A City-County Council committee this week killed a proposal requesting the mayor and his administration waive the city’s option to purchase Blue Indy’s charging stations and kiosks.
The proposal had been introduced by council Republicans in March, before the city issued a request for information soliciting ideas for reusing the equipment, but it was not heard in committee until this week.
Republican council members contend the city has already invested too much in the failed venture, launched under former Republican Mayor Greg Ballard’s administration, and that the equipment is outdated. They asked the administration to return the Blue Indy spaces to free parking.
The council’s Administration and Finance Committee on Monday voted against moving the proposal forward to the full council for a vote. Only four committee members, all Republicans, supported the measure.
The vote came after Republican councilors grilled members of Mayor Joe Hogsett’s administration about plans for including the public in decisions about purchasing the equipment and about how much the administration was willing to spend.
Councilor Brian Mowery, the council’s minority leader, took issue with a suggestion by Hogsett policy adviser Mackenzie Higgins that the underground infrastructure—which will remain no matter what the city chooses to do with the stations—could be tapped into by micro-grocery stores to service food deserts.
Higgins said the idea was one example of creative uses for the existing infrastructure that have emerged as the administration has engaged stakeholders. But Mowery told her she was giving false hope to residents living in food deserts.
The Indy GOP later sent out a statement expressing concern “over city administration’s desire to keep BlueIndy chargers for food deserts.”
“People want to see a brick-and-mortar store that is open with regular hours,” Mowery said in the statement. “I would rather see the city investing in food deserts than dumping more money in a failed venture.”
Republicans also are concerned that the administration wouldn’t commit to not investing any more money into the project.
Higgins told councilors the city is looking at taxpayer-friendly solutions,. Donnie Morgan, the city’s corporation counsel, said the city will likely be able to negotiate with BlueIndy to purchase only some of the stations since the company will have to spend money to have the stations removed if the city doesn’t purchase them, as outlined by the contract.
A request for information regarding the chargers and kiosks was issued by the city in June. Responses are due back Aug. 14 and the city has until Sept. 21 to make a decision about exercising its purchase option.
Morgan said the administration might ultimately decide to waive its purchase option, but before making that decision, it wants to see as many ideas as possible for reusing them.
The city invested $6 million in launching Blue Indy, expecting to eventually recoup that money once BlueIndy was profitable. That never happened.
“The administration’s position is simply that we should first have those responses to request for information so we know what all the potential reuses are, and we should first have the public’s feedback to those proposals before we make that determination,” Morgan said. “It may well be that none of the sites will have a potential use for which the above ground infrastructure makes sense. Then, fantastic. We won’t exercise that option.”
Democratic Councilor Frank Mascari, who chairs the Administration and Finance Committee, said he feels it’s important the city keep some of the stations since electric vehicles, which he drives, are becoming more popular.
“When the day comes in September, I think our people will try to figure out exactly how to do this where it’s not going to cost us a dime to get out of this situation, but I do believe we need to keep some of the electric charging stations within the city,” he said.