“What is Esrati’s end game”

Graphic accompanying Esrati's Endgame postA friend was asked this week, “you know Esrati, what’s his end game?” and my friend had no answer.

Really, it hasn’t changed since I bought my crap house in South Park on Jan 28, 1986- the day the Challenger space shuttle blew up. Buy low, sell high.

Sure, my $14,500 house could sell for 10x that now. And my neighborhood is one of the few in Dayton that has rising property values. But, that’s not enough.

Dayton Ohio, as a city, hasn’t seen the same prosperity, and other neighborhoods are suffering. It’s why I set out to run for Mayor back in 1993, after experiencing the incompetence of the leaders who jack slapped me for installing the “wrong garage doors” on a “historic home” way back when.

All these years later, the same kind of fools think they know how to fix Dayton, and instead, keep dragging it down.

When I talked to Paul Leonard, the “Rock-n-Roll Mayor” of Dayton- who was leaving just as I came to town, he asked a simple question: “What happened to “be the cleanest, safest city in America”? And there you have it. We went from a simple guiding principal, to one of let’s pretend government knows how to do “economic development.”

We blew a ton of money on the Arcade back in the early 80’s- and are about to do it again. We built the tower next to the arcade with tax dollars- and then lost it. We built new schools, only to see them shrink and die. We’ve torn down old buildings, and made it impossible to re-purpose them, so that they become rotting reminders of what was once a boom town. We’ve raised taxes to support a patchwork of fiefdoms, that add no value at all to the community- with more police chiefs, fire chiefs, mayors, city managers and school superintendents for  half a million odd people- while the city of NYC with 8.5 Million people can manage with one each.

I could go on, with the quasi-governmental organizations, non-profits and end-runs around a system so convoluted no one knows who does what and why- many with tax dollar support, and zero oversight;  like the morons running the Metro Library system with $187M of your tax dollars- and no respect for your rights, or Sinclair Community College which is doing everything with Montgomery County money that it gets- to expand services outside the county.

Which brings me to my end game. It’s really simple. Uni-government, that’s run by people who are elected, not anointed in the bowels of political party HQs. A government that believes in good schools, safe streets, excellent services, equal opportunities and fair and equitable taxation and incentives.

It’s really not that complicated. It’s not utopia. It’s just not possible in this lifetime says my friend, who posed this question to me.

But, that’s the problem with Esrati. He’s wired differently and thinks “Yes we can.”

I’ve spelled out the framework for Reconstructing Dayton. And, hopefully, as soon as I get past these two lawsuits, and the primary this spring has enough people named to the Montgomery County Democratic Party Central Committee to stop being the party of patronage, we can get moving on undoing the stupidity of people who believe that you have to color within the lines drawn in 1785 when Ohio was formed by the “Northwest Ordinance.”

Who in their right mind wouldn’t like to see Greene County and Montgomery County join together and create a single government that has one set of courts, one police force, one safe jail, one zoning law, one tax collecting authority, etc etc. (other than all the micro-minded people “working” in micro-fiefdoms like Moraine, Clayton, or Oakwood- don’t get me started on the urban township tax dodges).

Go look at the growth in Columbus, Cincinnati and even Cleveland- and ask why isn’t it happening here? This city has so much going for it- yet, we can’t get past all of our personal prejudices. We’re still as racially and economically separated as ever, we have people living in poverty for no good reason, and jobs and industry are passing us by. We used to build things like trucks, refrigerators, cash registers in Dayton- now, the world turns to places like Spartanburg SC and Marysville Ohio. There is a reason for that, and it is us.

It’s time to have a serious discussion of these issues. To analyze how we’ve become a place that has to pay people to come invest. A place where we have all the pieces to build a great economy, but lack the instructions on how to put them together effectively.

That’s my end game. Are you in?

