Friday, April 24, 2015

Freeport Downtown Development Foundation and Money

An article earlier this month in the Journal-Standard, Freeport's almost daily newspaper, written by Freeport Downtown Development Foundation Executive Director, Danielle Rogers, expressed the wishes of some in the downtown community that a Special Service Area be created to help fund FDDF activities.

A Special Service Area (SSA) is predetermined geographical area where a special tax is applied to all the properties within the said area, in downtown Freeport it has been proposed that all property owners would pay an additional one-percent of the equalized assessed value on their tax bill.  As EAV is one third of market value, the owner of a $120,000 downtown parcel would pay an extra $400 per year (as $40,000 is one third of $120,000).

For the past couple decades or so FDDF has been funded from Tax Increment Finance area of downtown Freeport.  Tutty's problem with creating an SSA or even continuing to give FDDF any public money at all is that the Freeport City Council has never created any rules or restrictions on how the money can be used.

Because Tutty has been around for so long, and Tutty has such a good memory, Tutty would like to take readers back to the earlier part of this century, 2002 to be exact.  Tutty is sure Freeport Mayor Jim Gitz will remember these events as he was not only Mayor at that time but an active participant as well.

A few Freeporters were concerned about spending City dollars for a new library building and went to the tremendous amount of work to collect the signatures of more than 10% of Freeport voters to force an advisory referendum on City funding (Freeport, like all Illinois municipalities with libraries have a separate tax for maintaining and providing library service).

The petition drive was successful and survived a publicly funded objection and appeal to the 15th Judicial Circuit Court but that's a different story for a different day.
Prior to the referendum a political action committee named Freeport Forward was formed.  The vast majority of the funding for this political action committee came straight from FDDF.  What's worse, much of the money that Freeport Forward collected ended up going to the Journal-Standard to provide misleading political advertising.   It also needs to be noted that the Executive Director of FDDF at the time was the publisher of the Journal-Standard, which explains why the local newspaper has never touched these facts with a ten-foot pole.

Here are a few pictures from the State Board of Elections website which detail the contributions and the expenditure of the same:

If you would like to double check Tutty's facts you can go to the Illinois State Board of Elections website at the following link: click on "committee search" and un-check the box that says "active committees" and search on "Freeport Forward".

Even after FDDF used public money for political purposes the Freeport City Council has yet to draft rules or put any restrictions on how FDDF can use the money it is allocated.  Maybe Mayor Gitz is hoping to be able to use these monies for some other type of political activity in the future if there is something he wants.

The Freeport City Council awards many organizations with public dollars, yet Tutty does not know of any rules put in place governing the expenditure of the same.  Why not Freeport City Council?  How many more times will something like this have to happen before you are roused from your self imposed blindness?

As always, yours in honesty, Tutty Baker

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Good Ole Boys Are at it Again

At the last meeting of the Stephenson County Board, members confirmed the appointment of Carl Larson to serve as State's Attorney for the remainder of John Vogt's term, as Vogt offered up a letter of resignation the month prior saying he would retire upon the "swearing in of his successor."

Stephenson County Board Chairman, Bill Hadley, hastily created a committee to interview and select candidates for the position.  The committee was made up of State Representative Brian Stewart, retired 15th Circuit Court Judge Theresa Ursin,  Sheriff David Snyders, Freeport Police Chief Todd Barkalow and local attorney David Shockey.

It is important to note that, with the exception of Chief Barkalow who lives in Ogle County, the other members of the committee either have been, or currently are, very active in the Stephenson County Republican Central Committee.

County Board member Jerry Clay did, and rightly so, question the appointment and was quoted in the Journal-Standard, Freeport's almost daily newspaper, as saying, "We're back in a position where the good old boys are going to decide who they have in office when they run again, I'm opposed to that"

Is there any merit to what Jerry Clay said?  Tutty thinks that there is plenty of merit.  Especially when considering that just a few days after the County Board meeting, now former Stephenson County State's Attorney was sworn in by 15th Circuit Court Judge James Hauser as an assistant State's Attorney for Stephenson County.

