Carmel and Hamilton County and Regional News

Carmel council seeks oversight of redevelopment expenses

September 14, 2012

Carmel City Council members want further control of the redevelopment commission that carries out Mayor Jim Brainard’s vision for downtown, and Brainard said Friday morning that he won’t oppose the plan.

Council President Rick Sharp and members Luci Snyder and Eric Seidensticker are sponsoring an ordinance, to be introduced Monday, that would move the Carmel Redevelopment Commission’s staff and operations into a city department. That means the CRC’s annual operating budget, which is $6.4 million this year, would have to be approved by the council.

“It’s very comparable to what other redevelopment commissions in the state do,” Brainard said.

Council members have been scrutinizing the CRC’s expenses as they consider refinancing $183 million of the commission’s $267 million in debt. The commission has maxed out its credit and needs the refinancing to free up $8.8 million, which Brainard wants to use to complete the masssive City Center project.

To get the refinancing, Brainard agreed in April to an ordinance that gives the council final say over any future debt incurred by the CRC. The latest proposal means the council would also have oversight of the CRC's internal expenses.

Snyder, chairwoman of the council's finance committee, said it's too early to tell how the change would play out for the CRC's six-member staff, which works out of offices in the Evan Lurie building in the Arts & Design District. The CRC probably will save money by eliminating accounting fees, as the treasurer would be the city's fiscal agent, Clerk-Treasurer Diana Cordray, she said.

"I don't know what else," Snyder said. "That's probably a decision [to be made] closer to the beginning of the year. My job is to stop the bleeding."

Brainard said he's not concerned that the council will gut the CRC's operations, which include marketing and promotion for downtown businesses.

“I’m going to take everyone at their word; they still want to have a good redevelopment department,” he said.

The council might not be able to eliminate the bulk of the CRC’s operating expenses because they include subsidies to the Center for the Performing Arts, utility costs for the Palladium concert hall and overhead at the James Building, which houses theaters and offices.

The change would most likely impact the CRC’s direct overhead, which include a $462,505 payroll, outside legal and accounting services and leased office space in the Lurie building.

As part of the refinancing, the CRC proposed to lower its overhead from about $3 million this year to $1.1 million in 2013.

Under the proposed ordinance, the five-member redevelopment commission would be staffed by a city department, the Carmel Redevelopment Department.

Brainard noted that the department already exists and that the CRC’s current staff, which works under contract, could become full-time city employees. “Which would be a good thing for those employees,” he said.

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