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The Political & Social Divide Created by a Township Project to Tax & Spend

While you were hustling and bustling to prepare for the upcoming holidays, the Westfield Washington Township Trustee and Board met on Thursday morning for an Executive Meeting followed by a Public Meeting. (Thankfully at 10 AM, rather than 8.) The purpose of the meeting was to discuss land contracts. Presented by Township Attorney, Christine Altman, there were two contracts to review today for approval of land acquisition. Approximately two-hundred acres in two parcels. The first parcel is located around 216th and Hinkle Road and the other parcel is “just west of the County Park,” which would be Bray Park for those of you who aren’t clear about where that is. (We kept hearing about land adjacent to MacGregor Park, turns out that’s not really true.) The appraisals have come in and each contract has been negotiated with contingencies. Financing, being the obvious problem. With the petition and remonstrance process beginning on the $15 Million Dollar Bond in mid-January, Ms. Altman feels confident that Randy Zentz (who appeared to be the realtor for the Township) has negotiated a deal that does not further obligate the Township if it’s not successful with the bonding. In other words, the Township isn’t on the hook for anything if the bond isn’t issued. Likewise, the seller is bound to close the deal under the terms of the agreement, should the money become available.

Also under this particular agenda item comes the “not-so-surprising” issue concerning an option to buy Wood Wind Golf Course. The option to purchase the golf course property is for $2.5 million and may be exercised any time between now and December 31st, 2020, however the option had to be taken around January 8th, 2019. The Township is prepared to let the developer know that, pursuant to the commitments previously made in January 2018, the Township will exercise their option (which was also open to just the City of Westfield or the City and the Township). The Trustee wants us to know that this has nothing to do with the current bond situation. What makes this statement so important? If it has anything to do with the bond, then it would be considered as having artificially divided a capital project into multiple parts to avoid the requirements of Indiana Code 6-1.1-20-3.1 (10)(c). As this would be legally actionable, it would be a huge no-no! Thanks for letting us know, Ms. Tolan. However, this should have you scratching your head while asking “If not the bond, then where will the money come from?” There wasn’t any talk about grants, so perhaps another $5 million-dollar bond, which would get them the $2.5 million they need. Here’s the real conundrum, according to the written commitments, it appears that the date of the sale doesn’t necessarily keep the golf course open through 2020. And nowhere has the township stated what they will do with it. Should the Township operate a golf course? Should all of the affected taxpayers pay for a buffer that will benefit very few people who live adjacent to the course? According to the linked ordinance, the Westchester PUD (Planned Unit Develop, for those who don’t know) set aside 41% of the total space in the neighborhood as greenspace. “Area C” must remain a golf course, a park or ag land according to its current zoning commitments. Would the Township pay for land that is already designated as greenspace just for the sake of buying it? Read the ordinance for yourself.

If you don’t remember the history of how this happened, or what led the neighbors to fight for their greenspace once already, enjoy this article from IBJ reporter Lindsey Erdody. The point is, the land was zoned to be left as open space with no threat of development.

Who’s the person or people behind the tax and spend idea while proclaiming greenspace preservation a priority? It’s your call, but none of us heard this particular alarm bell ringing last May. In my opinion, here’s what’s really happening. The homes in the township and the houses in the City of Westfield below the 1% tax caps will pay for this land. They’re going to be paying for land that benefits a very select group of people and sell you on the idea that it’s a great thing for the whole community. Folks in many subdivisions are now being told that they shouldn’t care because the tax won’t affect them, they’ll be getting something for nothing and they should be in favor of passing the levy. Since when do we care more about the politically correct idea of persevering greenspace and less about our neighbors?

The City Council and APC (Advisory Planning Commission) are approving PUD’s with 25% or more greenspace, which is a huge improvement from the past. Westfield Washington Township has double-the-amount of greenspace suggested by the National Parks and Recreation Association. That doesn’t even include greenspace in neighborhoods because it’s a number that just isn’t tracked!

Today, I witnessed the Trustee and outgoing Township Board approve contracts and an option to purchase land at a cost of approximately $8 million dollars in under ten minutes. Imagine what can be spent with more time and more money because they're asking you to approve $15 million dollars through bond issuance which will cost you $22 million with interest. Based on the recommendations from the National Recreation and Parks Association, if the Township were to purchase another 250 acres of land with the money they didn't spend today, a population of over 145,000 people could be supported and still be in line with the NRPA suggestion.

The township seems to care more about its land acquisition plan than preservation of someone else’s bank balance. If the priorities of the township trustee’s office are fire protection and assistance to the needy, does becoming a passive parks czar seem more important than burdening the budgets of friends on fixed incomes or those who have smaller homes? The township is ready to add an additional 300 acres (educated estimate) of passive parks space to our already-awesome greenspace total.

In closing, the Township Trustee has released several news statements claiming that this tax will cost those affected approximately $4 per year. Please think about the message and the math. Since businesses within any of Westfield’s many TIF districts will not pay toward the tax, that leaves the bulk of it coming from the residents who live in the unincorporated areas. $22 million dollars divided by approximately 1200 township residents for 20 years. Does that sound like $4 to you? Political and social divisiveness will get us nowhere. I encourage you to Vote NO by signing the BLUE PETITION on or after January 16th.

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