The Good Sam Scam Solution

good sam hospital in DaytonNan Whaley plays the victim, but never had a problem accepting money for her campaign from Premier employees. She never had a problem asking them to help pay to raise the city income tax either. And now, she wonders why they are going to close Good Sam, as they build out other beds in other parts of the county.

Not that saving .25% in income tax is the driver, it’s safety. No female nurses or doctors want to drive up Salem Avenue in the middle of the night. Past the AM PM Market where gunshots are frequent.

But here’s the deal, there is nothing the city, the NAACP, the ministers or even god himself can do to keep Premier operating on that site, and frankly, people should say thanks- and good riddance.

What the city can and should do, is tell Premier that you can’t trash the facility, you can’t tear it down, until it’s been on the market for two years. Just like what happens when we close a school building. At that time, any other health care system that wants to come into the market, should have the opportunity to buy the building that Premier has never paid a dime of property tax on, and open up as competition to the duopoly of Premier and Kettering Health Network.

We should be asking The James in Columbus if they want to come to Dayton, or the Cleveland Clinic, or UC Health, or a group of private doctors who want to band together to open their own facility- one where the CEO doesn’t pay herself $4 million a year, and sit on the board of CareSource, her largest client, and set the salary of their CEO at $3 million a year.

In fact, what needs to happen is we need to stop allowing companies to claim they are non-profit or serving the public good- and being allowed to skip paying for police and fire, and roads and water, etc- while paying CEO’s astronomical salaries. If you make more than 5x your average payroll, you can’t claim to be tax exempt or non-profit. It’s time that the taxpayers stop subsidizing the CEO class.

Another test would be if you receive more than 35% of your revenue from government, pay caps are in place. No one makes more than the President (current salary is $400K a year). If you can’t live on $1000 a day in Dayton Ohio, you shouldn’t be claiming non-profit status.

Any company that hires it’s own private police force should be charged a fee, equal to the officers pay, that goes to pay an extra Dayton cop. That would be called a “licensing fee” for providing a duplicative service to a public one. The reason we don’t have independent fire departments got figured out long ago, there is no legitimate reason for private cops- just like there is none for “contractors” who are really mercenaries in war zones. Sorry, you want to be a cop- work for the government, with proper oversight.

I’m pretty sure that if Good Sam was put on the market, we’d have a third option for health care in Dayton- and that it would start a price war that would benefit us all.

The right answer on closing schools and hospitals

Small group breakout session of NAACP community meeting on Dayton Public School closings

Small group breakout session of NAACP community meeting on Dayton Public School closings

The Dayton Unit of the NAACP had another community meeting tonight about what the people they elect are doing to them. Much outrage, lots of talk, and nothing will change.

Sorry, you had a chance to not re-elect some people, and choices on who to put on the school board- but, you didn’t vote, and those that did, voted for people I didn’t endorse. But, that’s beside the point.

On the school closings. First off, if you aren’t outraged about the “Task force” that was named and tried to meet in secret, that’s your first mistake. Second, you elected four new people to the school board to effect change. So far, we’ve still not finished firing the idiot Superintendent Rhonda Corr who the last board hired over a totally qualified, DPS grad, black male. Didn’t see the NAACP up in arms when David Lawrence wasn’t even allowed to be a finalist. Then, there is the question on why is the new board continuing with Dr. Elizabeth Lolli instead of opening up a posting for Superintendent right now- when all the positions across the nation are being posted? You wait too long, and you get the Rhonda Corr’s of the world applying. Lolli was one of two key Corr hires- the other quit and sued- and if not for that lawsuit, Corr would still be causing chaos. Lolli has yet to tell anyone what her plan is to fix DPS- instead, she seems to be preoccupied in sucking up to the task force.

We need a real Superintendent who can convince parents that DPS is safe and well run. We need a superintendent who can bring students back, and help them succeed. Remember, the last “A” we got in yearly progress was based on the work of the last Superintendent and her Chief of School Innovation David Lawrence.

