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Craig Ladwig

Dr. Sam Staley of Reason was brought to Fort Wayne almost 10 years ago by the Indiana Policy Review Foundation to speak to Allen County political leaders, including the mayoral candidates of both parties, on just this topic. Only the News-Sentinel covered the event, and its reporter fixated on the "outrageous" position of Dr. Staley that downtown Fort Wayne was in real trouble, both in its economics and its vision. You can lead a horse to water but . . .

Karen

Interesting thought, and if the larger point is that we need to look at different models for structuring government I completely agree.

But the specific recommendation of residential improvement districts gives me a little concern. Doesn't it jump right into a "we've got ours, you're on your own" type of mentality where wealthier neighborhoods get more and poorer neighborhoods are stuck? Perhaps this is not inevitable; it depends on whether the "base" tax is adequate to support services in the entire community. Still, the attitude of "looking out for #1" is so prevalent in our society and I'm not sure that we need to find new structures to ENCOURAGE this attitude.

Mitch Harper

Karen -

I think the long history would show that it is the older neighborhoods which have paid and paid without the necessary reinvestment by cities to maintain adequate physical structure - let alone services - to ensure public safety.

A residential property that is 65 years old, such as where I used to live, or 150 years old, such as where I used to live, has been subject to an enormous amount of property taxes over the years.

Is there any reason for older neighborhoods to have shabby streets? Reserving an amount paid in taxes for the maintenance of a given area would seem to be commonsensical.

Katherine Coble

"A residential property that is 65 years old, such as where I used to live, or 150 years old, such as where I used to live, has been subject to an enormous amount of property taxes over the years."

Why do you keep buying these old houses?

Seriously, though, I've lived in Ft. Wayne, and I now live in Nashville. What holds true for one holds true for both--metro government likes to treat existing properties and the resultant tax revenue as a piggy bank to entice new development.

Here in Nashville we have several situations where those in older neighborhoods are paying higher water, sewer and electric bills in order to subsidize the rates for new housing developments in outlying communities.

The abstract theory that allows this is that such levies will draw new construction, new business and new residents with fat wallets to spend on existing business. Functionally, however, the community is so large that those in East Nashville underwriting the costs will see little to no ROI from new construction taking place 20 miles away in another community.

Residential Improvement Districts are merely a rejiggering of the same abstract theory that would allow a more significant ROI to those in established neighborhoods.

Mitch Harper

I grew up in the 150 year old. The structure was brick and the floor joists were native poplar. Solid.

The 65 year old house was in the Southwood Park/Harrison Hill area. It had hardwood floors and cedar siding. We were good stewards of the house and should do well in its next 65 years.

Now I live in a 17 year old house. However, it has a wrap-around porch and resembles a farm house.

Old houses are great.

Karen

Based on the posts here, I feel a need to qualify myself: I live in a small 60 year old house in the Northside area of Fort Wayne. Before that I lived in West Central, and have lived in several other older homes (1920's/1930's). In the 20 years I've lived in FW, I've never lived further than 2 miles from the downtown.

And now to my comment: Yes, cities use the money from some older neighborhoods to subsidize new development through building new roads, extending utilities (if there is a public water or electrical utility), etc. They also use the money from some newer neighborhoods (with higher incomes) to subsidize services to some older neighborhoods (with lower incomes). I guess I believe the tax & spend boundary lines should be drawn in such a way as to most accurately reflect the social and economic reality of people in the community. Making them too small just gets you into a Detroit situation where all the money is pulled out of the core. Making them too big can lead to what Katherine describes. Fort Wayne's annexation policy over the past 15 years or so has helped make sure that the political boundary of Fort Wayne is pretty close to the definition of what people think of when they think of Fort Wayne. Nothing is perfect, but it's close.

Okay, anti-Aboite Annexers, blast away. I've got my hard hat on.

Mitch Harper

Karen is a bright, well-read person who has the best interests of Fort Wayne at heart. As I have told Karen and others - you like to dig into facts, you want to see all facets, and then you aren't afraid to speak up when others can't even entertain a counterintuitive thought.

I enjoyed serving with her on the Mayor's Task Force concerning Smith Field.