John Vogt either wanted to retire or he did not and no one is going to convince Tutty that this deal was not set up long before John Vogt  drafted his alleged letter of resignation.  Tutty wonders aloud if he even moved anything out of his office...and how convenient for young Mr. Larson, practically tripling his pay while having the incumbents' edge in the next election.

Maybe the five members of the search committee knew nothing of this arrangement, however it reflects badly on the integrity of all those involved.  But hey, this is Stephenson County, when has integrity ever mattered here...even to those that are sworn to uphold the law?  It's a crying shame, but isn't it true?

As always, yours in honesty, Tutty Baker

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Gitz Administration Continues to Rape the Poor

At tonight's Freeport City Council meeting aldermen will consider Ordinance 2015-25 which will increase every water bill in Freeport by a minimum of $6 (six-dollars).

In Tutty's opinion there is a myriad of things wrong with this proposal.

The increase will be to provide funding to pay back a proposed loan from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency for water and sewer improvements exclusively west of West Street in the City of Freeport.

While the IEPA requires a "public comment" period prior to approving such a loan, the public comment period was several months ago...long before the Freeport Water and Sewer Commission ever said where they would get the revenue to pay back the loan.

Tutty wants to know why the IEPA even requires such a public comment period when the details have not been completed?  How can the general public be expected to make public comments without such basic information?  If you too think this is wrong you may contact the IEPA at the address below:

Heidi Allen,
IEPA Bureau of Water Infrastructure Financial Assistance Section,
P.O. Box 19276,
Springfield, Illinois 62794-9276,
Phone: 217-782-2027

Ordinance #2015-25 includes a letter to the Freeport City Council allegedly written by Shaun Gallagher, the City engineer.  Tutty says "allegedly" because the letter sure looks like it was written mostly by Mayor Jim Gitz.  Here is a picture of the letter:

Notice the last sentence of the letter, "This approval will also allow the Commission to begin drawing from the loan, in order to cover engineering expenses that have accrued to date"

There you go Freeport, the Gitz administration is spending money prior to that money being authorized by the Freeport City Council.  In Tutty's opinion, this is plain wrong.  However, Tutty doubts if many of the City Council members will even notice, much less care.
Jim Gitz, in his weekly radio show last Thursday, said the increase in the Capital Improvement Surcharge on water bills was a "requirement" of the IEPA.  Here is a YouTube link of the recording of what Mayor Gitz said:

This is a blatant lie by Mayor Gitz, the IEPA only requires that there be a sufficient funding stream in place, in many Illinois municipalities it is unlawful to create such a surcharge on the water bills.  Because Freeport is home rule, they can establish such a fee and increase the same but the IEPA does not require any entity to create or increase any fee that was borne of home rule authority.

Why does the Freeport City Council tolerate a lying mayor?

But what Tutty  finds the worse about the aforementioned ordinance is that it will disproportionally affect Freeport's poor much more than others.  Six-dollars a month is much more to those that are barely squeaking by as it is.  This is one of those expenses that should be put on property taxes.  Why should someone that lives on an undersized lot in Freeport's Third Ward, where one manhole services many water hook ups, pay the same as someone who lives in Fox Hollow subdivision where there are two or three manholes per a single water meter and the lots are more than an acre?  This is a glaring example of Robin Hood in reverse, thanks to home rule authority.

How about it Mayor Gitz, Freeport City Council and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, how can you even consider such an obviously unfair way of retiring debt related to "public" improvements?  Tutty will be seeking comment from the IEPA on this issue.

Another huge problem, many in Freeport have a hard time keeping their water bill paid up in the first place, if this proposal goes through there will be a total of $20 per month on water bills just in fees,  many will end up getting their water shut off, not because they can't pay the water bill, but because these surcharges increase some bills by as much as 50%.

