Property Taxes

TIF Turns Gaston Into River City

Tax Increment Financing has turned Gaston County cities and towns into the real life example of the movie version, “The Music Man”:

A con artist, “Professor” Harold Hill, comes to a small Iowa town in the early 1900s. He convinces the town that it needs a marching band, taking orders for the necessary instruments and uniforms. He also sells music lessons in advance, concealing the fact that he cannot read or play a note of music. In the process Professor Hill galvanizes the town out of its torpor and falls in love with the local librarian/music teacher. The movie is the original setting for “Seventy-Six Trombones” and “Till There Was You.”

We’ve got Trouble… Right here in River City…

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An article in the Charlotte Oberserver reports that County manager, Jan Winters has bought into “Big Plan” Jim Palenick’s endorsement of the Big League Dreams program. Where did $23,000 to “study” the project come from? Another tap into the Tourism funds from the hotel/motel tax?  

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Another trip down the route of issuing municipal bonds without voter approval.

Isn’t “Big Plan” the same guy who questioned the Whitewater Park investment by Gaston area communities? Didn’t Mr. Winters have a dickens of a time dealing with the fallout of the failed Equestrian Center and county finances.

So, what are the differences?

Big League Dreams is a for-profit development firm that primarily builds baseball fields with the target area’s local money, and takes 50% of the profits (if there are any). The project is being sold throughout the United States as a way for cash-strapped communities to have “world class” athletic facilities.  

The “target communities” are generally areas that have small parks and recreation budgets — if any at all –, are in areas of unrealized potential — along major highways/transportation corridors, and have attention starved local politicos. Several communities that bought into this project have already had to raise entrance fees — yes, parking/viewing — to meet the for-profit operating budget. Captured events, such as Legion Baseball, the Grizzlies, and any planned event, will have to charge an arm-and-a-leg to meet breakeven points. What guarantees are made by Big League Dreams if the community couldn’t attract major regional or national events?

NONE —

This particular group is asking — demanding, actually (by the business model) — that the target community do the local site research, commit to the fund the construction, and guarantee the construction loan. Then they operate the facilities, and “split” the profits of the facility. The big kicker is that they MUST be able to sell alcohol in their parks. So in essence, the City (and County) in this scheme, want to get a piece of the alcohol sales and profit off of youth sports.

The passage of the Tax Increment Finance law in 2004, has allowed the traveling saleman to flood North Carolina communities with big visions and bigger ideas.  Jim “Big Plan” Palenick and Big League Dreams blew in with this passage.

The US National Whitewater Center is a one-of-a-kind, locally volunteer-driven, non-profit organization. It is a planned out, unique destination place that has not yet been duplicated. Significant private investment was pledged and committed PRIOR to public investment.

The community investment in the USNWC is guaranteed by the public investment of tax dollars, which will be tapped this fiscal year, and probably for the next two consecutive years. Is it a lot of money?

In our opinion, sure, but at the same time it is less than the $18 million proposed for the Baseball fields. It is less than the proposed $12.5 million for downtown Gastonia’s “renovation”.  For the USNWC, a total of $2.5 million was invested by the Gaston communities (Gastonia, Belmont, Mt. Holly) in the $35 million project.

Was there, or is there, a payback from the Whitewater Center? This past summer, the first year of operation, over 50% of the staff were from Gaston County. Primarly college students and young adults. Several events attracted a world-wide audience and visitors, many of whom stayed in the Holiday Inn Express at exit #27. The center attracted over 400,000 visitors — yes, free, mostly curiousity visitors, many more than the 300,000 anticipated.  

So far, the “Big Plan” Jim Palenick  public endorsement tally is over $30 million. We have to ask, what is next ?

This traveling salesman scores bigtime in Gaston County. “Big Plan” also scored in Bay City, Michigan and Rio Rancho, New Mexico prior to blowing into Gastonia.  

Myrick: Gaston County an option for immigration detention and deportation center

Detention center plan is halted

Pendergraph had said federal project on way; Jones says it’s off

WOW

So, which is it?

The Gazette report?      sue-myrick.jpg

Representative Myrick’s continued federal suck up for an earmark?

Ms. Myrick continues to measure her effectiveness as a legislator by her ability to incite fear and mistrust in the population. While doing so, also ingratiates herself with the “insider elite” of the Bush Administration. (Re: CAFTA tie break vote = Bush visit to Belmont — more than a mere coincidence).  

Maybe this could be placed in the downtown section of Gastonia – it would really perk up the place don’t you think?

Other places with Federal Detention Centers:

Raymondville, Texas

La Villa, Texas

Los Angeles, CA

Detention Center Blues, article from In These Times

Detention Watch Network article

a few pictures of economic development projects:

federal-detention-center-la.jpg  Los Angeles, CA

fdc_seatac.jpg  “Sea-Tac”, Seattle, WA

Jim “Big Plan” Palenick At It Again (Updated)

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The purpose of planning retreats by local government units, regardless of where they are held, are to express bold ideas and big visions. That purpose is OK with us, however, when those visions run over wonderful programs, spaces, or currently invested projects, it does stir the ire of our front porch visitors, neighbors, and friends.

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Jim “Big Plan” Palenick is pot-stirring big time over there in Gastown. He got the golfers upset. Not the country club set, the regular daily joes, who can still find a public space to recreate in their chosen physical activity.

“Big Plan” Jim wants to sell off the 90-acre Gastonia Municipal Golf Course because it costs the city a quarter of a million dollars each year to maintain (and staff).

