One colorful comment after another hissed from the lips of Aqua Indiana customers at last night’s hearing on whether the city of Fort Wayne should condemn the Aboite utility. Judging by the look on the faces of the four or five representatives of AI the comments were nothing new, had been heard before, but painful slings and arrows:
- “exorbitant rates for an inferior product;”
- “black water…like syrup;”
- “ring around the collar and the toilet bowl;”
- “my fish died;”
- “afraid to drink their water, afraid to cook with it;”
And, the oft mentioned
- “give me back my Fort Wayne water.”
The PR flacks from the Asher Agency who represented AI winced just a little more after each comment until their faces were etched with pain. Of just under 20 speakers only three defended AI and one was more critical of the City, less so a supporter of AI. It was announced that some 120 phone callers had voiced their support of the condemnation while only five had lobbied against it. At the end of the hearing the faces of the AI people, including the local number one, looked like war battered generals who just learned the barbarians had broken through. With no swords to fall on they eventually retired to Club Soda.
In contrast, members of city council looked absolutely buoyant. They had learned early in the afternoon that they would be spared the hot seat, that the administration and AI were close to an agreement on a buyout by the City of AI assets. Whew…mop that brow of sweat …a sense of giddiness had set in.
So, instead of two competing presentations of 45-minutes by each the city who wanted council to vote for condemnation and AI who wanted the city to leave their black water system alone – to be followed by a long line of angry residents testifying pro or con was modified; only the angry citizens would speak. Lawyers would handle the rest. Mark GiaQuinta, former city council member, was there for AI. Tim Pape made an appearance in his role representing city interests, his hair a bit longer, looking relaxed, rakish and the winner.
So, the hearing was not closed, it was suspended so that AI and the City can resume negotiations, but there is no doubt that the City won last night’s skirmish big. Sentiment was so overwhelmingly against AI that they should wave a white flag and hope not to be strung up by the citizenry.
The lingering question on the table was how would the City pay for the take over when it happens… which will be soon. Will customers who now buy bottled water at Kroger or Fresh Market pay enough to retire whatever debt is incurred? Will their rates go up? Will center city residents, not to mention those around Reed and State. Old Auburn Road, Winchester, Anthony, Rudisill and Gaywood see their rates increase so that a few guppies might survive? That is up in the air. Someone ask Pat Roller. Eventually, eyes will turn toward her door which I guess is firmly shut. Pity slumping sales at Fresh Market.
So, you can anticipate a deal in the next few days. You can expect a collective sigh of relief from Councilman Mitch Harper’s constituents. Mitch has spoken about this for years. And, guesses are that had a vote been needed last night council would have voted 9-0 or 8-1 to condemn. But, now it looks instead like they will vote to accept a deal, not force a take over; the customers of AI did that for them. The acrid scent of tar was in the air, feathers had been gathered and a rail was at the ready. Interestingly, this is an example where government will pick up the pieces from private industry… Apparently, sometimes government does do it better…
Also, on the bill last night were more tax abatements. Russ Jehl, at the end of the evening, noted that the secret abatement renaming committee (envision black hoods with eye-slits meeting surreptitiously for the past few months will issue forth a new set of guidelines upon which council can rubber stamp, with renewed vigor further tax dollar giveaways in the name of economic development. They will rename abatements “tax phase-ins” in the spirit of putting lipstick on a pig. Councilman Jehl said the rewrite would tilt more toward job creation than the present set of guidelines that are little more than a transfer of wealth from taxpayers to investors. Four abatements were mentioned last night: five jobs on a $5 million project; 104 jobs on a $6.4 million project, 84 jobs on a $12 million project, and, 358 jobs on a $20 million project at Sweetwater Sound. The goal of abatements should be job creation, not bottom-line enhancements for a very few investors, not a boon for purchasing equipment from China, but jobs. Three of the above-mentioned abatements seem to finally be doing just that. Limited congratulations to local labor leaders for revealing the rubber-stamp system that could not show whether abatement’s had done anything to improve the local economy. Limited in the sense that there are serious flaws in the current set of rules and because the rewrite was done behind closed doors, excluding those who had called the question in the first place, it is hard to tell whether this is reform or just a white wash.
To end the evening a highlight! Internationally renowned architect and local boy Eric Kuhne will be front and center at the next meeting of council as the series of Fifth Tuesday Fora conceived by Tom Smith is carried forward by Tom Didier. Kuhne made his name with his design of Headwaters Park, but now operates from an office in London and has created celebrated projects in Moscow, London, Istanbul and other great cities. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Kuhne He will speak on how best to develop Fort Wayne’s river front. The meeting is open and should be a treat for anyone who loves urban design, landscape design and just plain interesting discussion.