Trail Plans Launched in Owen County

19 Dec

I was very excited to see that our neighbor to the west, Owen County, has launched plans for a trail network that organizers are calling MYpath. The long-term plan is to connect the Owen County Family YMCA and the schools west of Spencer to the downtown area, and will also include a riverfront trail along the White River. The plans are to eventually connect to McCormick’s Creek State Park. Which makes me think — maybe we can eventually connect the MYpath network to the Monroe County Active Transportation Network?

The project is a cooperative effort between the Owen County Community Foundation, the Owen County Family YMCA, and the Owen County Soil and Water Conservation District (and Executive Director Kelsey Thetonia). The group also received a $60,000 grant from the Smithville Charitable Foundation.

More information on the project can be found in this article from the Spencer Evening World.

The full link can be found here:

http://www.spencereveningworld.com/news/2014-12-12/Front_Page/Local_Groups_Announce_MYpath_Trail_System_Launch_S.html

Thank you to the Spencer Evening World for giving permission to post the full article.

Next Phase of Karst Farm Greenway Begins

11 Dec

Late in October I wrote about the Karst Farm Greenway’s first phase nearing completion here. The Karst Farm Greenway is the north-south backbone of Monroe County’s active transportation network. Phase 1 runs from Karst Farm Park at the south to Vernal Pike at the north, where it ties in with the new Northwest YMCA. And while Phase 1 is not completely finished, it is fully usable (and used!), lacking only some signage, plantings, grass seeding, and a few other finishing touches.

And there is more good news for trail enthusiasts! Eagle eyes may have noticed a number of stakes planted in the ground along Loesch Road, north of Vernal Pike. As of this week, the next phase of the greenway, so-called Phase 2A, is already under construction! Phase 2A runs along the west side of Loesch Road, from Vernal Pike up to the railroad track, just south of Woodyard Road — just under a mile of new trail. The following map roughly shows the path of this phase of the greenway:

Karst Farm Greenway Phase 2A

Karst Farm Greenway Phase 2A

The following map shows both Phase 1 and Phase 2A on the same map. By the Spring of 2015, all of this will be complete!

Karst Farm Greenway Phases 1 and 2A

Karst Farm Greenway Phases 1 and 2A

Here are a few pictures of the staked areas that will eventually become Phase 2A:

Phase 1 Meets Phase 2A at Vernal Pike

Phase 1 Meets Phase 2A at Vernal Pike

Trail Goes Through the Woods West of Loesch Road

Trail Goes Through the Woods West of Loesch Road

Trail Behind the Post Office Processing Facility

Trail Behind the Post Office Processing Facility

Trail Crosses Over Old Vernal Pike

Trail Crosses Over Old Vernal Pike

This last picture shows the northern terminus of Phase 2A. A trailhead will be constructed just south of the railroad track.

Northern Terminus

Northern Terminus

Phase 2A concludes the portion of the Karst Farm Greenway that is already funded. The last phase, Phase 2B, which is not yet funded, continues on from the railroad tracks pictured above, and follows the Monon line all the way to downtown Ellettsville.

Complete Karst Farm Greenway

Complete Karst Farm Greenway

Preview of Monroe County Council Meeting Today 2014-12-09

9 Dec
2014 Monroe County Council

2014 Monroe County Council

Today’s meeting looks to be a long one for the Monroe County Council. Unfortunately I’ve run out of time, and so this preview won’t be as detailed as some of my previous notes. However, I still wanted to make sure that the public was aware of several important and substantive issues on tonight’s agenda.

The following are the major issues on the agenda:

