What Will a Fairgrounds Roundabout Cost the Neighbors?

I was just reading through the city ordinances trying to answer that question. Click here for a link to the entire pdf referring to special assessments.

It’s rather lengthy, so I excerpted section 1.

assess1

assess2

The highlighted portions above should be of significant concern to the nearby residents. Any property benefited by the improvement can be assessed for a share of the cost of the improvement. Further, any property benefited by the improvement but not initially assessed can be assessed in the future to reimburse the city for the expense of the project and the future maintenance of the project. I wonder if the neighbors of the proposed roundabout realize that they might eventually have to foot the entire bill?

It was suggested to me that the city be asked to reveal its plans for assessments in regard to this project, which they should do for the sake of transparency before the project is underway, but does that address the clause allowing the city to place future assessments to reimburse costs of construction or of eventual maintenance?

These questions should be asked, not only of this project, but of all projects, and asked especially by the neighbors to the project who may find their assessments going up dramatically.

Fairgrounds Follow-up

Yesterday, we had a guest writer who was kind enough to pen a summary of the meetings on the fairgrounds plan. What I got from it was that the roundabout would be offset by adding to the fairgrounds by extending it through purchases towards Hwy 38. There is another, cheaper, option highlighted in a comment which came in to our website a few days ago. Read this comment first, then we’ll compare these ideas.

“The cut thru the fairgrounds was a topic when the middle school site was just a possible site but, the school district wanted the much more expensive Golf Course rd. site so it was a terrible idea then. Oh how politics change. The simple option was asphalt the whole dirt parking south parking lot and built it a road angled to connect to the road behind Ice Lake. Close the road for the fair in the summer and be done with it as school is not in session anyway. The real story, here we go again with another big SEH engineering project promoted by the existing and ex SEH employees working for the county and city. The real tragedy, the poor people living there get assessed out of their homes. These people are merciless, why because many of them don’t care because they live outside Grand Rapids and don’t feel the pain.”

First, let’s look at the proposal to build a roundabout and extend the fairgrounds to the west. Here is a map with the general area effected by the roundabout highlighted:

fair1

Who benefits from this? Of course, the contractor hired to construct it, but also SEH, the the engineering firm which has planned roundabouts for the city in the past. Coincidentally, both the city and the county employ past SEH employees, such as City Administrator Tom Pagel, who used to work for SEH.

Does anyone else benefit from this plan? Of course. One of the first pieces of property which must be purchased in order to extend the fairgrounds west happens to belong to the Wilcox family. The name Wilcox brings to mind the Grand Rapids State Bank. The bank where the City of Grand Rapids keeps a large sum of money.

Here is a map showing the property:

fair5

In case the Grand Rapids State Bank sounds familiar, keep in mind that one of its VP”s is on the board of the Itasca Economic Development Corporation, another is on the board of the Grand Rapids Economic Development Authority, and a third is on the Grand Rapids City Council. The Mayor’s wife also works for the Grand Rapids State Bank.

This is all starting to appear as if we may have a serious conflict of interest situation developing here, doesn’t it?

Maybe to avoid the appearance of having a conflict of interest, the Wilcox family could just donate this property to the fairgrounds rather than selling it. That would certainly reflect favorably on them, but would still leave us with the bill for the roundabout.

There is a much cheaper option, as alluded to in the comment I opened with, which is to simply put an angled road through the fairgrounds which can be closed during summer events, yet open for the school year. This would not involve losing the use of the south portion of the parking/midway area, and would save us a lot of money. Look at the next map, and you will see that I drew a line through with a highlighter to illustrate the approximate location of the road:

fair2

As you can see, this would make a minimal difference to the layout of the fairgrounds, and would save enough money that we may be able to look into paving part of the unpaved parking area.

The drawback to this simple solution? All of the money we save will be money someone else doesn’t pocket.

It is not too late to put enough pressure on the city and county councils to scrap the roundabout idea and do something simpler and cheaper. After all, they do work for us, right?

Time for some R&D.

We advertise ourselves frequently as non-partisan, and that is what we are, but what does that mean? Does it mean that we are a bunch of apolitical people who are against all politics? No, what we are is a group of people who come from all kinds of different political backgrounds, but have joined together to work side by side for the benefit of us all. Some of us are members of a political party, some are not. Some of us have changed our minds at least once over time. We all seem to share one trait, though. We are ready to admit that both sides of a debate have some valid points, and both sides are subject to being wrong in some areas. We are open minded enough to discuss our differences with each other in order to find the best answers. We have also found that no matter the disagreement, we generally agree on more than we disagree on.

This is true of most topics. I suspect that most of us agree on far more topics than we disagree on. If we just set aside what we can not come to an agreement on, and focus on fixing the problems on which we can all agree, we can make a real difference.

There are some major differences between the two big parties, the Republican and the Democrat, but we should be able to admit that they can both be right on some topics, just as they can both be wrong. Even so, many will support one over the other based on the name, without looking at their actual proposals or their eventual consequences. We should be able to look past the name and evaluate the actions on their own merits.

