Transforming Rochester Podcast 6 - Rochester's Point System

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

This week Alex and Dave talk about the recent shooting outside the Rochester bar, Bug Jar.  The incident did not happen inside the bar and it was the Bug Jar who called the police, yet they were punished by the City of Rochester.  The City's point system continues to inhibit business owners from calling police for things going on around their businesses that they have nothing to do with.  Between the point system, racial profiling and "stop and frisk", it's no wonder we continue to have violent incidents around the city.  We discuss alternatives to the point system and current procedures.  Don't forget to sign the petition to get rid of the point system:

You can listen to the podcast by clicking here or the link in the right column.

Transforming Rochester Podcast 5 - Ending Truancy in Our Schools

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Alex and Dave finally discuss the Rochester City School District.  They start with the recent news of continuing declining graduation rates but the discussion quickly turns to truancy.  How do we improve our schools.  THEY HAVE THE ANSWER, but will anyone listen?  And what is the City's role in our children's education?  Does poverty matter?  They actually run out of time so this is only Part 1 of the discussion.  Give your feedback!

You can listen to the podcast by clicking here or use the download link in the right column.

What the Budget Tells me

The City has put out its new budget and, as required by law, it is balanced. This has been done by getting $15 million from the state, cutting some capital expenditures, using $3.5 million from reserves, asking unions to pay more for health care, and claiming sales taxes will increase by $3.5 million.

What was not cut though is perhaps more interesting. The City has a few major areas of investment and no funds for these were touched. In the next budget we will be spending $12,851,000 on the Marina and Midtown Rising. Of this, only $750,000 will be coming form another government agency. So after the State raised our Aid and Incentives to Municipalities for one year we went out and spent most of this money on 2 building projects. It seems odd that we are putting off road repair, asking unions to give concessions on one year-old contracts, dipping into the reserve, canceling funding programs which help our young people graduate high school, cutting funding for recreation, and scaling back library services so we can pay for building projects. In fact, these two projects represent 40% of the total capital expenditures for the City in the next budget year.

So what are we getting for our money?

For Downtown, we have reconstruction on the old Midtown site with roads, sidewalks, infrastructure, and landscaping. This 16-acre site has 2 projects on it. One is the Windstream building, which is owned by Pike and is an $18 million investment to turn a once-viable building into something usable. There is also the Midtown Tower, which was given to Conifer for $1 and as of today, nothing has been done with this. To date over $150 million of public money has been spent on this site and we have been able to secure less than $20 million of investment. Now we are throwing more money at this huge money pit.

The Marina is a more interesting project. This project presently does not have a developer or a plan but we are spending $8.5 million to put a marina in an area which is already serviced by 3 other marinas, none of which were filled to capacity last year. With rising gas prices and an unstable economy, it seems that there would be little demand for another marina, but the plan is to create an inducement for condominiums to be built, thus creating demand for the new marina. This seems like a lot of speculation with questionable pay back, particularly at a time of another budget crisis.

These are only the largest projects as College Town is getting $450,000, High Falls is getting another $271,000, and Erie Harbor is getting another $480,000. So it seems that the big winners of the budget are the developers, which makes me wonder what are the priorities of our City leaders?

Transforming Rochester Podcast 4 - City Budget Priorities

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

This week on Transforming Rochester we look at the proposed City Budget. What the City decides to spend our money on shows where its priorities are. We see their priorities on big business and not on what the taxpayers really value. The marina project is a perfect example of this. What should our priorities be? Here is the link to the petition Dave and Alex talk about.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking here or use the download link in the right column.

The Sibley Building Shame

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Sibley Building is the poster child for bad development in Rochester. In 1992, it seemed like a great idea to help Wilmorite renovate the Sibley Building. Here was a deep pocket company with experience in retail spaces taking on a very challenging project, which was going to revitalize this section of Main Street. Twenty years later the City is left paying the bill for this whole project while Main Street is in worse shape than ever.

At one time this was a $22 million project, but now it owes the City more than this in unpaid loans and back taxes. This amount could be much higher if we did not extend the generous tax agreement which valued the building at mere $12.50 a square foot but ran out in 2002 even though this building stopped paying taxes in 1998. This project floundered even though the county gave a very favorable lease for the Downtown Campus of Monroe Community College. Through all of this, the City refused to foreclose on the property or collect on the unpaid debt.

So now we are being asked to pay off the last of these loans and settle the tax lien so the property can be sold to another developer who will revitalize this section of Main St. This seems criminal. If you break open a parking meter and steal the change inside the City goes after you. If you fail to pay the taxes on your house the City forecloses. But if you steal millions from the City they forgive you. Mayor Richards claims there is nothing he can do but this is just a rationalization. The City does have options.

The City could foreclose on the property and take it over immediately. Presently this property is earning $3.5 million a year from the lease for MCC. Taxes we should be getting from that generous arrangement are less than half a million which leaves $3 million for operating expenses and it seems like this should make a profit for the City. Further there is a buyer and if we foreclose we get the total sale price of the building. It seems very straightforward and easy to do. This process would even facilitate the sale of the building as it removes the debt problem from the equation. So we would then be able to get this into the hands of someone else quicker. It would be nice to know that this was a one-time situation where a savvy developer hoodwinked the City into a deal where the developer could avoid payment, but that is not the case. The City uses the same tax and loan agreements on projects all the time, including the recent College Town project.

So they have not only failed to correct the problem with the Sibley Building but have expanded it a hundred times. If there ever was a reason to try something else it is with the Sibley Building, but our City leaders never learn and we keep accepting this as the only option for development. Hopefully someone in charge will wake up before the next major project falls through and costs the City (and the taxpayers) millions of dollars we do not have.

Listen to Alex...

...on Transforming Rochester on Rochester Free Radio. You can see when it's on at the Rochester Free Radio show schedule.

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