Editorial Roundup: Indiana

 
 
Updated 11/9/2021 2:00 PM

Columbus Republic. Nov. 4, 2021.

Editorial: Eviction alternatives aid tenants and landlords

 

Initiatives aimed at reducing evictions in Indiana are presenting tenants and landlords new opportunities to work together so that renters aren't put out on the street. Property owners also can benefit from new programs that aim to stabilize housing and reduce evictions, which are costly for renters and landlords.

A statewide pre-eviction diversion program went into effect Monday. There is funding available to assist people who fell behind on their rent due to COVID-19, and among other things, the program aims to help expedite this aid that's been slow-moving in Indiana.

Under the pre-eviction diversion program authorized statewide by the Indiana Supreme Court, tenants and landlords will be offered the opportunity to mediate before a formal eviction proceeding goes to court. Renters will be able to apply for the diversion program if an eviction action is filed against them.

As Bartholomew Superior Court 2 Judge Jon Rohde explained, the program is 'available only if both parties to the eviction agree to participate. ' We will give the proper information to the parties about the program, and then inquire if both parties agree to resolve their dispute through the program,' Rohde told The Republic's Mark Webber. 'If they both agree, a case management plan will be developed to ensure the case is resolved. If they do not agree, the eviction would proceed according to the normal legal eviction process.'

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This is a good, common-sense program. We encourage tenants and landlords to take the opportunity to work toward agreements where everyone benefits, and to explore whether some form of rental assistance may be available. After all, the rules are different, and the opportunities for compromise and agreement are greater, when both parties are at the same table working toward a resolution instead of at opposing tables in court.

The need for this kind of program in Indiana cannot be understated. According to the nonprofit Eviction Lab, the Indianapolis area has the 14th highest rate of eviction in the nation. Eviction Lab says 7.27% of Indianapolis-area renters faced eviction in 2016. Fort Wayne was even higher - No. 13 in the nation with an eviction rate of 7.39%. South Bend was 18th with a rate of 6.71%.

Through Oct. 28, 346 evictions were filed this year in Bartholomew County. Comparisons with prior years are difficult because Indiana courts only recently began specifically tracking eviction cases.

Beyond the statistics, every eviction can devastate and stigmatize tenants, especially families. Children frequently are forced to change schools, and renters may lose property when it's piled on the street or placed in storage.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

And those are only the immediate impacts. Evictions become a part of a person's record, which can harm their ability to secure new housing and can lead to job loss and affect a person's mental health. According to Eviction Lab, 'The evidence strongly indicates that eviction is not just a condition of poverty, it is a cause of it.'

We don't dispute there will continue to be cases where eviction will be necessary. But where there is a will among renters and landlords to avoid the pain, hardship and expense of eviction, the courts have provided a way.

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KPC News. Nov. 7, 2021.

Editorial: Solar free pass raises questions

Commercial grade solar fields could represent a major investment and tax boon for northeast Indiana.

So why would counties give a developer a free pass for a decade?

In a discussion before the Noble County Council last week, Noble County Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Gary Gatman informed council members that developers would likely seek a big tax abatement for a new solar development. Gatman said, typically, those developers would seek a 100% abatement for 10 years.

The abatement would lead to tax increases on real property (the increased value of the property itself), but not on the hundreds of millions involved in the installation of new equipment.

In researching the counties mentioned by the NCEDC who have reached solar deals for large scale commercial operations, only one of the three examples provided included a 100% abatement over 10 years.

Gatman's assertion that the upfront economic development 'gifts' from the solar companies range from $2 million to $6 million is also not backed up by the details of the agreements with the counties provided by the EDC. (The 'gifts' are to offset the fact that solar installations are not large job creators and the 'gifts' can be used for projects that benefit county residents.)

The NCEDC said the information on which they based the impact estimates and that fed Gatman's comments about what other communities are doing has come from multiple sources over the past few months. 'While we have not had specific conversations with any particular counties in Indiana, we have heard of a variety of incentives and economic development agreement structures that range all the way up to 100% 10-year abatements in those conversations. We have spoken to Tony Garrison at Nexus, Geenex, and other LEDOs along the way, not seeking specific examples, but to understand the range of considerations.'

Matt Getts, our reporter who has been following this issue closely, Thursday found these details in newspaper reports:

Gibson County - A five-year abatement was given at 100%, with a $1 million upfront donation to the local EDC.

Vigo County - A 10-year traditional, sliding scale abatement on $100 million of a $160 million project. No mention of any incentive gift.

Knox County - A 10-year, 100% abatement with a $2.5 million economic gift to the EDC over six years.

Tax abatements help businesses defray the front-loaded cost of establishing or expanding a business in Indiana. In exchange for making a large investment in a building or new machinery, in hiring new employees and paying them good wages, a local government agrees to give them a break on their taxes.

