Preview of Tomorrow’s Monroe County Council Meeting (2014-04-22)

21 Apr

 

Monroe County Courthouse at Night

Monroe County Courthouse at Night

The agenda and packet for tomorrow’s work session of the Monroe County Council is available here. I expect this one to be pretty interesting!

Following are the highlights of the agenda:

  • The Clerk is requesting a new position — Training Coordinator — to be created, and classified as a PAT (Professional, Administrative, and Technical) III. This is the first of 3 position-related requests that were read for the first time at the last regular meeting but not discussed or voted upon. Since a salary ordinance amendment requires a unanimous vote to pass on the first reading, and one councilor indicated that she would be voting “no” on all 3 position requests, the council chose to just do a first reading at the last meeting, and discuss and vote at the work session. The Clerk is requesting this position in lieu of two existing positions, which will then remain vacant. The Council’s Personnel Administration Committee (PAC) voted to recommend in favor of this move 3-0.
  • The Plan Commission is requesting that the Senior Planner position be moved from 35 hours per week to 40 hours per week. Most county positions are 35 hours per week; however, the Planning Director and Assistant Planning Director have already been moved to 40 hours per week. The Plan Commission’s arguments are (a) that 35 hours/week does not cover the workload (and they will be presenting documentation on the increase in filings and other demands) and (b) that the current 35 hour/week salaries are simply not high enough to compete in what is essentially a national marketplace and thus Monroe County has an extremely high turnover rate in skilled planners, to the detriment of service to the public. This request was forwarded by PAC with a 3-0 positive recommendation.
  • The Auditor is requesting that the Payroll Representative (the deputy Auditor responsible for payroll) be reclassified from a COMOT IV to a COMOT V.  The rationale for this request was the high turnover in a position that has been underclassified in the past. This request was forwarded by PAC with a 3-0 positive recommendation.
  • In what will probably be the most closely watched of the evening’s discussions, the Assessor will give a presentation to the Council that will cover (a) the assessment appeals process, (b) the status of high-profile appeals, and (c) the potential financial impact on the county and other taxing units of these high-profile appeals. This presentation was requested by the Council after the 2014-04-08 County Council Meeting, in which the Council learned that an appeal by the owner of the Fields apartment complex that had been allowed to languish for 5 years by the State was just settled by the Assessor, costing the County and other taxing units (including the City of Bloomington and MCCSC) over $700,000.
  • The Council will discuss the report recently received from the Department of Local Government Finance detailing the circuit breaker credits for Monroe County taxing units for 2014.
    • There are two types of circuit breaker credits in Indiana. One is the so-called 1%-2%-3% tax caps (that are in the Indiana Constitution), and the other is a limitation on increases in property taxes for property owners over 65 years of age. Circuit breakers represent caps on taxes for property owners, but losses of revenue for local government.
    • Although in gross terms the circuit breaker amounts for 2014 are quite low compared with many other counties, Monroe County saw a substantial increase from 2013-2014 in the 1%-2%-3% tax caps (i.e., the aggregate amount by which property owners’ taxes exceed a particular percentage of their gross assessed value — 1% for homesteaders, 2% for multifamily residential, rental, and agricultural property, and 3% for businesses):image
  •  This discussion is for information of the Council; no action will be taken
  • The Council will discuss report commissioned by the Monroe County Redevelopment Commission on a situation in the County’s Richland Economic Development Area (TIF district) in which several parcels were annexed by the City of Bloomington.
    • The City and the County developed an interlocal agreement to determine how the tax increment would be divided between the City and the County; however, after several parcel splits and renumbering, the County erred in distributing the appropriate amount of revenue between the two parties from 2009 on. The study, conducted by Financial Solutions Group (FSG), determined that the County overpaid the City by $441,191.70 during the period of 2009-2013. The County would recoup this overpayment by withholding distributions in 2014. This discussion is for the Council’s information; we do not have any action or vote to take.
    • The FSG report can be found here: Binder of MONROE COUNTY (ANALYSIS OF PAY 2009-2013 RICHLAND CITY TIF REV
  • The Council will further discuss a proposal to increase the Juvenile County Option Income Tax (JCOIT) from 0.05% to 0.95%. This was originally discussed in the 2014-04-08 County Council Meeting. The Council will be discussing which expenses can appropriately be moved into the JCOIT fund. The committee I created to study the issue of which juvenile expenses can and should be paid for from JCOIT revenues (Councilors Yoder, Hawk, and Jones) will give a report of their findings. No action will be taken at this meeting; a vote is anticipated at the regular County Council meeting on 2014-05-13.