Where do you fit in? I suspect that the very fact of you reading this means that you are a person who is open minded enough to hear both sides out and make your own decision based on the information presented, and also willing to search for information on your own to help you decide. Is that why you are here?

We care not which party a person is affiliated with, if any, but we do need open minded people like you, who are ready to discuss our situation and ask the important questions, to come on board and help us. We don’t require much, just your comments and questions are very valuable to us. If you would like to do more, come on in to one of our meetings and check us out.

We don’t take party sides. We look at the issues from all sides. We would like you to help. No party bickering, just good, honest, evaluation of the topics. If this is your style, come on in. Our next meeting will be posted under the “events” tab.

Do You Hate the Reif Center?

Several of us have been watching the developments surrounding the proposed improvements at the Reif Center for some time now. I want to assure everyone that we all highly value the Reif Center and what it brings to our community. So why the title? I am afraid that if things do not go well, some of us may begin to resent the Reif Center. Let me explain.

Although there have been some promises of donations, the majority of the money is likely to come from bonds. Bond is just another word for loan. See Monday’s article for information on this. (http://grandrapidsvoice.com/2014/01/20/what-are-bonds/). The most recent information which I have indicate that $3.9 million of this may come from the state. I’ll refer you to Rep. Anzelc’s letter to the editor this week: Reif Performing Arts Center: My 2014 bonding priority – Grand Rapids Herald-Review: Letters To Editor.

As most of you will remember, Tom Anzelc was instrumental in the passing of the Omnibus E12 bill into law, one of the provisions of which was the allowance of school districts to issue bonds (borrow) up to $11 million without having a public referendum. In other words, without allowing the public to have a direct say in whether or not to borrow money which the taxpayers are required to pay back.

The total bill for the renovations is advertised to be around $7.8 million, with $3.9million coming from the state, and $500,000 from donations. What about the other $3.4 million? Where will it come from? You see, I am afraid that at least a sizable portion of this money will be from school district bonding, and that taxpayers will be forced to repay the loan at some point, along with the interest. This added payment, in conjunction with our already high taxes, may just be enough to cause some people to begin resenting the Reif Center as the focus for such a large amount to be borrowed.

If this comes to pass, it would be tremendously unfortunate, as the Reif Center is among the best features of the whole Grand Rapids area. It would be a shame if people began to hate it for driving us so far into debt that we resent the payments every time we have to make them.

We need to find out exactly how this is to be funded, and if most of it will come from borrowing, maybe there are some other questions we need to ask.

Foremost of these questions is: Do we need to borrow money to make all of these improvements now? Would it be better to make some modest improvements now, and put the rest off for a couple of years? That would reduce the amount which we would potentially have to borrow, while giving time for more donors to step forward with gifts to pay for a portion of these improvements.

I fear that with Grand Rapids already more than $60 million in debt (https://grandrapidsvoice.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/researchdocument.pdf) that further increasing this debt will cause people to not only hate the debt, but also what the debt was accrued for.

If you agree, tell Rep. Anzelc that we all appreciate the Reif Center, but would like him to explore other avenues to funding this project rather than putting us further in debt.

How Explosive is Gasoline This Time?

The last time I wrote about gas prices it drew a lot of attention. Many people may have missed the point, though, so I’m going to do it again. Yesterday, someone I know went to Virginia and brought back an eye witness account of the prices along the trip, and I checked them on the internet today and found them unchanged. Grand Rapids and Virginia were the same, while Hibbing was 25 cents cheaper. Most of us are fully aware that prices in Grand Rapids and Virginia are quite similar, while Hibbing is usually 15-20 cents cheaper, 25 cents today. Last time I compared Grand Rapids to Hibbing, this time I’ll compare Virginia to Hibbing. Please look at the charts, which I will refer to below:
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First, let’s look at the population. You will see that Hibbing had nearly twice the population as Virginia.

Next, take a look at three lines where there is a dramatic difference, and which heavily impact business. In Special Assessments, Virginia collected $222,776, while Hibbing collected only $47,769. Virginia collected almost five times as much as Hibbing while having half the population. Under Licenses and Permits Virginia collected $171,809 to Hibbing’s $143,901, nearly 20% more with half the population. Moving to Charges for Services we see that the numbers are close to the same, but factoring in the population Virginia’s rate is nearly twice as high.

Go on to compare the lines showing the borrowing, debt service and total expenditures for the two cities. You will see that the per capita levels are much higher for Virginia than for Hibbing.

So how does this relate to gas prices? Grand Rapids and Virginia both have higher taxes on businesses than Hibbing, and their gas prices are also higher. At first glance some will dismiss this as coincidence, but as time goes by, the preponderance of evidence will show that there is a definite relation between higher rates of taxes and spending by local governments and higher prices, not only of gasoline, but many other things.

Higher tax rates simply mean higher consumer prices. These taxes are a cost of doing business. Costs of doing business must be passed on to the consumer, or the business will fail. Simple as that.