Monday, March 31, 2014

SIU President

The more I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that SIUC and SIUE should split and the position of president of SIU eliminated. The two universities have charted different courses for several years now.  SIUE pulls in students from the St. Louis metro east area and has seen steady increases in attendance over the past 15 years, with minimal amounts of drama.

SIUC, on the other hand, has seen slight but continual declines in attendance, turmoil at the top, and enough faculty dissatisfaction that both graduate students and faculty formed unions. The skills need to successfully guide SIUC are significantly different.  In business terminology, SIUE needs a leader focused on maintaining growth, while SIUC needs a turnaround specialist.

At one time, while SIUE was growing as a spinoff of SIUC, it made sense to have them both operate under the same leadership.  Today, much less so.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Bike Lanes

It appears that some funding has come to the city, with the result that that we will be getting two new bike routes striped out.  The city and IDOT will stripe one path along S. University from Walnut to Mill and the other along S. Illinois, also from Walnut to Mill.  Not certain how this will affect parking along the two streets but we should expect to see the bike lanes in place by late summer.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

West Sycamore

The contractor hired by the city finally finished the repairs Wednesday to West Sycamore after tearing the street up in 2013 to repair mains located along and under the street.  Though I am glad to see them completed and the new concrete does provide a smooth ride, march is certainly a long time past the promised Thanksgiving completion date given last fall.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Sales Taxes

Both sales tax increases passed last night, going into effect July 1.  Apparently they, along with some cost cutting measures, will leave the city with about a $40,000 surplus for fiscal 2015.

Received an email after last night's post pointing out that city ordinances exclude those renting a motel room for 7 days or longer from paying the hotel/motel tax. Since many of the hotels west of Giant City Road offer weekly and monthly rentals, most of the increased motel tax will come from those who stop in motels east of Giant City Road for only a night or two.

Also, Carbondale's high percentage of those with incomes below poverty level is symptomatic of all college towns. Students typically have very low incomes but generally receive support from families or other sources such as loans or Pell Grants.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sales Taxes and City Council

Still no cable broadcast of city council meetings, at least none that I can fine.  The council is supposed to vote on raising both the general sales tax and the hotel tax.

It is much easier for residents to support an increase in the hotel sales tax, simple because that tax is paid by visitors to the city, rather than by residents.  Only on rare occasions would a local  stay in one of Carbondale's hotel, though several local motels have become de facto residential motels, offering weekly and monthly rates, rather than relying on night by night clientèle.  Those using the motel as a residence will, of course, have to pay the higher tax, but said tax will not affect the larger population of Carbondale.

Similarly most residents will find raising the sales tax preferable an increase in the property tax, since the sales tax falls across all residents of Carbondale as well as those outside the city who travel here to work and shop. A property tax would concentrate the tax among a comparatively small sector of the population, moreso in Carbondale than in other communities, due to the roughly 70% of property in town owned by absentee landlords.  Most property in Carbondale is rental property, so any property tax increase would fall upon a comparatively small number of owners.

A sales tax increase spreads the burden out more widely, though it does fluctuate more than does a property tax and forces those who work here, but may live outside Carbondale, to help pay for municipal services they use when in town, increasing tax revenues beyond those which could reasonable be generated solely from residents (thought the argument that, since Marion's sales tax is higher than Carbondale's, we can more easily raise it seems somewhat specious to me).  The problem, of course, with the sales tax, is that it is regressive, taking a larger percentage from those with lower incomes than those with higher.  Arguably, property owners are significantly better off than the average Carbondale resident, roughly 66% of which lived below the poverty level in 2009, and could more easily afford an increase in the property tax than the average Carbondale resident could afford a sales tax increase.

Still, no mention of a property tax increase is on the agenda, so we shall probably see an increase in the motel tax tonight, as well as, after significant breast beating,  a sales tax increase.  Hopefully, the council enacts one with a sunset clause in it, requiring them to revisit it a few years hence.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Taxes at City Council

Proposals to purchase a couple of brand new vehicles for Building and Neighborhood Services and Meter Services and to increase local sales taxes are on the agenda for tomorrow's city council meeting.

While both the vehicles getting replaced are quite old ( 1986 in the case of Meter Services and 1996 in the case of Building and Neighborhood services), I still have to wonder about buying brand new vehicles. Given that the average new car drops 11% in value almost as soon as you purchase it, and that the city is still rather short on money, as evidenced by the taxes proposed later on the agenda, why not buy vehicles a few years older and save the money?

Also, tomorrow the council will vote on raising the city sales tax by 1/4% to  8.5% and the hotel tax by 1% to 9%, still cheap compared to the 14% I have seen in other locales.  Raising the hotel tax will generate an estimated additional $75,00 per year, while the sales tax would put an additional $1.04 million per year into city coffers.