Someone has to be able to tell us where all these kids went and why. That’s something that should have been tracked by DPS every time a student left. My guess is the rapid changes of adding middle schools, having four bell times, high turnover of teachers, the stabbing at WOW, the throwing of the Dunbar/Belmont game, the crazy school board meetings- all are factors in why parents said “great things are happening anywhere but in Dayton Public.”

But, many of the people at this meeting don’t even have kids in the district. What worries them is why are they still paying for new buildings- that will be handed over for pennies on the dollar to charters or other private businesses? That’s what happens when a building isn’t used for 2 years by state law (this is what happens when you let Republicans Gerrymander the state so they can take control, even though this was a mostly Democratic state before they finagled the districts).

Tomorrow night- some other group is hosting a meeting about the closing of Good Sam Hospital.

My position is I don’t care what Premier has open or where. The people of greater Dayton are already screwed because we’ve allowed a duopoly to buy every medical practice in the city, operate in collusion via the “Greater Dayton Area Hospital Association” – GDAHA (who has a seat on the DPS task force btw) and raise prices and deliver less than amazing care.

However, over the years, the taxpayers have subsidized Good Sam and Premier by allowing them to operate their money machine as a non-profit and evade property taxes. In fact, in more than a few cases, we’ve had to fork over tax dollars to help them do things like beautify their neighborhoods or build some new buildings etc.

What real city leaders should do is tell Premier it’s fine and dandy for you to close down Good Sam, but, no, you can’t demolish it. Not until it’s been placed up for auction to make sure there aren’t other players who would like to compete to provide non-profit health care.

I’m sure The James or the Cleveland Clinic, or the UC Hospital Network or some other mega-medical institution might be interested in operating a hospital there, and would be happy to buy the buildings and maybe even pay taxes. Deny the demolition permit, force Premier to allow our community hospital a chance to remain.

Or- to possibly serve as any of the following:

  • A new jail/drug treatment facility. Since Sheriff Phil Plummer seems incompetent when keeping prisoners alive in the County Jail, maybe the city should stop allowing its citizens to risk being given a death sentence because they couldn’t make bail for a minor misdemeanor. Turning Good Sam into a rehab center might bring jobs and dollars back to the community- as well as provide a real way to stop mass incarceration.
  • Turn it into a huge retirement home. Considering the geniuses that Premier and UD hired to “program the Fairgrounds” gave a report saying our population is losing young people and getting stuck with old folks- projections for nursing home facilities are good. This one is already built. Find an operator that can manage it- and provide a specialized geriatric hospital that’s directly connected.
  • Turn it into a Sinclair Campus- since we’re already paying out the butt for Sinclair- no need to buy the church right next to Greene and Warren County lines- for $10M- donate the building to Sinclair and move their health sciences program into… wait for it…. an actual hospital. Let them work with real patients who can’t afford Premier or Kettering prices- as part of their learning experience. Who wouldn’t want to stave off bankruptcy for a chance to get life saving treatment at cut-rates?

Of course, none of these ideas will happen, because, when it comes to the Monarchy of Montgomery County- the demolition contractors and construction companies all pay well to buy their future contracts. If we keep desecrating the West side- more money for demolition- right?

While Cincinnati and Columbus are booming, Dayton is doing everything it can to tear itself down. As always, follow the money, and you get answers.

Getting property taxation right

Why isn't the purchase price the permanent valuation for the length of time you own it?

Only in Dayton is the $10K house a reality

Are you your neighbors keeper?

Every week I look at the listings of homes sold in Montgomery County and marvel, because only in Dayton can you buy a home for less than the price of a nice used car.

This doesn’t happen in surrounding communities (other than the depressed ones- Jefferson, Trotwood) . Do you wonder why?

It’s all supply and demand would be the perfect capitalists answer. But, what drives demand?

