Sunday, December 11, 2011

Eminent domain is taking a bad rap

Originally published in the Tuscarawas County edition of the Bargain Hunter.

One of the complaints I heard more than a few times about the Dover Board of Education’s bid for passage of a bond issue for a new high school was that it was considering eminent domain to acquire a suitable property on the city’s north end.

I found that reason for a “no” vote to be rather curious because, in this particular case, eminent domain would protect taxpayers’ dollars.

As I understand it – and I will welcome clarity from those involved – here’s how the eminent domain issue came about.

When Dover first inquired about the parcel, it asked the owners if it could conduct the necessary tests to determine whether the land would be suitable on which to build a high school. The owners agreed. After the land passed the tests, the school board then sought an independent appraisal of the property and subsequently offered $1 million as a result of that appraisal.

The owners of the land turned down that offer. Dover, in turn, asked if the owners recently had sought out their own appraisal, indicating that the board was willing to meet somewhere in the middle. The owners indicated there was no appraisal on their behalf and that Dover should just continue to make offers until it made the right one.

So, the board in its discussions about the ballot initiative said it would employ eminent domain to acquire the land which would guarantee a fair price for not only the property owners but for Dover taxpayers as well. Certainly, Dover taxpayers would protest a blank check handed to the property owners.

The blanket condemnation of eminent domain is not deserved. Certainly, it has been misused in efforts to rid communities of urban blight, but without it, we might not have the interstate highway system or airports that can handle jet aircraft.

And that new north Dover I-77 interchange? Ever read anything about property owners protesting the amounts awarded for their land so the state could construct it? Nope. Most folks are well-compensated in such situations (although there’s some obvious hate for the process along the new Rt. 161 east of New Albany, judging from the messages to the Ohio Department of Transportation that are scrawled on some structures and that apparently were caught in construction crossfire).

So, the Dover Board of Education has decided not to put the new school issue on the March ballot, a move that’s understandable given the degree of the issue’s defeat in the November election. But what are the ballot options now?

That’s not real clear, given that Ohio currently has scheduled two primary elections, the other being in June for federal candidates, including president, U.S. senator and U.S. representative. It is not certain whether the two primaries ultimately will kill a date in August for a special election, which might leave the November election as the last possible opportunity for Dover to still qualify for a $9.5 million grant from the Ohio Schools Facilities Commission.

If there is no special election date and you’re a strategist of sorts, which election would you prefer your bond issue on the ballot – June or November?

I suspect both elections will draw plenty of angry voters with or without the Dover bond issue on the ballot and angry voters don’t vote “yes” on much of anything.

I still believe that the front of Dover City Park offers the best site for a new high school, but there’s still nary a word from anyone connected to the city about that possibility.

I think it’s because Doverites think the City Park is sacred ground and it should stay just the way it is forever. But if you take a detached view of things, you’ll notice the entrance to the park is underwhelming – where’s the arch? – and that chain link fence around the tennis court seems to play a vital role in the aesthetics.

By the way, we’ve heard of a couple high-level executives recently hired by a Dover company who opted to buy homes in Jackson Township and North Canton because of the inadequacies of Dover educational facilities, especially the high school. Who needs them, right?

(Someone now is preparing to fire off an angry e-mail, telling me that if I don’t like it I should move.)

Well, hand it to the Cleveland firefighters for throwing away any good will Ohio public employees received in the wake of the repeal of Senate Bill 5, the collective bargaining law.

According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, an audit of firefighters’ timesheets and pay records “shows the fire department doesn’t pay close attention to rules that allow firefighters to easily trade work shifts, take time off for funerals and call in sick. The result is a system that is being abused by at least a handful of firefighters.”
One firefighter, the paper said, was “commuting” from his home in California to his job in Cleveland. Another apparently didn’t work in the winter, scheduling all of his vacation days during cold weather, presumably so he could spend time in a warmer climate.

The paper said sick time was inaccurately paid and paperwork screwed up. The list of administrative issues goes on and on. The Cleveland Fire Department has a $38 million payroll and no one, it seems, is watching the firehouse.

And that’s a truism, too.

Apparently, a couple of Cleveland firehouses had to be closed over the Thanksgiving holiday because too many firefighters called off sick. That’s right, even in the wake of news about widespread payroll abuses, the Cleveland firefighters still seemed to be working the system.

Why am I not surprised?

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Taking things in reverse order as presented in your column...

Re: Cleveland firemen...Human nature is such that every loophole will be exploited for individual advantage. You do it. I do it. We all do it. Whether it's a loophole in the tax code, a loophole in the work rules, or a loophole in the law. Firemen (some) exploit the work rules to their advantage. Some public and private sector workers are devoted to doing as little work as possible. In my workplace...and in your former workplace I'm sure...there are/were slackers who sneak in late, take off early, abuse the lunch hour, game the vacation system, and goof off every chance they get. Those people are bad enough, but perhaps even worse is the management system that is unaware of, tolerant of, or excuses this behavior.

Re: The Dover school controversy...Frankly my dear, I no longer give a @#&!. I don't live in Dover. I don't have any kids in school. I don't have a dog in that fight. Thank goodness. My past interest was merely philosophical. The argument was made that this tax levy would bankrupt the district's property owners. If that were TRUE, then the levy SHOULD be defeated. However, recent evidence points to a different reality. Consumer spending for Christmas is setting new records, the shopping malls are booming, car sales are up, and it appears that the majority have money to burn. I'm not going to expend one more second worrying about the future of the Dover Schools. Those naysayers deserve exactly what they've voted for. And if they choose to have a new iPhone rather than a new high school...go for it.

RE: eminent domain...There are instances when overwhelming public interest dictates that government use due process (check the Constitution) to obtain needed property for a highway, airport, or other public works. If you look at the track record of eminent domain I think you'd find that the taxpayer is usually gigged in the process to the advantage of the property owner. In many cases the property owner is more than glad to unload their property and get a premium price for it. Without eminent domain (or its existence as a last resort) we would have no highways, no airports, no public infrastructure like sewers and water plants, and yes, some schools would not have been built. In Dover, perhaps one governmental entity (the school district) should use eminent domain to obtain property from another governmental entity (the City of Dover).


P.S. If you have to move, let me know when you find someplace with lower taxes than our T-county communities. I don't expect to hear from you anytime soon.