The rationale for the increase is that due to the recession, local sales have not generated the expected and budgeted for tax revenues for the city.  Since I would be willing to bet these go through, I rather like the Chamber of Commerce's proposal of a sunset clause in the ordinance, forcing the council to re-enact the tax 2-3 years down the road.  If the economy picks up, the extra money would no longer be needed to support the budget and, if it is, the council should be able to justify it again.  Without some sort of end date, all ordinances such as this, enacted to deal with a particular problem tend to stay around while the problem they were enacted to deal with does not.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Request for Reconstruction Amendment

Received an email pointing out that Michael Kimmel's request for a change in the ordinance regarding the reconstruction of buildings built in Carbondale before 1974 is due mainly the the way in which many of those buildings were constructed.  Currently city ordinances require homes and outbuildings to set back from property lines.  Many older homes in Carbondale, built pre-zoning, come up right to the property line, especially the garages and other outbuildings and therefore do not conform to current standards.

The change would allow repairs and reconstruction of those buildings where they stand, without having to wait for natural causes to damage them, essentially grandfathering them in regarding placement on the lot while bringing them up to code in other ways. Many of the lots on which these buildings stand are pretty small and requiring movement of the building is likely not feasible in a number of cases.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

City Council Meeting

The City Council meets next Tuesday at 7 p.m .in the Civic Center, room 108.  Primary item on the agenda is the following proposed change:

PC 14-12, P. Michael Kimmel’s request for a text amendment that would allow the reconstruction of buildings built before 1974, in the R-1, Low Density Residential district without the necessity of the structure being destroyed by fire or other natural cause. The Planning Commission recommended approval of this text amendment.

It is my understanding that, currently, buildings in areas zones R-1 in Carbondale can not be rebuilt without the building being destroyed by fire or "other natural cause". This leads to a slow deterioration of the structures since the owner cannot rebuild them unless the building is destroyed, which seems a pretty drastic option to have to wait for.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Kevin Lucas Orchestra

Rreceived the following press release from Kevin Lucas.  India is a fur piece from Carbondale:

The Kevin Lucas Orchestra is in the process of recording a new album under the Raveolution Studios Record Label in Bangalore, India. The owner of the label, Ricky Kej, is an internationally acclaimed New Age/World Music Artist who is signed by and has released 7 albums with Virgin EMI, which is a new label formed by the merging of several international labels including Universal Music Group. Ricky has written over 3,000 jingles for radio and TV shows as well as composing music for commercials for companies such as McDonald's and Microsoft. Ricky Kej also composed the music for the 2011 Cricket World Cup Opening Ceremony. Ricky and Kevin met during the heated Grammy voting month in October of 2013. Kevin's album 'Revelations' was in the 'Best Pop Instrumental Album' category and Ricky Kej's latest album was in the 'Best New Age Album' category. "Ricky and I started talking during the process and he heard several of my albums throughout the years. He told me that my latest album 'Revelations' was a masterpiece. I didn't even know that he owned a very respected label and was with Virgin EMI until he offered to compose my next album for me and release it with his label! We had been talking for about a month before I even knew who he was", said Lucas. Lucas added "I am extremely honored to be able to work with an artist of Ricky's caliber. He is an absolutely mind blowing artist and a true modern genius". Ricky Kej has already composed the new KLO album and has brought in many instrumentalists and vocalists to accompany Kevin Lucas, who is the featured artist on the album entitled "Echoes in the Sand". Kevin plays marimba, vibes, hand drums, and world percussion throughout the album, which has been designed around Kevin's percussion performance. The album will be internationally released and marketed, along with 2 music videos, by Raveolution Studios in late spring. "I had 4 months to record an entire album! It usually takes me 3 years! It has been an amazing challenge. Ricky got the album ready for me and sent the entire Pro Tools sessions to Misunderstudio in Murphysboro, IL, where I have been relentlessly recording. Ricky generously gave me arranging and artistic freedom.  He said 'Make it sound like KLO, and you have 4 months!'", said Lucas. The music videos are being filmed in the deserts of India by Raveolution Studios, as well as additional footage of Lucas in Southern IL by famed local film maker Dan Johnson.  Ricky Kej will be flying to Southern IL in May to visit with Lucas and to oversee the progress. "I am taking him to Quatros!", said Lucas.
This has been an amazing year for Kevin Lucas after the breakup of his previous band was caused by the editor of Carbondale Nightlife, Chris Wissman, who published Lucas' letter to the editor without permission. This pivotal career event for Lucas caused a very negative PR crisis for him as well as affecting the members of KLO to disband. Lucas elaborated, "I look back now, and I have to say.......Even though I believe Wissman had negative intentions for publishing that letter, it set me off in a completely radically new musical direction and I would not be where I am right now otherwise. I would not have even thought about starting a solo career and releasing 'Revelations', which is the album that garnered so much attention in the Grammys this year. I didn't get nominated, but the Recording Academy was buzzing about it! Now I would like to thank Chris Wissman! This opportunity that I have with Raveolution Studios is something most artists wait their entire life for! I am very fortunate!".

