Tag Archives: IMPD

Politics, Budgets and Taxes

The other day, an advocate for the homeless asked me why the needs of the most vulnerable citizens always seem to take a back seat to the demands of sports teams, developers, and bright shiny objects like cricket fields. He attributed this state of affairs to animus against the needy, but–as I told him–I don’t think that’s it. It’s just that politicians respond to pressure from people who show up–people who contact them, who vote and especially people who donate.

The problem we face when allocating public resources is that very few of us who benefit from inequities that unfairly burden others are willing to graciously concede those advantages. It’s too easy to convince ourselves that we are entitled to them.

When the Indiana Supreme Court ruled a few years ago that the system that had yielded grossly unequal property tax assessments for years had to be fixed,  the homeowners who had benefitted from artificially low assessments–and whose taxes had accordingly been  lower than those of folks with far less valuable properties–screamed bloody murder. Rather than sheepishly acknowledging that they’d made out like bandits for years, and that perhaps it was time to pay their fair shares, they saw themselves as victims of a rapacious government and took their revenge by ousting a hapless Mayor who’d had nothing to do with that particular decision.

Fast forward to Mayor Ballard’s proposed budget.

I’ve not been a fan of this Mayor, but his proposed equalization of the tax rate for IMPD is both fair and overdue. For decades, center city folks were taxed to support both the sheriff’s department (which has county-wide jurisdiction) and IPD (which patrolled only the old city limits). When the two departments were combined into IMPD, apparently the tax rates were not adjusted accordingly. As a result, those residing within the old city limits continued to pay more for police protection than those living outside those limits. As I understand it, Ballard’s proposal would equalize the tax and end what has effectively been an unfair subsidy of some citizens by others–and those who’ve benefitted are (predictably) whining about having to pay their fair share.

Since this post is likely to make me even more unpopular than I already am, I will add that I also support the Mayor’s proposal to eliminate the homestead credit in order to pay for the addition of desperately needed police.

Would I prefer that we shift funds from cricket fields and sports teams and too-generous subsidies to the Mayor’s developer buddies instead? Of course.  Is that likely to happen? Not in my lifetime.  Let’s recognize that politics is the art of the possible, and address our public safety deficit before crime rates that approach Detroit’s undermine every other thing we are trying to do in our city.

Speaking of homestead credits, we really should invest in efforts to ameliorate the plight of the people who don’t have a homestead. There are steps we could take now that would actually save tax dollars in the long run.

But we probably won’t because they don’t scream and vote, and they aren’t in a position to make campaign contributions. And because, to our politicians, the “long run” is the next election.


Disturbing Questions

We woke this morning to news reports that five teenagers had been shot while walking along Indianapolis’ downtown canal. The shots evidently came from the parking lot of the Historical Society–where a wedding was taking place at the time.

As I write this, little is known except that two of the teens are in critical condition and no one is currently in custody.

It may be that this was one of those random acts that no city, no matter how safe or well-run, can prevent. We deceive ourselves if we believe that police can guard against every sudden eruption of violence. But this shooting, in the heart of our city and next to the canal that so many of us routinely walk or bike, raises sobering questions.

First, what is the relationship–if any–between the recent “discovery” of fiscal shortfalls in public safety and what some people living along the canal claim was a diminished police presence? (The fiscal situation itself raises very troubling questions about the honesty of the Administration’s budgeting process during an election year.)

Second, if there were fewer police in the area, was that due to deliberate decisions about deployment, and if so, what were those decisions and why were they made? One story suggested that a number of officers were called to a brawl at the fire station at West and Ohio; do we have so few police that an incident in one place necessarily leaves other areas unprotected?

We don’t know the answers to these questions, and asking them is not meant to assume the answers. But the questions need to be asked, because this event will have repercussions far beyond the personal tragedy it represents.

Civic and political leaders have been nurturing the rebirth of downtown since the 1970s. The canal is one of the “jewels” of that effort–a jewel that has been sadly neglected the past few years, as I have previously noted. It is an important amenity in a city without oceans or mountains. Developers have been enticed to make significant investments along its banks; museums and public buildings adjoin it. Maintaining it and keeping it safe for the residents and tourists who enjoy it is an important responsibility and should be a high priority of the current Administration.

When the media is filled with stories of shootings, when on-camera interviews feature onlookers declaring they no longer feel safe in the area, the result is to undercut years of painstaking effort, and to reinforce inaccurate stereotypes about the “dangers” of downtown.

Perhaps this was one of those random events that even the best policing couldn’t have averted. Perhaps it was the result of public safety mis-management.

Or perhaps we are seeing the inevitable results of the anti-tax zealotry that added tax caps to the Indiana Constitution–tax caps that are starving local governments and decimating public services.

Whatever the answer, we need to find and fix it.

Greg Ballard’s Curious Approach to Fiscal Discipline

There has been a good deal of discussion on local blogs about our Mayor’s ham-handed approach to the just-concluded Gay Pride celebration.

The Indianapolis fire department has participated in the Parade previously, and this year, IMPD announced that it, too, would participate–and show that our local police serve all parts of the Indianapolis community. The day before the Parade, Ballard unexpectedly reversed course, and told IFD it could not use a city fire truck, and IMPD that it could not officially march at all.  (Several members of the police department did march, in uniform, but in their “individual” capacity, and the department’s Hummer was nowhere in evidence.)

Yesterday, Mayor Ballard was interviewed by Amos Brown, who asked an entirely appropriate–and foreseeable–question: why had the Mayor prevented the police from driving an official vehicle in the parade? The obviously bogus response was that the decision was made in order to save tax dollars. It had nothing to do with the fact that this was a gay event, or that Micah Clark and the Indiana Family Institute pitched a fit about the symbolism of treating the gay community like all other taxpaying citizens. Nope–just being fiscally responsible.

I asked a friend of mine who is a police officer whether IMPD officially participated in other community celebrations, and he rattled off a list: St. Patrick’s Day, Veterans Day, Black Expo and several others. I guess those constituencies must be more deserving of the tax expenditures involved.

And that brings up an interesting question: just how many dollars are we talking about?

What is the cost of vehicle depreciation and gasoline during a trip down Massachusetts Avenue? Ten dollars? Five?

Yesterday, the media reported that the Ballard administration stands to lose a three-million-dollar Federal grant, because it hasn’t complied with the grant’s staffing requirements. This makes Ballard the poster child for “Penny wise, pound foolish.”