However, on this post, it should be made clear that Dr. Nelson is talking about something akin to the DID - where a portion of tax dollars are kept to be spent in the area where they are generated. Not all tax dollars - a portion.

These would be dollars spent by a decision making process that keeps the decision making as close to the taxpayers in that district as possible.

Largely, what we are talking about here is that poor neighborhoods and, really, just regular ol' neighborhoods, would get to keep money in their neighborhood and not wonder why their infrastructure - like streets - tends to go to pot when their streets had been been in good shape a few years before.

An older neighborhood with a history of paying taxes shouldn't see their tax dollars all funneled away from their neighborhood. You are familiar with the broken window theory. Well, maybe the municipality shouldn't be the one casting that first stone with a lack of maintenance of infrastructure that had been in good shape.

Also, it's historically inaccurate to talk about Fort Wayne going the way of Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago or St. Louis in terms of being hemmed in by other incorporated cities. Indiana has had a law since the first decade of the 20th century that prevented a new incorporation of a city or town taking place within so many miles of a city unless that city gave its approval.

Northwest Indiana got hemmed in because its largest city - Gary - was created in 1902 while other communities that had already been incorporated preceeded it.

Karen

Mitch, I understood what you were talking about. And as I said in my post, if you have base taxes that are adequate to pay for reasonable services, then I don't think the district idea is necessarily bad. If everybody in the neighborhood wants to self-assess so we can have nice planters or better sidewalks or whatever we mutually decide, why not? My concern is that in the real world there tend to be very limited resources for neighborhood improvements, and over time the risk is that the city as a whole views these groups as the appropriate provider of such improvements - so the neighborhoods where people have money get nicer and the neighborhoods where people don't get worse.

But I do remain concerned that so much of our culture is focused on very narrow self-interest.....I don't have kids, but I am happy to support public schools to educate my neighbors kids. Why? Partly to thank those preceding taxpayers, childless or not, who paid for MY K-12 education (okay, it was in Omaha but you get the point). And partly because I'd like to grow old in a world of educated young people to help me in my dotage. And how about because it's the right thing to do? Anyway, something about the residential district thing just hit me wrong. Honestly, I think we agree more than we disagree on this topic.

Re: annexation - the previous state law only ALLOWED cities to annex; it didn't require them to. So I remain of the opinion that Fort Wayne's policy of annexing adjacent suburban developments kept us from being a shrinking urban island, a la Detroit. Different circumstances, same effect.

I do appreciate your blog - it is good to have an opportunity for discussion on these types of issues. Thanks for keeping it so current. And sorry for this rambling response!

Andrew Kaduk

I think the general point of the Reason article may have been somewhat missed, judging by the comments. Perhaps I can help to clarify: The "Improvement District" is a privately funded and managed autonomous entity, paid for with a fee structure not unlike dues paid to a neighborhood association. The idea is that the residents have a vested interest in bolstering their property values, so they should rely on their own ingenuity and savvy to facilitate the necessary improvements.

For example, a little less than ten years ago, my parents purchased a piece of lakefront property on the east side of a Steuben county lake. The only access to this property was a private dirt drive. Of the fifty or so cottages on the east side of the lake, almost all of them needed to use this access road to varying degrees. The easement was too narrow to deed the road to the county for paving and maintenance purposes, so the property owners were left little option other than to handle the problem themselves. The Lake Association was of little use, as the property owners from the north and west sides of the lake felt that they bore no responsibility to foot any of the road construction cost (rightfully so). So eventually, a group of the "East Siders" formed an "Improvement District" which was tax exempt and operated much like a not-for-profit corporation. They elected officers, did fundraising and entertained bids from prospective contractors. A flat fee was assessed to each property owner for the improvments and maintenance (as well as a nominal yearly charge for snow removal) and less than a year later, the road was paved (as well as individual driveways and parking areas) for far less money than the county had quoted for the same project. Please note: NO GOVERMENT OR PUBLIC MONEY USED. The end result? A $75,000 paved access road (with speed bumps and barrier poles to keep nuisance traffic to a minimum) that stretches for over a mile, and property values on the rise for all of those adjacent to the road (the airborne dirt caused by traffic prior to paving was less than desirable).

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