  • The Commissioners plan to invest $3.2M in an major infrastructure replacement for county buildings, and plan to fund part of it as a (statutorily-defined) “guaranteed savings program”. The infrastructure upgrades include:
    • Replacement of HVAC equipment that is at the end of its useful life at the Showers, Johnson, Health, and Justice buildings
    • Expanded control systems for reduced maintenance and troubleshooting and increased equipment reliability
    • Lighting retrofits
    • Building envelope improvements (Justice, Showers, Johnson, Health, Courthouse, Youth Services, Highway Garage, Fiscus, and Curry buildings)
    • Water conservation at the jail and reduced wastewater charges through a cooling tower sewer credit
    • Expansion of the Lucid energy consumption dashboards to Justice, Johnson, Health, Courthouse, Youth Services, Highway Garage, Fiscus, and Curry buildings (these dashboards are accessible to public here: http://www.buildingdashboard.com/clients/monroecounty/)
    • Transformer replacement at Showers and Courthouse buildings
    • Installation of interior storm windows at the Courthouse
    • Expansion of the existing solar panel array on the Showers building by 88.5 kilowatts to a total of 152.25 kilowatts
  • $1.6M of the costs will be paid for out of the existing 2015 General Obligation bond that has already been approved. The Commissioners are asking for County Council direction as to how to fund the remaining $1.6M. There are several options being considered, including:
    • A General Obligation bond for 2016
    • Qualified Energy Conservation Bonds, which allow local governments to borrow for energy conservation projects at attractive rates. However, this option is not likely to be selected, for a number of reasons, including that the amount available is not enough to cover the entire project, and so the county would have to choose yet another method of financing anyway.
    • Tax-exempt lease financing, which allows us essentially to match up lease payments over a 10-year period with actual savings (essentially, funding the entire project through guaranteed savings). Lease financing also allows us to defer payments until the projects are actually complete — so energy savings is already starting by the time we have to pay for the upgrades.
  • The entire project would be performed under a Guaranteed Energy Savings Contract (GESC), in which the contractor (Honeywell, in this case), contractually guarantees the annual energy savings as a result of the upgrades. The energy savings are essentially a way of financing the major equipment and infrastructure upgrades that the county needs to make anyway as a result of aging equipment. I’ll have more to write about this project in a future post.
  • The Commissioners are requesting the Council approval of a contract with the Jail Employees Collective Bargaining Unit. This is the first time that the jail employees are bargaining collectively.
  • The Commissioners are requesting the approval of a 2015 salary contract for the incoming Monroe County Sheriff, Brad Swain. This contract must be approved in 2014, before the new sheriff takes office. There are several statutorily-authorized methods that a county can use to compensate the sheriff. A contract specifies that the sheriff receives a set amount of compensation (equal to the salary of the prosecuting attorney), and cannot make any money from tax warrant collection fees or prisoners’ meals. The contract that is being requested is the same as has been in effect for the current sheriff, Jim Kennedy.
  • The Commissioners are requesting the approval of an interlocal agreement between Monroe County and the City of Bloomington for the enforcement of building codes. This interlocal agreement specifically authorizes the Monroe County Building Commission to enforce building codes within the City of Bloomington. This agreement is simply a continuation of an agreement that started in 1997. The agreement is a good example of cooperation between units of government to make operations more efficient and more consistent for residents.
  • The Council is considering an additional appropriation for the Commissioners to cover possible contractual services to deal with issues related to the some State Board of Accounts audit results that are expected with respect to the Treasurer. In particular, the county anticipates that the State Board of Accounts will find material weaknesses in cash reconcilements, the cash book, the financial ledger, and excise transactions in the Treasurer’s Office. The point of this appropriation is to provide the Commissioners with the funding to hire a contractor to resolve some outstanding issues in the office, if they so choose, once the audit results are complete.
  • The Monroe County Public Library is requesting approval to issue a General Obligation bond in the amount of $1,995,000 to fund their capital needs for 2016-2018. This bond will replace an existing GO bond covering the capital equipment needs through 2015, and will increase the annual debt levy from $600,000 to $665,000 (the tax rate to support this debt will remain the same, at about $0.01 per $100 of assessed value (depending on the overall Net Assessed Value). Capital projects that the library requesting funding for includes:
    • CATS IT equipment ($150K)
    • IT equipment/software ($330K)
    • 2016-2018 items from Life Cycle Replacement List ($300K)
    • Feasibility study for Ellettsville Learn and Play Space ($10K)
    • Construction of Ellettsville Learn and Play Space ($605K)
    • Feasibility study for a new branch ($25K)
    • Purchase of land for new branch ($500K)
    • Bond issuance expenses ($75K)
  • The potential of a new branch will undoubtedly be the most interesting to most members of the public, and councilmembers will undoubtedly want to hear how such a new branch would be funded/operated.
  • The Youth Services Bureau (YSB) is requesting a major restructuring of their department, including position description modifications of 6 positions, reclassification of 3 positions, and 2 new positions (Community Education and Training Coordinator and Program Coordinator). The reclassifications and new positions would all be funded by the Juvenile County Option Income Tax (J-COIT), which was recently raised to 0.095%,
  • There are also several small requests for additional appropriations and transfers typical of the end-of-the-year meeting, from Court Services, Building Department, the Clerk, Probation and Community Corrections, and the Auditor.

The agenda and packet are available here:

This meeting will begin at 5:30PM today in the Nat U Hill Room of the Monroe County Courthouse, and public comment will be taken at the beginning of the meeting on items not on the regular agenda (as well as for each item on the agenda). The meeting will, as usual, be covered live on CATS. Hope to see you at the meeting!