 

Final I-69 Silt and Sedimentation Complaint Letter

21 Apr

In my posting Highlights From Monroe County Council Meeting 2014-02-11 I mentioned that during public comment:

“Scott Wells presented a letter of complaint to four federal agencies (EPA, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Federal Highway Administration, and the US Army Corps of Engineers) that was agreed upon by the Plan Commission asking these federal agencies to address the issues of ongoing siltation and sedimentation of Monroe County waterways during the I-69 corridor construction (Section 4).”

The final draft of this letter was signed by all members of the Monroe County Plan Commission, the Monroe County Commissioners, the Monroe County Drainage Board, the Monroe County Stormwater Management Board, the Monroe County Board of Health, the Monroe County Environmental Quality and Sustainability Commission, and 6 out of 7 members of the County Council.

The letter was sent in April to:

  • Indiana Governor Mike Pence
  • United States Environmental Protection Agency
  • Federal Highway Administration
  • INDOT: I-69 Section 4 Office
  • Indiana Department of Environmental Management
  • Indiana Department of Natural Resources – Division of Water
  • U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The full letter, with signatures and supporting documentation and pictures, can be found here:

Preview of Tomorrow’s Monroe County Council Meeting (2014-04-08)

7 Apr
Monroe County Courthouse

Monroe County Courthouse

The agenda and packet for tomorrow’s regular meeting of the Monroe County Council is available here:

Following are the highlights of the agenda:

  • Proposed increase in the Juvenile County Option Income Tax rate. This is undoubtedly the highlight of the meeting.
    • The Juvenile COIT rate — a special income tax used to support juvenile treatment and services — is currently set at 0.05%. The Council will consider raising it up to a potential of 0.1% (the rate that was advertised), in order to keep existing juvenile services sustainable. The Council will consider moving other expenses that are already being paid in support of juvenile treatment from other funding sources into the Juvenile COIT fund.
    • These expenses include both capital and operating costs of maintaining the county’s juvenile services at the Binkley House and the Johnson Hardware building, as well as the costs of staffing the juvenile court system.
    • Any tax increase, if passed, would take effect on October 1, 2014.
    • This meeting has been advertised as a public hearing, required for raising any county income tax rates. Public comment will be taken (and is encouraged!).
  • Approval of an amendment to an interlocal agreement between the City of Bloomington and Monroe County, in order to use proceeds from the 2012 Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) program to purchase electronic signage.
  • Request from the County Commissioners to transfer $33,456 from the County General fund to the Energy Conservation Fund.
  • Transfer of up to $2.6M from the Rainy Day fund to the County General fund.
    • $2M of this transfer is to rebuild the cash balance of the General Fund after having made several large one-time purchases from it, including $1.8M for equipping the new Unified Dispatch Center and $250K to hire a consultant (MKSK) to develop the comprehensive land use plan for the Bloomington Urbanizing Area (the former two-mile fringe / Area Intended for Annexation).  This transfer has been discussed and anticipated by the Council for over six months.
    • The remaining $600K of this transfer is to allow the County to pay out a settlement on assessed value with a taxpayer who has appealed their property tax assessment over a 7 year period. By statute, the County is required to pay out reductions in assessed value out of the general fund, and then recover the money from the other taxing units (i.e. the City of Bloomington, Perry Township, the Monroe County Public Library, Perry-Clear Creek Fire Protection District, etc.) at settlement in June.
    • Appeals of property tax assessments happen all the time…and sometimes they are successful. Normally noone (including the Council) ever hears about them; however, this one is large enough that the Council would actually need to transfer money into the General Fund in order to pay out the refund to the taxpayer. There are a lot of outstanding questions about this payout, and I would anticipate some pushback from the Council before allowing a payout of this magnitude.
  • The Highway Department will request $1,585,800 in annual appropriations from the Cumulative Bridge fund for bridge projects throughout the county.
    • The Cumulative Bridge fund is supported by a property tax levy; however, unlike most other funds, it is typically not budgeted during annual budget hearings, but instead is budgeted through additional appropriations in the spring of each year.
    • This request includes budget lines and appropriations for the following bridges: Stinesville Road, Mt. Tabor Road, Garrison Chapel Road, Kinser Pike, Mt. Gilead Road, Dutch Church Road, Mt. Zion Road, Ratliff Road, Brighton Road, Ketcham Road, Maple Grove Road, Thomas Road, Stansifer Lane, Bottom Road, Simpson Chapel Road, Lee Phillips Road, Wolf Mountain Road, Ratliff Road, and Burma Road.
    • The annual report will full details about the County’s comprehensive bridge program can be found here: 2014 Cumulative Bridge Program
  • The Health Department is requesting an appropriation of the $2700 it was awarded from the County Council’s Sophia Travis Community Service Grants Program, for STD tests at the Futures Family Planning Clinic.
  • The Auditor is requesting the reclassification of its Payroll Representative from a COMOT IV to a COMOT V classification, in order to more accurately reflect the work that the Payroll Representative does and to ensure better retention of this position, which has seen significant turnover recently.
  • The Clerk is requesting the creation of a new position, Training Specialist, to be classified as a PAT III. The Clerk is leaving two positions vacant in order to create this position.
  • The Planning Department is requesting that their Senior Planner position be amended from 35 hours per week to 40 hours per week (to match the Planning Director and Deputy Planning Director).
  • The County Sustainability Coordinator and Grants Administrator will present the key findings in the Monroe County Environmental Quality and Sustainability Annual Report for 2013.

