By Adam Aasen
An ordinance to approve $83,897 in City Center area improvement projects by the Carmel Redevelopment Commission turned into a much larger discussion about the CRC’s budget at the most recent City Council meeting.
The bill is for funding for various contracts involving American Structurepoint. Projects include:
● relocation of Duke Energy lines from Third Avenue SW to Pedcor Property
● improvements to the Monon Trail adjacent to the Lofts development
● building a trail connection between the Monon and Third Avenue SW
● building a pocket park to surround the Monon near the Lofts development
But as the ordinance was introduced, Councilor Rick Sharp raised pointed objections, asking whether the CRC was going to delay some projects due to its limited budget. As a result, he suggested delaying approval.
Councilor Sue Finkam said she thinks certain council members are just playing politics with the projects. She called their actions “damaging.”
“I think it was either politically motivated or being really conservative,” she said. “When we delay these projects and we can’t get them done on time, it makes Carmel look bad.”
The city council maintains oversight of the CRC finances after the commission needed help to restructure $184 million in debt in 2012.
It was released during the March 18 city council meeting that the CRC ended 2013 with $7.6 million in balances with $5.4 million in TIF money. But after paying $5 million in bond debt, the CRC had about $400,000 left in TIF money to work with. This has caused some city council members to ask during a recent meeting whether the CRC has enough left in its bank accounts considering the expenditure would exhaust about 20 percent of its remaining funds.
Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard disagreed with that assessment and said, “The bottom line is the city is in great financial shape.”
After the meeting, Brainard expressed frustration that so many criticisms were leveled at what he thinks it a very simple deal. He was asked if there was money available for the project and he said there was.
“The projects have been approved,” he said. “I don’t understand the problem. These have been in the works for a while. The council should have done their homework before the meeting.”
Ultimately, the council decided to delay voting on the ordinance to give councilors more time to look at the situation.
“I just want to make sure we are doing this the right away and I would like time to see that,” Councilor Carol Schleif said.
Councilor Luci Snyder expressed concern not at the specific project or the amount of money, but that so many other council members are concerned about the CRC budget at this time.
“I would have voted on this this evening, but I support the chair in delaying this matter,” she told the council. “It is money and it is dollars.”
Brainard said the delay isn’t the end of the world, but that it is unnecessary and could cost more money. He said it is important to keep these projects on schedule so as to not incur extra costs.
Since the next city council meeting is canceled due to Spring Break, project approval could be delayed by four weeks.