Environmental Assessment for Fullerton Pike Project Available

5 Dec

Last week I wrote about an upcoming public hearing for Monroe County’s Fullerton Pike Project scheduled for December 11, 2014 at 6PM at the Nat U Hill Room of the Monroe County Courthouse. The public hearing will give members of the public an opportunity to learn more about the project, get their questions answered, and make their voices heard.

The Monroe County Highway Department has just made the draft version of the Environmental Assessment for the project available on its Web site here:

An Environmental Assessment is a requirement of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and is document whose purpose is to examine the significance of environmental effects and to look at alternative means to achieve the objectives of a particular governmental agency or project.

The Environmental Assessment is divided into 7 sections, all of which are fairly large PDF files. The most important to read is the first one, which provides an extensive description of the project and all alternatives that were considered.

Incidentally, i have heard from many constituents who think that the whole public input process is a sham — that citizen input doesn’t matter. I will say that nothing is further from the truth. Citizen input has already had a substantial effect on this project. When the project was first proposed, it was proposed as a 5-lane road. Input from residents resulted in the project being reduced from a 5-lane road to a 3-lane road (1 travel lane in each direction plus turn lanes as needed). This was a huge change in the scope of the project — all because of the input from citizens.

Hope to see you at the public hearing!

Unemployment Numbers for October 2014 Within Normal Fluctuation – And Better than Previous Years

26 Nov

Last June I took the Herald Times to task for writing an alarmist (and incorrect) story about a supposed unusual jump in unemployment in Monroe County: The June Doldrums for Monroe County Employment.

Today, the HT has a much more accurate and better-written article on the October 2014 unemployment numbers, that is still somewhat ominously-headlined: Monroe County Jobless Rates on Rise.

As I have said before, I really think they should include some visual data to put the numbers into better context.  As the following graph makes clear, the October uptick in unemployment for Monroe County is well within the typical seasonal pattern (the specific months of fall unemployment increase vary from year to year slightly) — and more importantly, all of 2014 is much better employment-wise than it has been for the past four years!

Monroe County Unemployment Rate 2010-2014 (October)

Monroe County Unemployment Rate 2010-2014 (October)

Public Hearing Announced for the Fullerton Pike Corridor – December 11, 2014

26 Nov

Monroe County will be holding a public hearing on Thursday, December 11, 2014, beginning at 6:00 p.m., at the Monroe County Courthouse, Nat U Hill Meeting Room for the proposed Fullerton Pike Corridor project. An open house session will take place from 6:00 p.m. until 6:45 p.m., with the formal presentation beginning at 6:45 p.m. The purpose of the public hearing is to offer the public an opportunity to view and comment on the environmental document and preliminary design plans for the proposed project.

The full legal notice of the public hearing, along with the project description, can be found here: DES 0801059 Fullerton Pike Legal Notice of Public Hearing.

The proposed project provides a continuous two-lane corridor from Rockport Road at the west to Sare Road at the east. The following maps illustrate the corridor under consideration.

Please note that I made these maps myself just for a rough illustration of the corridor — they are not engineering drawings, and don’t presume any particular road alignment.

The full project extends from Rockport Road to Sare Road. Fullerton Pike will also be a full interchange on I-69 just to the west of the intersection with Rockport Road.

Screenshot 2014-11-26 10.33.30

Fullerton Pike Corridor

The next map illustrates the western part of the corridor. I just drew the corridor as a straight line — the proposed reconstruction doesn’t really go north of the existing corridor.

Screenshot 2014-11-26 10.33.57

Finally, this map illustrates the eastern part of the corridor, ending at Sare Road.

Screenshot 2014-11-26 10.34.16

According to the project description, the intersection of Fullerton Pike and Sare Road would be re-designed as either a three-leg roundabout or a signalized intersection.

One concern about this project is how the project would affect active transportation.  On the very positive side, the proposed project includes a 10′ multi-use path on the north side of the road. On the negative side, the proposed corridor cuts through new terrain from just east of Rockport Road to Gordon pike, and would cross the Clear Creek Trail, a very popular recreational trail. The map below shows where the proposed corridor (in blue) intersects with the Clear Creek Trail (in red). The current proposed design includes a bridge over the crossing, however, which would mitigate the negative impact, and not increase the number of at-grade crossings of the trail.

