Ballard has failed transparency test

Keywords Opinion

With respect to [IBJ’s Oct. 3] article headlined “The Politics of Promises,” I must express my concern and dismay with Mayor Ballard’s failure to live up to his stated objectives for governing Indianapolis. Ballard identifies certain promises he believes were fulfilled during his term, two of which are increasing government transparency and reforming our property tax system.

Not only have we learned that the mayor has little, if anything, to do with property tax reform, but Ballard continues to promise one thing and deliver its opposite with respect to increasing government transparency.

Ballard has made nominal—and often unsuccessful—efforts to increase transparency. One costly example is the hiring of outside attorneys to redact and post city contracts online, despite all city and county contracts already being available under our robust public records law. The Internet link is hidden on the city’s Web page, and when it works, contracts are available only one page at a time. The public will find that city and county agencies continue to be the most transparent and least-costly source of contract information.

Ballard implements such cosmetic efforts while discouraging transparency regarding critical tax-increment financing fund balances and expenditures. One legal duty of the auditor’s office is to certify TIF neutralization, in which debt service and amounts due to the taxing units from respective TIF areas are calculated, verified and certified to the state.

TIF funds are managed by the city controller; accordingly, the auditor’s office must partner with the city to review pertinent TIF financial information to make the proper certifications, a process which must occur annually.

However, this year—a year in which the mayor intends to use a previously unused provision of the TIF law to funnel almost $40 million from the downtown TIF to his budget—the city continues to prevent the auditor’s office from accessing the information it requires to certify TIF neutralization. After months of repeated requests to the city controller, this office had no choice but to submit a public records request—a step we have never had to take with any governmental agency.

As of Oct. 6, the city continued to withhold this critical TIF information and deny the auditor’s office resources to fulfill our obligations. This continued silence from the city is not only disquieting, but runs counter to the mayor’s stated aspirations to increase government transparency and more wisely use taxpayer dollars.

Billie J. Breaux
Marion County auditor

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