When the Big Four project was first announced, the Water and Sewer Commission told everyone that an increase from four-dollars to ten-dollars would be more than sufficient to cover Freeport's needs.  Now they seem to have forgot.

And Jim Gitz continues to wonder why Freeport is in such rapid decline.  Take your blinders off Mayor.

As always, yours in honesty, Tutty Baker

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Freeport's Needs

Tutty turns two-hundred-twenty-two years old today.  Tutty has seen much in these years, Tutty seen Freeport rise from the muddy banks of the Pecatonica River to one of the greatest transportation, industrial and insurance hubs in the, then, western United States.

Freeport has since fallen on more trying times, the automobile was invented and rail ceased to be the dominant form of travel and shipment.  Historic U.S. 20, America's longest highway, now bypasses Freeport.  Many of Freeport's numerous industries and insurance companies no longer have a presence here...swallowed by a bigger fish or simply left for temporarily greener pastures, the reason is of little importance.

With all eight Freeport City Council seats up for grabs next Tuesday as well as seats on the Freeport District #145 Board of Education, Tutty is surprised not to be hearing more about what Freeport truly needs just keep the boat afloat.

Freeporters have concerns, Tutty reads the e-mails people send and wonder why local media seems ignorant of the everyday difficulties of rank and file Freeporters.

Tutty will, God willing, be doing more to bring enlightenment to Freeporters and other area residents, Tutty is interested in hearing from you about what you believe Freeport's needs are and will be in the near future.  Please see the e-mail address below for correspondence.  And thanks for the Facebook birthday wishes.

As always, yours in honesty, Tutty Baker,

Friday, March 6, 2015

Freeport Pedestrians...Second Class Citizens

The City of Freeport spends much money to keep streets clear of snow and ice in the winter time.  After most major snow events the Street Department works nights cleaning the snow off downtown sidewalks and parking lots and trucking it to points yonder to sit in big piles until warmer weather turns it to water.

Tutty is amazed that as much taxpayer money that Freeport officials spend on snow removal, the basics, as far as Freeport pedestrians are concerned, never seem to be taken care of adequately.

Take a look at East Stephenson Street between Liberty Avenue and the Pecatonica River, this heavily travelled pedestrian route is never cleared of snow and ice.  In many cases the snow and ice is intentionally piled on the sidewalk by private businesses and Freeport Street Department workers themselves, forcing pedestrians, many of whom provide viable commerce to downtown businesses to violate City ordinances (and risk injury or death) by walking in the street.

Here are a couple of pictures:

North side of Stephenson Street looking west toward downtown Freeport, March 4, 2015
South side of Stephenson Street looking west toward downtown Freeport, March 4, 2015
Why can't the City of Freeport make sure that these sidewalks are kept passable for pedestrians.  They've been this way for more than two months.  Drive by this area around shift change and you will see numerous pedestrians walking in the street because, quite frankly, the City of Freeport is apparently blind to the issue even though many Street Department employees hauling snow drive right by numerous times throughout the day and evening yet no one seems to notice that the elephant has not only entered the room but has sat down in the easy chair and picked up the remote.
Why can't pedestrians expect better Mayor Gitz and City of Freeport officials?
As always, yours in honesty, Tutty Baker,

Thursday, February 5, 2015

NBC And Their News Editor, Brian Williams, Misled the American Public For A Decade Plus

In case you missed the news, and it would be easy to miss with corporate media in America giving everyone a steady diet of the three S's, Sports, Sex and Sellebrity (not necessarily in that order) Brian Williams, news editor and anchor for NBC Nightly News, admitted that him and his network have been lying about events that took place in Iraq nearly a dozen years ago.

Brian Williams, on numerous occasions, claimed to be in a helicopter that was hit by rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) and forced to land in the Iraqi desert.

Now Brian Williams and his bosses at NBC, say he "misremembers" the events of that day.  As if a sane person can forget the details of being fired upon and hit by RPGs only to remember the details a dozen years later and after the soldiers that were in the wounded aircraft complained.