In real estate 101 they say “location, location, location” – and people choose communities based on the schools. And to some extent this is also correct. Yet, my house, bought for $14,500 in 1986 is worth close to 10x that, and a slightly larger home 2 doors down, just went for the same amount 7 years ago. It shouldn’t have sold that low, but it was a foreclosure. And, my property value dropped- not just because the price was low, but because of the cancer that moved in.

Four doors down, a house sold for $95K 3 years ago. The new couple put at least $40K into it before splitting. It sold in a day- price unknown, but for well over $125K. And my property values are sure to go up.

Yet, I didn’t change locations, and my schools still suck. My investments in my house shouldn’t penalize me with higher taxes anymore than what my neighbors do. The value will come to me, and to the community, when I sell.

How and why do the actions of others affect my property values? If I own a share of stock in 3M, does my value go up just because Apple had a great year? No. Yes, if I go to sell my car, and someone else paid X for a similar car- that’s the price- but, I’m not selling my home, I just want to live here. Why should my value change until I do something?

Simple answer- it shouldn’t. And, this constant re-valuation of real estate based on the actions of others is causing gentrification, housing bubbles, foreclosures, and a mangled economy.

The purchase price of an owner occupied home shouldn’t change until the house is sold. The same should be said of rental property. When the government steps in and raises your property value for taxation purposes, they become an uncontrollable variable in a business equation. They distort markets. They screw existing businesses and property owners when they offer tax abatement to the new guy, while the long term investor gets shafted.

And, it’s almost counterproductive to do improvements to your property, if the tax man is just going to charge you more. But, what could be worse? Your neighbor doing improvements.

Case study: Dr. Michael Ervin, shadow mayor of Dayton before he left town for Scottsdale AZ, bought a dump of a bar in the Oregon District and poured $1.6M into it. This skewed the valuation tables for his neighbors, who were thankful the bar left, but were asked to pay more for Dr. Mike’s excess. Some, couldn’t pay the additional taxes and were forced to sell or move. Others might have spent more on a crappy house, because Dr. Mike did what he did. The market skewed. But, 10 years later, when it came time to sell, Dr. Mike got less than half his money back on his taj mahal. Yes, it’s still double the value of any of the other single family homes- and still skews things, but, the only person paying the tax on the new market rate evaluation- $725K , should be the new owner. Just as the neighbors who never left, shouldn’t have been forced to pay more when the $1.6 boondoggle went in.

The reason we pay property taxes is supposedly to support public infrastructure and government to keep our investments safe. Income taxes are supposedly a more progressive tax that are supposed to be based on ability to pay. When property taxes unfairly start to penalize people for making a long-term investment that they hoped to keep- it’s wildly unfair, un-American.

The fact that almost every office building downtown has been foreclosed on, while tenants have moved to fairer pastures funded in part by tax dollars- with more advantageous tax structures (both income and property tax) like Austin Landing is proof positive that our property taxation and income taxation hodge podge is causing more problems than it’s helping.

The value of the Kettering Tower, once the premier office space in Dayton, was decimated by Dayton’s high income tax (now 2.5%) and property taxes based on market forces beyond the owners control. Would Austin Landing have looked so good, without the huge investment in infrastructure by the county, or the income tax free zone for white collar workers (while the retail underclass pays 2%)? Probably not.

It’s time to realize that tax policy and abatement has serious consequences to the entire region, and we need to find a way to level the playing field and stop letting the choices others make, affect our tax rates.

Regional tax policy, from property to income tax, needs to be set and managed at the county level, and by fair market forces, for all of us to live within our means, and to stop changing the playing field in the middle of the game.


Sneak peaks and sexy eats at Dayton’s next downtown grocery

Eclectic kitchen with a rooster on hand

Chip Kennedy is crazy. But, so were the Wright Brothers. He thinks he can create a downtown mecca of food from all parts of the world, in a space that’s even smaller than the Oakwood Dororthy Lane Market, and do it with style.

