Grand theft taxdollars

Aaron Sorkin writes television shows that force me to have an emotional response. I remember scenes and monologues from his shows, from others, I’m lucky to remember a good line or two. He speaks about things that are seemingly obvious, but in a way that makes them seem like an epiphany of the surreal. The only problem is that they are plain hard cold facts.

An old one from the West Wing, delivered by Dayton’s own, Martin Sheen:

And a recent one, from Newsroom, delivered by Jeff Daniels:

And from the latest Newsroom, where he poses the idea of a political debate where the politicians should actually be held accountable for their answers:

All of these political discussions go deeper than what most are willing to admit in this country- that we have real problems, and no real answers. We refuse to challenge, to poke, to prod, to ask the questions why?

So, I think to myself, what would Aaron Sorkin do with material from Dayton Ohio? Stories that on the surface would seem ludicrous to any intelligent person, but seem to pass for standard operating procedure in Dayton. I wonder why I even care to continue to write about them. And, I wonder why you continue to read. This community seems entirely OK with allowing its tax dollars to be given away to anyone any politician chooses, with little chance of questioning, never mind liability.

I guess I should go back to my very first campaign pieces, that I still have quite a few of. 20 years later, the questions I tried to address are still questions today. Why do we stand for such a racially divided and economically divided city? How do we accept tax dollar giveaways of epic proportion, while being told we’re broke? Oh, if I were only Aaron Sorkin and could tell the stories with the veracity of a Martin Sheen or a Jeff Bridges.

Photo of the SW corner of the Arcade complex with the windows fallen out

The arcade is losing windows- long after millions of tax dollars were poured into it.

Where else does a private businessman hand a check over to the Chief of Police for $100,000 to get him to resign? Where else does the same businessman get to buy a landmark that the city poured millions into – only to board it up and let it rot?

Now, we’re sitting by laughing at a naive man from outside our community who had a dream and bought it- and is now having to deal with windows popping out and falling on the sidewalks, while we are still telling him that his bad investment is still worth a fortune in taxes?

This was the first time I saw public money invested into a project, being handed over to a private company, without a fair and open bidding process. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the last. And, despite huge investments in tax dollars, the price the city settled on was a paltry $36,000. Somehow, to anyone observing this transaction, it would seem that this would become the taxable value- but, somehow that’s not the way things work.

Now, we’re looking at the building and thinking- how much will it cost us to tear it down?

When it comes to livability, cities are often evaluated by their schools, their libraries and their parks. In Oakwood, they do an amazing job- being the only community to do all three. In Dayton, we can’t claim our schools or our libraries- and we’ve been backpedaling away from our parks as fast as possible.

The former Bomberger center- now the Ahiska Turkish American Community Center

The former Bomberger center- now the Ahiska Turkish American Community Center

I drove down I-75 S today, and looked at the ball fields on the old McCook field site. At least they still look like ball fields unlike the one at the end of my street visible from u35. The only thing missing- not a soul was playing. I have an old friend from college who used to work for the city in parks and rec- and I remember going to see her there and at the Burkhardt Center- and they used to always be packed. Now, Burkhardt center, much like many others is growing weeds and graffiti. The former “Bomberger Center” which belonged to the taxpayers- and had an outdoor pool- was handed over to some immigrants. Not that I’m against immigrants, but, this was ours for us. We paid for it. I don’t recall ever seeing a “for sale” sign posted- or a request for proposals so it could be offered for the highest and best use.

Just last week, the City Commission voted to spend $450,000 to buy a private piece of real estate. Did they have a public use? Was there a question? We can’t keep our pools open, or our rec centers, but can by a building that a business needs to unload so they can buy another one.

For years, we’ve paid through the nose to support Sinclair Community College. A grand asset to our community. It’s the only institution of higher ed owned by the public in the State of Ohio with zero debt. For years it’s tuition was so low that it made sense to move into Montgomery County and become a resident just for the savings. As the costs of other schools have skyrocketed, Sinclair is still a great deal- however, a few years ago, they decided to start a branch campus in Warren County. Why did we invest so heavily in Sinclair as citizens of Montgomery County- only to see our investment in a competitive advantage shared with a county that hasn’t paid a dime in tax toward it? And, yes, Sinclair’s tuition has gone up for those who paid for it.