But the real travesty in this story, in Tutty's opinion, is that Brian Williams still has a job and NBC still has sponsors.

While corporate media and corporate America, talk much about integrity, none of them, Tutty repeats, none of them apparently know how to walk the walk.

Corporate media blacklists individuals all the time, in many cases for much less than lying to the American public--repeatedly.

Brian Williams is referred to as a "journalist" yet Brian Williams obviously has got no idea what it actually means to be a journalist.  Real journalists are not liars.  They don't embellish, they enlighten.

So NBC, what are you going to do about a lying newscaster and editor?  And what about the major NBC sponsors?  What is their opinion on the Williams lies?

How many other lies have been told by American corporate media that have yet to be uncovered because others involved to not have a way to tell their side to the world.

When the Allied Forces took over near the end of WWII, the first thing they did was destroy Hitler's centralized media system saying it was bad for Democracy.

Tutty believes it as past the time for the United States to force the break up of this country's centralized media system.  Obviously, when NBC and its news anchor and editor can get by with a lie for over practically a dozen years without another media outlet crying foul, our media system is far too centralized and far too much against the type of free thinking and reporting real journalists insist upon.  Tutty would not have a chance at a corporate media establishment and it's not because Tutty lacks reporting skills...Tutty is simply too honest.

As always, yours in honesty, Tutty Baker

Saturday, January 31, 2015

An Increased Tax in Freeport? Tutty Would Bet On It.

Tutty has been trying to rest but must roll over temporarily in effort to bring light to the citizens of our fair city.

Don't look now but right before aldermanic elections the Gitz administration appears to be setting a fee increase (new tax) in place.

This coming Monday night the Freeport City Council will be asked to approve Ordinance #2015-09.  Basically this ordinance gives Mayor Gitz the authority to "make and application" for a loan through an Illinois Environmental Protection Agency fund.

Not just any loan, but a nearly $8 million loan.  Let Tutty say that again, an $8 million loan which will be placed directly on the backs of the businesses and people which rely upon the Freeport Water and Sewer Commission for this most basic of public utility.

While Tutty has numerous issues with the ordinance in question, for the purpose of this post, Tutty wants to concentrate on Section Four (4) of Ordinance #2015-09.  Linked here is the complete ordinance.

Section 4. Loan Not Indebtedness of City Of Freeport
           Repayment of the loan to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency by the City of Freeport pursuant to this Ordinance is to be from revenues generated by a Capital Improvement Program (CIP) monthly increase to system users in an amount sufficient to repay the loan over a twenty (20) year loan period and the loan does not constitute an indebtedness of the City of Freeport within the meaning of any constitutional or statutory limitation.

Note the words "monthly increase" in the above.  Tutty must wonder if and Freeport City Council members have even noticed those words.  Tutty's guess is most of them have not read the paltry six-page document.

How you can ask eight individuals to vote on a nearly $8 million transaction with only six-pages of paper is a mystery to Tutty.  A three-thousand dollar loan from the local banker is much longer than six pages.  Where are the financial specifics Freeport City Council?  And why are they not out in the open for you (and Tutty) to see?

Freeport residential water and sewer users already pay a ten-dollar ($10) monthly CIP surcharge.  Tutty has always taken issue with this fee as it applies equally regardless of if you live in a one-bedroom bungalow on an undersized lot in Freeport's Third Ward, or in a five-bedroom five-bath townhouse of Forest Road.  It does not take a rocket scientist to see the discrepancy.  Why should residents that live in areas where one sanitary sewer manhole can service a dozen or more homes pay the same for "capital improvements" to the shared system as those that live in grand houses that require practically a sanitary sewer manhole per residence.  Physics alone will prove that it is much more cost effective to deliver water and sewer service to a high density areas.

Regardless of Tutty's personal opinions on the issue of funding with what's going on in Freeport right now the current Freeport City Council should be asking much more in the way of questions and demanding a few answers before moving ahead with this project.

As always, yours in honesty, Tutty Baker