Getting ready for the pop-up dinner

Tomorrow, Oct. 1st, from 2 to 8, he’s teaming up with another crazy person, Chef Anne Kearney, formerly of Rue Dumaine, who will do a pop-up cash only dinner to rock your socks- while you wander around what will be “District Provisions” – a place where foodies will think they’ve died and gone to heaven and interior designers will say “damn, I wish I has his style.”

Kennedy has a vision of a place, more like Cleveland’s West Side Market than a traditional grocery, with different shops from different parts of the world- in what could only be called a curated walk through the continents. The last thing Dayton had that resembled this was the arcade, when you could still go in and buy fresh seafood, fruits, baked goods- before the City tried their hand at turning it into a mall with a fancy glass roof. The location is the old Dietz Block building, also known as the Norman Miller Furniture building at 531 Wayne Ave, behind Wheat Penney and catty-corner to Eastway. Currently, the only business operating out of there is Crafted and Cured, which has beers on tap and meats and cheeses for a charcuterie (a new hipster experience).

Copper pots ready for a special meal

Next up will be the Mediterranean section, with a wood fired copper kettle of an oven, an oyster bar, a butcher shop, deli, bakery retail outlet and then produce and candy. After that, an Asian and Hispanic areas. How the mechanics of these mini-foodlands will work is still a mystery to be solved, but, the aesthetics of the place will have you falling in love.

The copper wood fired oven of District Provisions

The copper wood fired oven of District Provisions

While the grocery co-op on the near West side is still in fundraising mode, Chip has been busting his butt and using his own money to build his dream, without help from all the “economic development geniuses” we’ve got on the payroll in Dayton. They aren’t spending half-a-million to build him a parking lot, they aren’t giving him huge tax abatement or job creation credit. And that’s too bad, because the kind of business he’s creating is the kind that makes Dayton a more interesting place to “live, work, play” and keeps one of Dayton’s beautiful old buildings- in use and alive.

The scale for the deli of District Provisions

While District Provisions won’t be for everyone, it will be a reason to come and spend money downtown, and experience something unavailable in the ‘burbs. It also has the ability to be a place where new urbanites can meet and mingle – while engaged in shopping for necessities, something that has become harder and harder to do anywhere downtown- other than the 2nd Street Market which is only open for a smidgen of time a few days a week.

Jack Lukey’s oyster and Caviar bar

For new residents of the Wheelhouse, or the Delco Lofts, Water Street or the Charlie Simms projects, this will help remind them that their investment is safe. Access to buying food without feeling like you are in a depressed area will stop them from getting depressed (yes, Wayne Avenue Kroger is nicer, but it still has the lighting of a dollar store, and the only parking lot that could host the soapbox derby).

While I look forward to District Provisions, and even more so to the pop-up dinner tomorrow, I want to say that I don’t fall into the total trap of “there aren’t any supermarkets in Dayton” – because there are – they’re just not the suburban style ones. In my neighborhood, we have the awesome Halal International Grocery, there is Dot’s by the Kettering border that has awesome meat, you’ve got a few Hispanic markets on Troy St and E. Third, and then there are a few independent grocery stores on Gettysburg, James H. McGee, Save-a-lot’s on Wilmington, and Linden etc.

For those going to the Pop-up-

Fresh organic tomatoes for Chef Anne Kearney

a few items from the cash only menu:

  • Pernod opoached Blue Point Oysters, leeks, spinach, tarragon, AWS bacon, creme $12
  • Belgian endive, Honeycrisp apple, bleu cheese, walnut salad, Banyuls vinaigrette $9
  • Fire-roasted Scottish salmon, butternut squash, leek ragout, Jamestown pea shoots, parsley garlic pistou $24
  • Sherry braised pork, YAYA grits, fire-roasted shiitakes $22
  • Steak Frites, grilled hanger steak, pommes frites, truffle beurre, aioli $23
  • Bickelcreek Farm rhubarb & raspberry crumble cake $7

Chef Anne is using as many locally grown ingredients as possible. Again- cash only.