The thought process here is that, yes, the county/city/town loses out on some taxes, but comes out way ahead in the long run because of future taxes on that investment, as well as income taxes paid by workers and the benefit of having employment for local residents.

A solar field, while a large investment - estimated at as much as $300 million - isn't going to be a huge job creator post-construction. Solar panels can do their work without requiring much human intervention beyond needed maintenance.

Unlike an industrial building that could reasonably exist on the tax rolls for decades, the stated lifespan of solar panels is 30 years. The value of that equipment will depreciate each and every year.

Unlike an industry, there seems to be little opportunity for periodic growth. Short of leasing more land and adding more solar panels, a solar field isn't likely to add new equipment or new investment like a manufacturer might if their business grows and does well.

Gatman noted that in lieu of taxes, developers instead typically offer an upfront cash payment that can total in the millions to the county in exchange for the tax abatement.

But if a solar developer has finances to drop a few million upfront, it raises the question, why exactly couldn't they just pay taxes instead? Why the quid pro quo?

That arrangement raises red flags. We must ensure that whatever deal is reached does not short change Noble County monetarily.

The discussion has also been a part of meetings in DeKalb County as the DeKalb County Commissioners continue to study their options in developing an ordinance to deal with tax abatements for commercial solar projects.

The DeKalb County Commissioners will take their first steps toward an ordinance on Monday when they put a recommendation forth for a commercial project being constructed by Auburn Renewables just west of the Auburn city limits. The DeKalb County Council Tax Abatement Committee will meet before Tuesday's council meeting to discuss a proposed economic development agreement between Auburn Renewables LLC and DeKalb County.

We support solar development in northeast Indiana for its potential positive environmental impact and diversification of the national energy portfolio.

Solar represents the potential for huge investment on a scale not often seen here and one that would present a fiscal benefit to local governments and taxpayers.

However, more analysis and discussion are needed in order to fully illuminate tax abatement's long-term costs and benefits.

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The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. Nov. 7, 2021.

Editorial: City a model for state on police reform

After prodding from The Journal Gazette, a report on state-level law enforcement agencies was released last week. It offers hopeful recommendations to revamp the training, tracking and practices of thousands of Indiana's officers.

Gov. Eric Holcomb commissioned the report after pledging in 2020 '" amid a national reckoning on police use of force '" to foster 'an inclusive and equitable environment for all Hoosiers to take part in.' He made it public Oct. 25, following a public records request from JG Statehouse reporter Niki Kelly.

The 100-page analysis of policies, procedures and training materials from agencies such as the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, Capitol Police Services, Gaming Police and State Police suggests adding civilian oversight to some agencies. Hillard Heintze, the Chicago firm hired by the state to write the report, found the Indiana State Police tracks use-of-force incidents, but it doesn't have in place a way to flag problem officers '" something the firm says warrants changes.

Police agencies also should make training uniform at police academies, including one run by the Fort Wayne Police Department, according to the assessment. Each now has its own curriculum and training.

Some changes, such as outfitting state troopers with body cameras, already have been made. Agencies have committed to others, including establishing a de-escalation response program at the state Law Enforcement Academy.

The danger inherent with any report is that it becomes nothing more than a dust collector on a shelf in some high-level official's office. The state shouldn't let that happen, and leaders such as Holcomb can help ensure recommendations become reality by continuing to push for improvement.

'I will continue to do my part to assure the citizens of Indiana that law enforcement officers are operating according to the highest standards,' the governor said in a statement announcing the release of the Hillard Heintze report.

The work of a local panel with Fort Wayne police provides a framework.

The city's Commission on Police Reform and Racial Justice was created in June 2020, around the same time Holcomb issued his pledge. Members worked for about a year on recommendations, which were released this year.

Some '" body cameras, better training for police '" were already being acted upon. But the process didn't end with the issuance of the recommendations.

Commission members and police continued to talk, leading to more action.

Training on diversity and inclusion is now mandatory for each of Fort Wayne's nearly 500 officers. A goal to equip 300 of them with body cameras by the end of next year is on track to be met, Fort Wayne Police Department spokesman Jeremy Webb said last week.

The Fort Wayne Board of Safety was expanded from three to five members.

The city on Thursday highlighted the work of two recently hired social workers, another suggestion that came out of recommendations from the commission. The social workers, paid for with grant money from the Lutheran Foundation, have helped police direct 167 people struggling with substance abuse to therapists and social service agencies.

City Councilwoman Michelle Chambers, who co-chaired the local commission, said Friday that communication and transparency were key to achieving action. Studying the impact of the changes should come next, she said.

'I am very happy with our progress,' Chambers said. 'We're definitely heading in the right direction.'

Webb said open lines of communication and transparency are essential to building effective relationships.

'Collaboration is the cornerstone for successful outcomes,' he wrote in an email.

Holcomb and state police agencies should take note.

END

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