The Great Swindle – Part Two

THE “BALLPARK TIF” AND HARTMAN RUN BRIDGE

The so-called “Ballpark TIF” is a great scam. Via the Tax Increment Financing plan approved by the Monongalia County Commission and by the West Virginia state legislature, the county – the county? no joke – and the state are funding an artificial turf multimillion dollar baseball stadium for West Virginia University, an academic and service institution that, oh by the way, has its own multimillion dollar sports foundation, in essence, given that the WVU Foundation, a private nonprofit corporation with $1.2 billion in assets, gives millions of dollars to WVU sports. Does Monongalia County have a multimillion dollar sports foundation? It may as well have one now. This siphoning of county taxpayer dollars direct into the pockets of WVU to build WVU a ballpark is happening in the very same year that the state is otherwise cutting funding to WVU by millions of dollars – a wholly unethical swindle and juxtaposition that no one, let alone media, has yet remarked on.

Why lock in the TIF for 30 years? Even the developers say the proposed bonds will be paid off in 12-15 years.

So this is one of the great thefts going. This is how government is obliterated so that public funds are stuffed hand over fist into the wallets of wealthy and private interests. The public be damned. Meanwhile Monongalia County Commissioner Eldon Callen pleads poverty! can’t do a damn thing about repairing or replacing the Hartman Run bridge! Commissioner Callen is a huge reason for the impoverishing of the county. Can’t even upkeep a bridge. The County Commission may have to close down that bridge, say the Commissioners, without noting that the County has for decades neglected its duty to fix or replace that bridge that it owns and for which it is responsible. Pathetically, Commissioners Bartolo and Callen say the possible closing of the bridge is not their fault. It is their fault. It is entirely the fault of the County Commission which owns and is responsible for the bridge and which has failed to repair or replace it. The Commission pretends that it was jerked around by the WV Division of Highways regarding care of the bridge, but the county evidently never had any contractual commitment by the state to take over the bridge.  So the bridge remains the county’s problem. It’s the county’s bridge, in the county’s care, and it has long since been crumbling.

Funds that the county (and state) could have used to entirely replace the Hartman Run bridge will instead be directed to help fund the ballpark for WVU. The County is willing to divert money for WVU sports and for commercial profit over public development, and for a new interstate interchange, but is very unwilling to maintain or replace an existing heavily used bridge. That’s wrong any way one looks at it. First the county (also the state) should take care of its existing obligations to the public, and then if possible it should see how it may assist its primary constituents in far more publicly responsible ways.

The county and state should not be funding a baseball stadium for WVU, or, especially given the lack of meaningful public debate on the matter, for anyone else. The WVU Foundation or the WVU athletic department, and any other ballers, should build a ballpark for WVU, and any others, if they want one. The proposed baseball park is apparently such a worthless creation that Commissioner Callen fears it would be a money sinkhole – hence his push to give away the stadium, to WVU. Really, Commissioner, give it away? Is a multimillion dollar stadium built with taxpayer funds such a piece of junk that it cannot even be sold in the future for more than it was built for, or even sold for some significant portion of what it was built for? Can that even be legal – to give away a taxpayer funded facility rather than to sell it, or to auction it off? What sort of stewardship of public funds is that?

There go the county and state TIF taxpayer funds to the WVU baseball giveaway, and there go the TIF taxpayer funds to the commercial – not public – developers; taxpayer funds that could and should go to maintaining or even replacing the bridge over Hartmann Run; taxpayer funds that could and should go to better serve public needs, rather than to promoting the sprawl owned by a few. (The interstate interchange to be built by the TIF is a partial exception since it would be a public roadway.)

A lot of the TIF district is prime for development with or without any three-decade-long TIF flood of county and state funds. Much or all of that area is being developed or would be developed with or without the TIF plan, including immediately and in the near future, let alone over the course of the next three decades, thus inevitably generating a lot of county revenue without “locking in” county (or state) tax dollars to that one district. But now all the rest of the county has been locked out from all those county tax dollars. County revenues earmarked for the TIF district cannot be used elsewhere, not on the Hartman Run Bridge nor anywhere else, for the next 30 years.

It’s a scandal – first, last, and middle.

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