IRG scrapping the fuel farm at DAY

Our tax dollars helped build this fuel farm, now we’re paying a vulture to scrap it and steal our money

Out at the airport we had a sure thing- a lease with UPS until 2019 for the old Emery Air Freight hub. They had to keep it secured, operable and in tip top shape. They also had to pay the city around $2 million a year in lease payments above the cost of keeping the building intact. For some odd reason, our former airport director went out and actively sought a deal to give away the building and the continuing income of millions of dollars- to IRG of California. A local business that had been working on a plan to use the building was shut out, and the city took about $7 million from UPS to let them out of their lease early and turned around and handed half of it to IRG. What did IRG have to guarantee or invest? Not a dime. Sounds like a crazy deal? Nope- it’s just Dayton as usual. They started by selling off 4 huge diesel backup generators that we gave them- clearing a few million more. Then, they started scrapping the $20 million  conveyor system in the building and last Thursday, a backhoe started to tear up a multimillion dollar stainless steel fuel storage facility. In scrap value alone we’re talking a few more million.

The former airport director left for New Orleans after writing the contract to do the deal, and his lover, the former financial controller for the Airport left to follow him a few days after the deal was completed with IRG.

Millions in tax dollars given away. Not much left to put nets up on the baskets at parks throughout the city. What’s left of our tax base is now being shuffled around in the name of “economic development.” We’ve seen at least 3 major businesses move from one tax supported deal to another tax supported deal down at Austin Landing- where they have a dual tax structure, something that may not exist anywhere else in America. Yes, here in Montgomery County, we have the people who work at Kohl’s paying 2.25% in income tax on their minimum-wage jobs- while the big donors to the political elite who work at Teradata and Thompson Hine a stones throw from Kohls- are income tax exempt. Why even try to hide the graft and corruption anymore? We’ve been doing it out in the open for so long we don’t even know to scream STOP when we see it happening right in front of our eyes.

If you break into our county prosecutor’s home and steal a few things you will get five years in prison. If you break into my office- and cause $8K in damage as well as kill three days of productivity- you get a slap on the wrist.

To those who know about what really goes on in Dayton Ohio, it would make great story lines for Aaron Sorkin, but when told by me, it’s just me being a complainer.

I call it grand theft tax dollars because that’s what it is. The question is, when will you start to realize it?

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13 Responses

  1. Hall August 26, 2012 / 9:30 am
    I’m certain it is not unique to Dayton. Doesn’t make it okay either though…

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  2. Lisa August 26, 2012 / 12:54 pm
    Dear David,

    As a past resident of the City of Dayton whose parents still reside there, I am also concerned about the state of the city’s affairs, though I admittedly don’t invest time in it. I can certainly appreciate your frustration, and have begged my parents to abandon Dayton’s sinking ship more times than I can count. 

    I have not checked your  facts, though I have resided in Miami Twp (the home of Austin Landing) for 15 years and have only been assessed “local” payroll taxes when my employer was located within the boundaries of a city.     

    Regarding having spent 20 years asking the same questions: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. (No, I’m not accusing you of being insane!) I believe you care about Dayton, it’s residents and businesses, and strive to be part of cooperative cohesive community. Like you, I remember life during “the good old days” within Dayton’s city limits. 
    Having said that, don’t allow yourself to be relegated to “complainer” status. I recommend the book “The No Complaining Rule” by Jon Gordon. It’s not enough to spotlight problems, you must offer a solution, demonstrate a belief, that given the opportunity, the members of our community can and will make good choices in benefit of all. Change your expectations. Share your ideas for improving our community. Ask different questions, start a dialogue. We all need to be heard to feel valued, listen to your constituents with both ears (you’ve got 2 ears & 1 mouth), challenge them to offer solutions, earn their buy-in, then ask for their support at the polls. 
     
     

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  3. David Lauri August 26, 2012 / 1:49 pm
    People who live in Miami Township haven’t abandoned Dayton. No one outside of greater Dayton has heard of Miami Township in Montgomery County, Ohio.  When people from Miami Township travel and are asked where they’re from, do they really say, “Miami Township”? Of course they don’t. They say “Dayton” or at least they say “Dayton” if they don’t want to be asked “Where’s that?” And if folks in Miami Township really don’t think they’re part of Dayton, why the frak is the airport that’s in Miami Township called the Dayton-Wright Brothers Airport?
     
    What do people who think the core city of the Dayton region should be abandoned think should happen?  That the City of Dayton should be dis-incorporated and all its buildings torn down? What would the prognosis for Miami Township be if there were no Dayton? Really, paint me a picture of what life would be like if the “sinking ship” of the City of Dayton were actually scuttled? Surely those who think that the core city should be abandoned, those who say that instead of complaining one “must offer a solution,” could write a paragraph describing a post-Dayton world.