According to various reports, “it’s used only by people who have an interest in golf…”. ( Observer Article, Gazette commentary )

Duh —

And baseball fields only appeal to people who have interest in baseball. Horseshoe pits only appeal to people who have an interest in horseshoe. 

We bet that it costs a pretty penny to operate the baseball fields at Martha Rivers Park (a Gastonia City facility).  To be fair, the City of Gastonia DOES allow non-residents to rent the baseball fields for fundraising tournaments and for-profit tournaments. Those events bring money, but also take money out of the town. 

What about all those underused recreation buildings? — the Adult Center on Franklin, Phillips Center, and Bradley Center. Is “Big Plan” going to review the viability and reuse options for this sites as well? Since he wants to demolish a relatively new privately financed community service structure in downtown — Salvation Army Shelter — to hid the homeless — the line can be drawn that maybe we should hide the poor kids too.

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(Bradley Center, North Modena Street, Gastonia)

Our friends in Gastonia, bless their hearts,  had better be watchful of the new city manager. He is getting ready to hang the “For Sale” sign on the City limits. What happened to the city’s comprehensive plan?

Of course, the Gazette agrees with Mr. Palenick’s viewpoint — their opinion being that ONLY THE RICH PEOPLE should be able to play golf on their dime… “…its not like the absence of a public golf course in Gastonia would leave the golfing community high and dry. Gaston County and the surrounding area offer many PRIVATE [emphasis added] courses…”.

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Seems like the Gazette would like to make a case for the privatization of most recreational activities – yeah, let’s talk about what private citizen’s decide to do when they don’t have the money any longer in the family to sustain the lifestyle with which they have become accustomed…THEY SELL IT TO DEVELOPERS… great advocacy by the Libertarian Mouthpiece… take away a public amenity that contributes to the quality of life.

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(sorry for the flag pole – we deleted it — it wa an overzealous sports editor who is a golf fanatic — Dilbert was chosen as a more appropriate comment)

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Gastonia manager unveils $27 million plan for downtown

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(Gazette Mugshot – does the guy own a tie, we hope)

 oooh, we get it — let’s get the county to help pay for Gastonia’s downtown development.

yeah, right…

The community would need to invest $12.5 million…move the [recently–built in 2000, $5 million] Salvation Army Shelter into the old [abandoned after a new build was constructed] Boys Club [$750,000+  new construction]…”

“A hands-on activist approach” is called for, he says.

What happens to the already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in renovation that the city has already paid for in the meantime?

Anybody taking bets on how long this guy will last? Topix and the Community Watchdog should have a field day with this…

We like bold visions and all, but does anybody remember the caterer in Belmont several years ago — pre downtown Belmont renovation — he was lodged in a space jointly owned by Johnnie Lowrey below Dr. Breland’s old office. We can’t even remember the name now, been so long…

He stormed into town with a bold vision and BIG plans, but for some reason, just didn’t seem to attract the type of customers that he “wanted”. As he left town, over his shoulder muttering about the torn up streets, said something about “…support people who want to make change happen”.   

Well Mr. Palenick, the City of Gastonia hired you, not the county citizens. There have been a few poorly thought out plans to impact the county’s economic development, while yours has a few merits, why should we continue to enrich the speculative landlords of Main Avenue? The Salvation Army, even with all the good that it does, would be hard pressed to rebuild just to “get the homeless out of the downtown area”, as you have been overheard stating from time to time.

No tax impact? puh-le-ease…

Isn’t this Special ?

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A suburban town just outside of New York City is offering an “opportunity” for its senior citizens to work off their property taxes.

Wow, a novel way to counteract spiralling need to reach into a homeowner’s wallet. Since we taxed your property that a lot of people want, and you can’t afford the taxes now, we can let you work for us!

We wonder – does that mean the county government payroll goes up, or are the newly minted serfs considered “contract workers”? If the community has a public bidding process, does that mean the senior citizens in the community have to publically bid for the job “opportunity”? Do the wages earned get taxed?

“There are lots of things people can do for the town and it wouldn’t cost us that much to pay them”, said Town Supervisor Paul Feiner.

laughing.jpg    No Doubt…

Minnesota “allows” its senior citizens to defer their property taxes, but not forgives them of the obligation — “This is not a tax forgiveness program – it is a low interest loan from the state. The deferred tax is paid by the state to your county. Interest will be charged on this loan. The interest rate will be adjusted annually, but will never exceed five percent. A lien will attach to your property.” — from the state web page.

OK, so now we owe interest on top of the tax, and our children pay the estate off when we pass away. Sounds like a windfall for the county — even better than the accomodations tax used to fund our community festivals and chambers of commerce.

“They’re heart-committed volunteers,” said Council on Aging Director Patricia McCarthy, to a Whitman, MA, town council. Town Administrator Frank Lynam said there could be work for seniors who want to take on light custodial work at the Town Hall.

Shur’nuf, 111 hours of peasant labor…

Gaston County offers a Homestead Exclusion, but no overtly special way to pay off the tax liability.

The qualifications for this exclusion also require the owner to make a timely application. The deadline for the application is June 1.  The major qualifications for a Gaston County resident include a minimum age or disability as of January 1 — 65 years or older or totally and permanently disabled.   In addition, the owner’s adjusted gross income (individual or husband and wife) can not exceed $19,200 for the calendar year preceding the year in which the exclusion is claimed.  Those who qualify for the exclusion can receive the greater of $20,000 or 50% of the value of their residence reduced from their tax bill.

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Since the Gazette didn’t pick up the story yet, maybe our illustrious county commissioners won’t get big ideas just yet. Oops — too late — it appears that there at least a couple county commissioners that read this blog.