Fullerton Pike and the Clear Creek Trail

Fullerton Pike and the Clear Creek Trail

There are also concerns from neighborhoods and residents who live along the Fullerton Pike corridor that putting more and potentially higher-speed traffic through this mostly residential corridor would harm their quality of life and make it more dangerous for children. Hopefully these residents will attend the public hearing, learn about the details of the project if they aren’t already aware, and make their concerns known.

Trails and Economic Development Area Aesthetics on Redevelopment Commission Agenda Tonight

19 Nov

Karst Farm GreenwayThere are two items on tonight’s agenda for the Monroe County Redevelopment Commission (RDC) that are very important to me and the issues that I ran for public office on.

Placemaking for the Westside Economic Development Area

The first is a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a consultant to design aesthetic improvements to the County’s three economic development areas: Westside Economic Development Area, Bloomington Township State Road 46 Economic Development Area, and the Fullerton Pike Economic Development Area. I have written may times about these areas; this previous blog post has maps and links to several reports. According to the RFP, the project may include “items such as gateways, landscaping, decorative signage, art and wayfinding to delineate and personalize our economic development areas.”

These activities and elements are sometimes referred to as “placemaking” — transforming and reimaginging nondescript public spaces and giving them a real sense of place and identity. This certainly does include the elements in the RFP — signage, landscaping, etc. — but also needs to include an overarching concept…a name, an identity that hopefully accentuates the virtues of the space and its people, honors the history of the space, and envisions and enacts its future.

I’ve been particularly interested in placemaking for the Westside Economic Development Area. This area has been a real economic engine for Monroe County, and includes such businesses as Cook, Baxter, Grocery Supply.

Here is a letter I wrote early this year advocating for a focus on placemaking for the Westside:

“Since its establishment in 1993, the Monroe County Westside Economic Development Area (WEDA)—also known as the Westside TIF or the Richland TIF—has been an engine of economic development for the unincorporated area of the county, and serves as the site for many of Monroe County’s largest employers, including Cook, Baxter, Printpack, and Ivy Tech Community College. With the addition of several public amenities, including Will Detmer Park, the Northwest YMCA, and the in-progress Karst Greenway, the WEDA is also seeing and will continue to see a significant number of visitors (community residents) beyond the employees of the businesses in the WEDA.”

“Unfortunately, as successful as it is, the WEDA also falls short of its full potential as Monroe County’s employment and economic development hub. The area has no sense of identity or place. It is little known by residents who aren’t employees of one of the businesses therein. It has no well-defined boundaries (except on paper), and the primary entrance points on Curry Pike and Vernal Pike are at best unattractive and at worst somewhat blighted. For these reasons, marketing the area to prospective employers can be challenging – and even residents who are entering the area to visit the YMCA or other amenities are often confused, thinking that they couldn’t possibly be going to the right place.”

“However, a small amount of effort into giving the WEDA a distinctive identity and a distinctive, more attractive common visual appearance will pay dividends.

1.The area should have a distinctive name – one that honors our community’s heritage.

2.The area should have well-defined and visible boundaries and signage, particularly along common gateway areas.

3.The area should have a distinctive and attractive landscaping scheme, and common signage that
identifies the area.”

“An area with a distinctive identity and sense of place is easier to market to prospective employers. It connotes prosperity, attention, and care. Most importantly, though, it is more attractive and inviting to residents and visitors. While the economic development tools are in place to continue to sustain and enhance the success of the Monroe County WEDA, we can do much better for employees, employers, visitors, and residents.

Capital Equipment for Maintenance of the Trails

The Monroe County Parks and Recreation Department will also be presenting their request for $87,575 to the RDC to purchase capital equipment (truck with snow plow and spreader, mower, and trail-friendly maintenance vehicle) to support the maintenance of the county active transportation network, including the newly constructed Karst Farm Greenway. Parks and Recreation is proposing a total budget of $152,190 to maintain the trail network for 2015; this includes the $87,575 in one-time capital equipment. Presumably the Parks department will approach the County Council and request an additional appropriation for the other expenses — personnel, fuel, supplies, etc. early in 2015. The full proposed budget for supporting the active transportation network for 2015 can be found here: Parks Trails Management Proposal.

Since most of the County’s active transportation network is in or adjacent to the Westside Economic Development Area and serves the WEDA, the RDC is allowed to purchase capital equipment to serve the WEDA. However, it cannot pay for ongoing maintenance expenses.

I will be there tonight to support both requests of the RDC.

The full agenda is available here: RDC Agenda-11-19-14. The meeting is scheduled for 4:30PM today in the Nat U Hill Room of the Monroe County Courthouse.

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