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  4. David Esrati August 26, 2012 / 5:23 pm

    Dear Lisa,

    Thanks for weighing in. Not only have you not checked your facts, you’ve come late to the discussion- yes, Austin Landing has a special tax structure where only the little people pay taxes: http://esrati.com/only-the-people-who-dont-payoff-politicians-pay-income-taxes-at-austin-road/8643/
    No, I can’t make this stuff up.

    And- yes, in the almost 2000 posts on this site- I’ve shared many of my ideas- and plans on how to improve Dayton. In fact- at the end of every post there is a link: Have you read the Esrati plan for Dayton?

    I suggest you take a look.

    The difference between this site and others- esp. the sites of other politician types- is that this one has substantive discussions- and is uncensored. I don’t shy away from controversy- and I don’t only take populist stands.

    Right now some are trying to cast me as wrong on the food truck issue on Facebook- because I suggest that taxpaying, brick and mortar restaurants shouldn’t have to compete with someone who pulls a truck up and sells food right in front of their establishments. I like food trucks- but for the appropriate times and places. The Oregon District on a Friday night is not one of them.

    The dialogue is always open here. And, it’s never unanimous, or done behind closed doors. Big difference.

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  5. Vince August 27, 2012 / 12:07 am
    FYI – your Rss link appears to be broken.

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  6. Mike Monett August 27, 2012 / 2:31 pm
    David,
    There is yet another ironic example now of our bureacracies downtown working against each other. I am referring to the heartbreaking destruction of sixteen huge old trees on the levee directly across from downtown and just west of Main Street. This is in my front yard almost so I am quite upset. At the top of my Facebook page ( http://www.facebook.com/mike.monett ) you can see the trees being destroyed now. They are in the center of my cover photo.
    The thing that makes this another example of the bureaucracies undercutting each other is the fact that these beautiful trees are in the exact spot where proponents of a rafting attraction are raising money to build that attraction in 2014. I wonder how many donors will still support this plan if they drive by and see how barren and ugly that stretch of the riverfront looks now that the tree removal is underway.
    The Dayton Informer has an excellent video describing the tree-removal outrage:
    http://daytoninformer.com/?p=220554 .

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  7. Lisa August 27, 2012 / 3:02 pm
    David E.

    Thank you for your enthusiasm and for enlightening me the JEDD tax to only the lowest paid workers in the Austin Landing development. Sad.

    David L.

    You are correct that I tell people I’m from Dayton. What I was trying to articulate was that because I don’t live in the city, I have no right to vote on “City” candidates or issues. I didn’t mean that I don’t care.

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  8. David Esrati August 27, 2012 / 3:05 pm

    Mike- the trees on the levy are not bureaucracies working one against the other. The trees don’t belong on the levy. They are weakening it. If there is a flood- you will be quite happy when the levy doesn’t break.
    As it is, the damns also are in need of reinforcing, but, no one has the money for that either.
    The sad fact is that the people with the paddleboats don’t even understand the type of damns and flood control we have. Yes the low damns are dangerous, but, none of the big damns have controls on how much water passes.

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  9. Mike Monett August 27, 2012 / 8:38 pm
    David,

    The video on the Dayton Informer provides solid evidence that it has never been established that the trees do more harm than good on that levee (The Corps of Engineers’ own 2010 study). (See link in my comment above.)

    Also, as a mechanical engineer, I can think of just as many reasons why the tree roots would hold the levee together rather than break it up. And, to me the most likely thing to break up the levee is all those large deep roots beginning to rot, which they are now going to begin doing. Where are the studies proving me wrong and the guy from the district right?
    We deserve to know.

    Just because the guy working for the Conservancy District says it is so, as quoted in the Dayton Daily News last Tuesday, that is insufficient justification for such an important decision to be made with NO other input from NO OTHER PERSON, GOVERNMENT ENTITY or GROUP. What does Five Rivers MetroParks think about this? Who is going to want to visit their parks if so much of the scenery adjacent is destroyed like this patch? This is part of the most important several hundred feet of the downtown riverfront highly visible from Riverscape MetroPark, and these are MANY huge trees that have been there as long as the levee itself.

