategy through their appointments to the Convention Visitors Commission (CVC). The county council by law is responsible for reviewing and approving the CVC budget which is another check to ensure that actions align with the vision. The Brown County innkeeper’s statute can also be amended to broaden the requirements for those eligible to serve on the CVC.

Citizens have a key responsibility for ensuring “checks and balance” on power. The CVC obtained the support from business owners that rely on tourism. The commissioners and council held no public meetings to ask for citizen input on the desirability of this project, the type of project (music venue vs. other options) or concerns regarding the business plan and feasibility study.

Due diligence, in this case, is taking action to ensure the best outcomes with an acceptable degree of risk.  The fact that this project was fast-tracked to exclude public meetings, lacked a feasibility study and a failure to notify the public of meetings where the business plan was to be reviewed, increased the risk that this project may be an embarrassing and a historical level disappointment for the county.

Lack of respect in this situation is defined as not acknowledging the role of citizens in our system of government. This includes showing little interest for citizen concerns or acknowledging that citizen input is important. Refusal to hold public meetings and answering questions indicate a disregard for the citizenry.

Elections provide citizens with the responsibility and opportunity to provide feedback on the actions of elected representatives.

Will county citizens – who were not asked about the desirability of this project, be potentially and financially obligated to support this venue forever? The President of the County Council – David Critser at the council meeting to approve funding for this project stated that in a worst-case scenario, the county would allow for default. I asked a county attorney if a clause could be added to the resolutions approving funding that would prevent any future transfer of this debt to the county taxpayers. He said that it could not be added. Elected representatives can decide to bailout this venue if and when needed. Note that at least $30,000 of county taxpayer money has been used so far to pay legal expenses.

In addition to default, other options for disposition of the venue include a sale, re-purposing, or demolition depending on the degree of completion. The sales price would be determined by the success of the venue which reinforces the critical importance of a feasibility study.

This project was sold as “too good to fail.”  Let’s hope that is true but “hope is not a plan.” Just because a venue may be built and might be successful to the extent that a taxpayer bailout is not needed, does not mean that it will necessarily be accepted or supported by the community at large. A risk that should always be considered in today’s world is the impact of social media where local successes or failures can gain national and international notoriety. The fast-track process without citizen engagement for this government-owned music venue will always be part of its legacy.

Using revenue collected from taxes to fund what is generally considered a private sector venture without needed checks and balances, not ensuring due diligence by applying a process that results in earning the trust and confidence of citizens, and not respecting the input and concerns of citizens will not be quickly forgotten.

Despite the start of construction, it is not too late to put this project on pause.  I acknowledge that this would be a courageous decision but the right one for the county. Contract for an independent feasibility study and begin a series of public meetings to engage citizens in identifying the way ahead.

ENDNOTES

(1) As a member of the Redevelopment Commission  (2016-2017), I coordinated the initial analysis on Maple Leaf, and I have been following the project for over a year. I have been contacted by respected professionals that based on their review of the information presented to the public, expressed concerns  that the projected ticket sales are significantly overestimated,  a knowledge of the requirements  for operating a successful music venue was not apparent, and the project will likely require a significant influx of additional capital – possibly 2-4 million. The likely source for this capital is more revenue from the innkeeper’s tax and county taxpayers. These concerns would be identified in a business plan. Risks were not identified in the plan approved by the commissioners or council.

It is not unusual for government projects to have significant cost overruns. Once the costs start accumulating, the justification for more tax money is that the capital already invested is too much to abandon. In this case, I would not be surprised if there are numerous angry citizens that support the digital equivalent of tarring and feathering supported by social media.

(2) Austin Resignation.  Lack of an independent feasibility study was reinforced by former commissioner Bill Austin who resigned from the Maple Leaf Building committee citing availability and concerns with the process. He stated: “… having an independent review of the county-owned concert hall project before bids to build it are opened makes sense. There is insufficient transparency, and too much dependence on one person, and lack of oversight. I don’t want my name to be included as being the oversight when I am not. … I was supportive and am supportive if it’s done”   (Residents scrutinize Maple Leaf processes, Democrat, 4/24/2018.

(3) Remonstrance. In the case of the Justice Center, citizens can petition (remonstrate) to object to the acquisition of more Financing Maple Leaf did not require a bond. The debt was secured by profits and revenue from the innkeeper’s tax. LETTER: June 12, 2018. New Courthouse Proposal.  Letter: Consider other ways for projects to proceed

(4) Councilman Darren Byrd, who is also a member of the Maple Leaf Management Group, stated that an informal study was done when some members took a trip to Effingham, IL to look at a venue there and looked at numbers when the Opry (1975-2009) was thriving.    This level of analysis alone reinforces the need to place this project on a ‘strategic pause.”

Additional Information