The city had a public meeting on December 4th regarding the city budget. I’ve raised concerns in the past about increasing taxes for a trail that doesn’t have a budget. I wrote quick notes to have in case I chose to speak. I did speak, but because comments by others prior to my speaking, I went off script. While I didn’t present what I wrote below, I did speak on the overall topics presented. I spent a little more time talking about needing a better understanding of the return on the investment of the trail. If the trial is going to provide $300 million (or some number) of economic growth, then why do we need to increase taxes? What portion of that growth will come to the city and thus cover the cost of the trail?
I share the following as what I prepared as my notes to use in talking on the Fishers City Budget and the Nickel Plate Trail tax increase.
Nickel Plate Trail Feedback
Brad Jones, November 4th, 2018 – Feedback to Fishers
Thank you for allowing me to take a moment of your time.
I’m Brad Jones and I live in Stevenson Mill across from Conner Prairie. This neighborhood is the one that had four wrecks in the span of 12 months on Allisonville at the neighborhood entrance. People turning into the neighborhood have a tendency of getting rear-ending as cars try to illegally pass on the right side of them. I was told two people later died as a result of the accidents during that period.
How does this relate to budgeting for a trail?
Near the time of the fourth accident within 12 months, I asked for a bump out or blister to be added to Allisonville to help improve the safety by giving cars a way to pass. The response from the city was that such an expense was not in the budget. It was not in the budget, but as a consolation, they would put a sign at the north end of Conner Prairie warning to watch for turning cars. Even after a follow-up or two, the sign was never put up.
A lack of budget.
Four wrecks in 12 months would have likely put the entrance to Stevenson Mill into the top 20 locations for accidents in Fishers if it were an intersection.
My kids are in jeopardy every time we turn into the neighborhood going South on Allisonville.
Lack of budget prevented a safety change.
This is just one area where budget doesn’t support a safety update. I recall a person mentioning sidewalk safety issues along Fall Creek – but again there was no budget to address all the sidewalks that are needed across the city.
Did I mention people died?
If you said you were increasing taxes for safety reasons – or to do things that benefit the community in a way that increase safety – such as updating fire stations — then I’m sure people would support it within reason.
But, when safety issues are outside of the budget and don’t warrant increasing taxes, then how do you justify raising taxes for an asphalt sidewalk?
People died. My neighbors were seriously hurt.
Question One: Where are the Real Numbers?
So let’s say the city does raise taxes and forge ahead with the trial….
Then that raises two questions I’ve been asking. The first is, where’s the budget or plan?
Understandably, you can’t have a solid budget until you have a plan. You can, however, have an estimate that is realistic and relatively close for a baseline. This isn’t the first asphalt sidewalk, err, trail to be built.
An estimate that is closer to reality based on the speculation for road crossing costs, the $1 million dollar a trail mile, and a rough idea of some of the base feature costs. Of course, to be complete, there is an expectation that this would include an estimate for connecting the side road sidewalks to the trail on locations like 106th and 131st where the sidewalks don’t connect all the way to the tracks – areas where there are streams or other obstacles that are going to add substantially to the cost.
Being that connectivity has been a big part of the promotion of the trail, an estimate of costs should also include how the 96th Street and 146th Street crossing will be covered along with information on when Indy and Noblesville will be building from those locations. Those two locations are going to be outrageously expensive if safety is a factor. Even though it has been called out as being substantially wrong, the Nickel Plate Trail FAQ continues to promote a deceptively low cost of $4.4 and a promise to “value engineer for cost savings.”
As a side note, the FAQ also says the timeline for the first phase is 2019-2020. What is not stated in the FAQs about the timeline is that (based on comments from a community meeting), the suggestions being solicited from the public are part of a 20-year plan – a plan that means they kindergartners helping with designs might be graduating college before they are implemented.
Question Two: Why the Redundant Section First?
The second question, I’ve raised before as well. If you are going to spend tax dollars on the trail, then why pick 106th to 126th Street as the initial phase rather than focusing on the areas that would extend existing trails? With existing trails between 106 and 126 that are near the tracks (one of which I believe is even called Nickel Plate Trail), it seems like it would be more valuable to the community to do 96th to 106 or 131st to 146th first. With the new business center South of 106th, going South would seem to make a lot of sense. These trails could connect to the existing trails at Cheeney Creek Nature Park and the trail at 131st and Lantern Road.
Trains and Mass Transit
Finally, I’ll add that I’m not a “save the train” person.
I like trains, but the train derailed a long time ago. Having said that, the feedback from Amazon indicated that mass transit was one of the key reasons that many cities lost bids. Having a Mass transit system in and out of Fishers going into Indianapolis could do wonders for the city – especially as the need for low-wage workers increases (bring them into town) and as the number of destinations within Fishers that need customers also increases. Having an existing corridor that could be used for such transportation could be a boon.
A return of the train has been suggested for this as has light rail, but there are other options that could be used for building consistently scheduled mass transit as well – electric busses or trams down a dedicated pathway are a prime example that would require a much smaller right of way. These could be done with a ‘share the path’ approach. They could also be done on similar asphalt to the trail – instead of rails.
When it comes to the cost….
When it comes to the tax cost to fund the trail, the comment is that “The tax increase is only a penny to a penny and a half”. The wheel tax is only $25, and the last school referendum was lower than our neighboring city.
The residents of Fishers don’t pay just the penny; we pay the aggregate of all the pennies, nickels, and dimes. This equates to hundreds of pennies that result in thousands of dollars for most of us. While city taxes might be lower, the net tax that resident of Fishers pay is higher than neighboring cities.
If you ask us if we’d rather our pennies go to updating an amphitheater, building a trail, or instead go with safety issues such as fixing pot holes and adding SROs to our school, then I will speculate that the response will be overwhelmingly be the later. Granted, those are safety issues, so while the residents would choose fixing pot holes and adding SROs, the city ‘leadership’ has already indicated their priority.
If we can’t do the trail without raising taxes and without taking from other more critical projects, then we shouldn’t do it. If there is the chance for economic payback, then show the numbers in a plan. Show the increase in revenue for the city that would not have otherwise been generated. Compare that to the cost of the trail with normalized dollar values. I would expect such ROI to be part of a plan / budget you’d create before money was spent – let alone before a tax increase was considered.
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Noblesville’s rendering of their part of the trail. A stroll between two roads….