    Where is this going to end? It is very important to ask this question. Is the entire green corridor between downtown and Carillon Park next? Please drive along there on Patterson or Edwin C Moses and stop near Stewart. Now look north and south and imagine what that entire multi-mile corridor will look like if every one of the many hundreds of trees on or near any of the levees is removed. The entire river will look like a desert coulee in Albequerque, except with maybe a little grass left instead of just miles of solid concrete as in the southwest. The appearance of the most attractive areas in Dayton is at stake if this policy is implemented all along our many miles of rivers, which are what some of us love more than anything about Dayton! How many bicyclists will still want to use the hundreds of miles of trails we’ve invested in for 40 years if they become completely shadeless through the entire city? I am a great lover of these trails, not just the one next to me that is now being turned into a barren featureless wasteland. I can’t imagine myself ever using these trails again if this is to be done throughout the entire network of our leveed rivers where most of our best trails are. In fact, I can’t imagine myself even staying in Dayton, even after all these years, if we are that suicidal here! As the former head of a group called the Greenways of Greater Dayton, I know that the silver lining from the 1913 flood was the fact that all our river corridors became publicly owned as undeveloped buffers when the Conservancy District was established. This has made us the envy of most other cities in the country, where just certain patches along the waterways are parks for the public. Is that same Conservancy District about to undo all that goodwill now after over ninety years?

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  10. Civil Servants Are People, Too August 27, 2012 / 10:54 pm
    “The former “Bomberger Center” which belonged to the taxpayers- and had an outdoor pool- was handed over to some immigrants. ….. I don’t recall ever seeing a “for sale” sign posted- or a request for proposals so it could be offered for the highest and best use.”
     
    To be fair, the DDN wrote about it last summer, and so did you.
     
    I agree that sprawl is a serious, and sadly unrecognized issue.
     
     
     

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  11. David Esrati August 28, 2012 / 6:23 am

    CSAPT- thanks for the reminder. Selling Bombergervis one thing, giving it away is another. I wonder if I asked for the old SEPB if I could have it on similar terms?

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  12. Donald Phillips August 28, 2012 / 3:17 pm
    Mr. Esrati doesn’t care about the attrocity committed on  the levee trees; but threaten those in his crackerbox kingdom  and he’ll post a diatribe on bureaucratic overreach. Given Mr. Esrati’s oratorical self-love, the trees in South Farce must be forever giddy from excess carbon dioxide.

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  13. djw August 28, 2012 / 4:32 pm
    The former “Bomberger Center” which belonged to the taxpayers- and had an outdoor pool- was handed over to some immigrants. Not that I’m against immigrants, but, this was ours for us. We paid for it. I don’t recall ever seeing a “for sale” sign posted- or a request for proposals so it could be offered for the highest and best use.
     
     
     
    I don’t know if the center was sold or gifted (do you? It’s not clear.) That said, if it was gifted or provided at a reduced rate, that’s not an outrageous expenditure of tax dollars at all. Establishing a community center for a group of recent immigrants–especially asylum seakers is a perfectly reasonable thing for the city of Dayton to be doing, for a number of reasons.
     
    1) the Meskhetian (or Ahiska) Turk population has been subjected to all manner of brutalities, deportations, discrimination, and violence at the hands of the USSR/Russian/Georgian?Uzbek regimes since WWII. There are few ethnic groups whose treatment these last 80 years is comparable. They are outstanding candidates for political asylum, and it makes me proud of this city we’re welcoming them.
     
    2) Political asylum seekers are traditionally underserved. Once they’ve been granted asylum and placed, they are often disconnected from the larger community, left to deal with a new and often hostile world with few resources or support. Taking in a fair share of political asylum seekers is a moral obligation of any decent country, and it’s a duty that doesn’t end once they arrive. Spending some resources to provide a community center for a group of political refugees is absolutely worth doing. The DDN of all sources recently had a piece on that:
     
    http://www.daytondailynews.com/news/news/local-refugees-struggle-to-transition-in-us/
     
    3) People who care about Dayton should *want* this community to feel welcome and at home here. It’s perfectly obvious that the number of American citizens who want to live in the city of Dayton is too low to provide the city with a large enough tax base and a low enough vacancy rate to be successful. But the world is full of people who want to live here! We should embrace that.
     
    4) I’ve recently talked to people from Old North Dayton and East Dayton who are absolutely thrilled with the arrival of Meskhatian Turkish refugees in their neighborhood. Old abandoned houses no American can be bothered to care for are being painted, fixed up, and restored. A contractor told me how thrilled he is with some of their carpentry skills. These things–their skills, their care for their home–benefit all of us.
     
     
     
    This off-hand comment (in a post I largely agree with) isn’t anti-immigrant in a racist, nationalist, or xenophobic way. But it is anti-immigrant in a more passive way–making a sharp distinction between ‘them’ and ‘us’, asserting as obvious that there’s something wrong with the devotion of any resources to “them”–even though they are residents of the city, paying various sales, property and income taxes. The former is utterly reprehensible, but Dayton can’t afford the latter, either. This cities future is bleak if we can’t stop the population decline, and our only serious chance to do it is through immigration. A Dayton of immigrants is something to celebrated and fostered by anyone who cares about the future of this city.

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