Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Mayor, council need to come together for city

Posted on Dec. 30, 2012 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Dec. 30, 2012 at 3:43 p.m.

When it comes to nonprofits, there’s the RV/MH Hall of Fame. Then there’s everybody else.

At least that’s how Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore sees it.

Moore brokered a sweetheart compact fee with the hall of fame, which now pays half the rate Elkhart charges other nonprofits for utilities. He meant well, and the rate probably needed to be adjusted.

But that’s beside the point. If the compact fee needed to be adjusted for one nonprofit, it needed to be adjusted for all nonprofits.

The RV hall of fame, east of Elkhart, fell on hard financial times and stopped paying its compact fees. Officials claimed that since they ran a nonprofit, they didn’t owe the city for services.

Meanwhile, they ran up a $115,000 bill.

Moore intervened last fall, offering to forgive the debt if the hall of fame accepted a 50 percent rate cut. Needless to say, representatives jumped at the deal.

“In my opinion this was our only option,” Moore told an Elkhart Truth reporter. “It was (either) do something to get them paying again or disconnect the service, close them down and get nothing.”

Maybe and maybe not. After city councilors criticized the deal, they declined to end or influence negotiations. They left Moore alone to close the deal.

Their choice.

The city establishes compact fees, in part, on assessed property values. Businesses and nonprofits — well, other than the hall of fame — pay a rate based on 75 percent of assessed value. For the hall, it’s a 37.5 percent rate.

The break may be justified. But even it if is, the deal — approved by Moore’s hand-picked board of works — comes at a bad time. Beginning Jan. 1, the city begins a new policy of switching most businesses outside the city from sewer agreements to compact fees.

Businesses don’t want the higher bills and they’ve already complained to the city. Moore says the council probably needs to review its policy on compact fees. Councilman Dave Henke believes the rates should be based on usage instead of assessed value.

That’s where the process should’ve started — in a thoughtful, open discussion on city policy.

Instead, Moore decides to act unilaterally on the RV/MH Hall of Fame, writes off a sizeable debt, brokers a special discount and sends it to his hand-picked board of works for approval — thus ensuring that the city council, elected by the public, cannot derail it.

A couple of city councilors harrumph at the deal and criticize the mayor for flying solo, but do nothing to build an alliance with Moore and participate in negotiations.

Moore doesn’t want to work with the city council. Nearly without fail, Republicans vote as a block in opposition to Moore. Democrats, except Ron Troyer, won’t cross the mayor.

So this is what we’re left with — a dysfunctional city government that plays favorites and wastes time while local unemployment hovers at 9 percent, murders go unsolved and we struggle with falling tax revenues. We cannot continue this way.

Put aside the petty politics and act in the best interests of Elkhart, before it is too late.