Friday, May 23, 2014

Trib-Star Reports Terre Haute Redevelopment Commission Contends City Took TIF Money

From the Terre Haute Tribune Star:

A fight over money and authority seemed to be at the root of a inter-City Hall dispute aired before the public at Wednesday’s meeting of the Terre Haute Redevelopment Commission.

Cliff Lambert, executive director of the city’s Department of Redevelopment, opened the 4 p.m. meeting by reading a nine-minute statement to the five-member commission, which manages the city’s tax increment finance (TIF) districts.

In his statement, Lambert said the Mayor Duke Bennett Administration has withdrawn approximately $3.4 million from Redevelopment Commission bank accounts in the past few weeks.

By withdrawing funds from those accounts without consulting with the Redevelopment Commissioners, the administration has “violated your trust, the public’s trust and mostly likely state of Indiana statutes,” he stated.

Lambert, who sat at the head of the commissioner’s table and before a room of about 27 people, said the “story goes back to” 2010 when the city attempted to “borrow” TIF money for cash flow reasons. Lambert said he angrily rejected that attempt at that time.

Now, the city is doing the same thing, Lambert said. This time, however, the Redevelopment Department has turned over its check books to Leslie Ellis, city controller, in accordance with a new state law widely seen as weakening the autonomy of Redevelopment Departments around the state. Soon after getting the books, Ellis began withdrawing TIF and other Redevelopment funds, he said.

In all, there have been at least three withdrawals, Lambert said. Two of them coincided with “employees pay periods,” implying the money was needed to make payroll.

TIF money cannot, by law, be used for city operating expenses, Lambert insisted.

After Lambert’s statement, Commissioner Brian Conley made a motion that the commissioners ask Ellis to return all of the money to the Redevelopment Department’s checking accounts. Ellis agreed to begin the process. Speaking after the meeting, she said she would do her best to return the funds to those accounts.