This meeting, as with all regular meetings of the Monroe County Council, will be broadcast on CATS. Public comment will be taken. The public is especially encouraged to attend and make comment. Hope to see you tomorrow at 5:30PM at the Nat U Hill room in the Monroe County Courthouse!

 

 

Uncertainty in Civic Amenities: Carmel’s Center for the Performing Arts

6 Apr

Today’s Indy Star featured a long article on the economics underlying Carmel’s Center for the Performing Arts (Carmel’s Center for Performing Arts plan vs. reality: miles apart). The story of the Center is a cautionary tale for all of us (very much including myself) who have supported large civic projects.

Some of the highlights:

  • The initial “sales pitch” and presentation of the Center projected a worst-case government operational subsidy of $309K/year became a $2.5M annual subsidy.
  • The initial concept of operations was that the Center would be a for-hire venue, with concert promoters bearing the risk and costs of show production. However, many supporters — including Mayor Jim Brainard — wanted the Center to be a venue for shows that went beyond those that are commercially viable (i.e. many classical concerts) that would help Carmel be more nationally competitive for high-end businesses and affluent workers (boosters compared the proposed Center to Carnegie Hall!)– and pushed the Center in that direction.
  • The mayor assured the community that a $40M endowment could be raised privately to support operations and enhancements. Unfortunately, the economic downturn occurred right in the middle of construction, and the endowment never materialized.
  • The Center faced a number of contractor disputes, including a recent $575K settlement with Bloomington contractor Crider & Crider.

All in all a must-read about the unanticipated risks and vagaries of large civic  projects.

Tale of Two Cities: Embezzlement in Bloomington IN and Covington, KY

2 Apr

Just as the story was breaking about the embezzlement of around $800,000 by a City of Bloomington public works employee, the news broke of the guilty plea of the finance director of the City of Covington, Kentucky (the city right next to my home town of Fort Thomas, Kentucky) for embezzling — get this — around $800,000 from the City of Covington. Unlike the alleged perpetrator in the Bloomington case, the Covington ex-official both admitted his crime and expressed significant remorse.

Cincinnati.com just reported today on some of the security and accountability controls that Covington is putting in place in the wake of the scandal (In light of theft, Covington patches things up). Although many of the details of the Bloomington incident have yet to be released. just from the media accounts it appears that the Covington theft was far less sophisticated than the Bloomington one.

Most significantly, in Covington, the same official had complete control of the city’s finances and of the city’s information technology. This control allowed the finance director to create checks in the financial system to fake vendors (and/or himself and relatives) and then cover up his tracks by changing the data in the financial system to make it look like the checks were written to legitimate vendors. From the outside, it is hard to imagine how such a system had been allowed to exist. Separation of duties is essential to maintaining accountability in any financial system.

The use of computer databases adds particular additional managerial burden, since without adequate controls in place, it can be easy both to commit malfeasance and to cover up the evidence. Covington has since created both an internal auditor and a separate information technology manager.