Monday, March 17, 2014

Splash Park Funding

While I like the idea of a water park for Carbondale, I still wonder about the resources for it.  Although the Park district has funding for the building of the park, they will still need money to cover ongoing maintenance after the park opens.  Last time I checked, the CPD still owed quite a bit of money paying off the building of the District's golf course. The water park now means the CPD will have to provide money to maintain two fairly capital absorbing operations.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Online Business Workshop

In case you are free next Wednesday morning, the Chamber of Commerce will host a workshop on starting a business online and the risk therein:

Business leaders can learn the risks of taking business online during the next Carbondale Chamber of Commerce’s Business Builders Breakfast, set for 8:30 a.m., Wednesday, March 19.
The hour-long workshop will be led by Karen Cripps of The Insurance House, an area independent insurance agency. Cripps presentation will focus on how taking a business online opens up potential risks, including many that business leaders may not have considered or even been aware of before establishing an online presence.
The workshop will be at the Illinois Small Business Development Center located within the Southern Illinois Research Park, 1740 Innovation Drive in Carbondale. Each Business Builders Breakfast session is open to both Chamber members as well as others in the community. The cost of each session is $5 for members who RSVP or $7 for members at the door or non-Chamber members.
Business Builders Breakfasts is a series of informal, casual workshops on the first and third Wednesdays of each month. Each event features a modest continental breakfast, coffee and juice as well as lessons from area experts. The series a program of the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce and co-sponsored by The Illinois Small Business Development Center/International Trade Center at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
                For more information and to make reservations, business leaders may call the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce at (618) 549-2146.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Employment Termination Clause

According to this article in the Southern, SIU has inserted an employment termination clause in Randy Dunn's contract with the university. If he leaves the presidency of SIU within 3 1/2 years, he has to pay the university $250,000.

Given Dunn's track record of leaving his last two university positions early, when I imagine he describe the position at both of them as a "dream job", I can see why the BOT would want to cover itself should he find another "dream job".

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Intermodal Transit Center

Had a chat with Gary Williams, Economic Development Co-ordinator for Carbondale, this afternoon regarding the proposed intermodal transit center in Carbondale. The center would be located where the current Amtrak Station is and expand north into the empty lot where Animal Crackers stood.

The plan, as I understand it, is to expand the current Amtrak Station, incorporate a bus terminal for Greyhound into the structure and provide a centralized pick-up/drop-off point for all regional transit vehicles such as Saluki Express and Jackson County Transit, although they would still maintain their regular pickup schedule throughout the city.  Ideally, the facility would even have taxi stands or calling stations there as well as the office for the local Enterprise Rent A Car. while this would increase the likelihood of congestion in downtown, it would certainly drive more business into the heart of Carbondale, which would certainly help the community.

Sticking points are the need to work with the federal bureaucracy since Amtrak is a federal agency and the funding needed, which could be difficult given the city's projected budget shortfall of $1 million.  there is a meeting scheduled with Amtrak officials for July of this year but the city probably will not see the center put into operation much before 2020.

Friday, March 7, 2014

City Council Meeting

Attended Tuesday night's city council meeting for about an hour but had to leave about eight p.m. From what I have heard, I made a good decision as the meeting drug on until almost 1 a.m., due mainly to local organizations taking advantage of the council's blanket invitation for any group interested to apply to the council for funds.

I am not certain who thought asking more groups to apply for city funding was a good idea, given the budget constraints the city has been operating under for several years now.  Carbondale is looking at a $900,000+ shortfall in its budget, has put in place a requirement that any purchases over $250 must be approved by the city manager (hopefully, he will also look at overtime submitted by city hall staffers) and yet wants groups to come in to ask for already scarce funding.

Council members did advance several proposals to close the budget gap. Among those discussed were raising the package liquor tax, raising the food and beverage tax or approaching properties adjoining the city about annexation. A major problem in any plan to address city funding is the heavy reliance by the city upon the sales tax, rather than property taxes, as a funding source.

Property taxes do not fluctuate in response to the business cycle nearly as rapidly as do sales taxes, ergo they bring in a steadier stream of revenue to fund the city. Sales taxes change more in response to spending patterns but allow the city to shift tax revenues from residents to those who work and shop here, spreading revenue generation to those who use city services while in Carbondale but reside in lower taxed areas outside the city.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Expanded Alcohol Sales

According to this item from the agenda for tomorrow Liquor Advisory Board meeting,it looks as if the city will consider expanding the sales of all forms of alcohol at convenience stores and gas stations and allowing grocery stores that currently sell beer and wine to also sell package liquor:

Discussion of and Recommendations regarding Sale of Beer and Wine at Convenience Store/Gas Stations, Sale of All Packaged Liquor at Convenience Store/Gas Stations, and Sales of All Packaged Liquor at Grocery Stores.

This certainly ties in with discussion about increasing revenue at last night's city council meeting as increasing the tax on packaged liquor was one idea advanced to help reduce the gap between city revenues and expenditures. If I recall correctly, increasing the packaged liquor tax by 1% was projected to increase city revenues by between $100,000 and $200,000 per year.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Snow Removal

It looks as if the city has gotten a bit more serious about snow removal from sidewalks.  A representative from Building and Neighborhood Services stopped in to drop off a copy of the Carbondale Revised Code dealing with sidewalk snow removal.  Specifically, owners and occupants of properties adjoining in public sidewalks are required to clean them within 48 hours after the end of a snow or other freezing precipitation. Of course, being the city, instead of just saying clean a path off the sidewalk, the ordinance specifies said path must be at least 30 inches wide.