I would like to make one comment about both embezzlement cases, and the justifiable outrage expressed by the public surrounding them. While some of the security controls in place — particularly in the Covington case — seem almost laughably lax (or absent), there will never be one set of processes or officials or board members that will forever be foolproof. There will never be an unpickable lock or an unbreachable vault. There will never be a board or commission that is able to exercise perfect oversight. As long as there is money to be made, there will be smart criminals who will figure out a way around any system of security controls. Financial crime will always be a cat-and-mouse game; sometimes the cat will have the advantage and sometimes the mice.

School Corporations Get a Short-Term Reprieve on School Bus Funding

31 Mar

Protected Taxes and School Transportation

In January, I wrote Circuit Breakers, Protected Taxes, and Idled School Buses, about the Indiana statute that required schools who have lost revenue from the circuit breakers (including the 1%-2%-3% tax caps in the Indiana Constitution) to prioritize debt funds over  any other fund when applying the losses from the circuit breakers. This is due to what in the statute are called protected taxes.

The legislation underlying protected taxes measn that school corporations facing circuit breaker losses had to first fully fund debt funds, even beyond the amount needed to make required debt service payments, which typically meant that capital projects and transportation funds had to bear the full brunt of the circuit breaker losses. This has even led to some school corporations considering ending school bus service entirely.

HEA 1062 Gives a Temporary Reprieve

This week, however, the Indiana General Assembly passed, and the Governor signed, House Enrolled Act 1062, giving school corporations hit heavily by circuit breakers a three-year reprieve. HEA 1062 allows school corporations that are experiencing at least a 10% hit to their transportation funds due to circuit breaker losses to apply circuit breaker losses proportionally to all funds, rather than funding debt service first, for the years 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Rearranging the Deck Chairs?

Welcome as this statute is, it is only a short-term fix for what will be an ever-growing crisis for school corporations around the state. All this action does is give school corporations a little flexibility in how they arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic. In 2013 (the latest year for which the numbers have been determined), the circuit breakers sucked $245M of funding out of our school systems, a number that will undoubtedly increase in years to come, and is nearly impossible to reverse, given the fact that the 1%-2%-3% circuit breakers have been enshrined in the Indiana Constitution.

Just for an illustration of the harm that the circuit breakers are doing to our schools, I pulled together some of the higher circuit breaker cuts for various school corporations around the state (for 2013).  I also included their 2014 amounts budgeted for transportation for comparison.

2013 School Circuit Breaker Losses

2013 School Circuit Breaker Losses

We are fortunate in Monroe County that, due to our relatively low property taxes and high assessed values, our school corporations have been relatively insulated from the effects of the tax caps.  Just for comparison, here are the same numbers for our two Monroe County school corporations:

2013 MC Circuit Breaker Losses

2013 Monroe County Schools Circuit Breaker Losses

However, we can’t assume that we will always be insulated from this erosion of revenue. The 2014 circuit breaker numbers will be released shortly, and we will be able to assess the impacts on all local units of government.

Note: the sources for these numbers were:

Follow-Up to County Council Work Session 2014-03-25

26 Mar

Yesterday I posted a preview to yesterday’s County Council work session. Here is a quick summary of the actions taken at that work session:

  • Public Defenders: After many months of discussion, the Council took the final actions to reclassify 7 Deputy Public Defenders from Executive I to Executive II level, and, per the County’s compensation policy, raise each of their salaries $9133, in order to provide equity between the Prosecutor’s Office and the Public Defender’s Office, per a mandate by the State Public Defender Commission. The vote was 6-1, with Councilor Langley voting “no”.
  • Plan Commission: Again, after many months of discussion, the Council amended the salary ordinance to pay each member of the Plan Commission $50 per month per meeting attended, up to $150 per month. This vote was closer: Councilors Dietz, McKim, Munson, and Yoder voted “yes”, Langley and Hawk voted “no”, and  Jones, who, as the Council appointee to the Plan Commission will directly benefit from this policy, abstained.
  • Juvenile COIT
    • The Council heard detailed presentations from Youth Services Bureau Executive Director Kim Meyer (and her staff) on the services provided at the Binkley House Youth Shelter, and from Judge Steven Galvin on the history of juvenile services in Monroe County and the need for an increase in the Juvenile COIT income tax rate
    • Both presentations were terrific and are a must-see for anyone interested in youth services in Monroe County. Their slides are available here:
    • Judge Galvin recommended that the Juvenile COIT rate be raised from the current 0.05% to between 0.08% and 0.085%, depending on the youth services costs that the Council would choose to move from other funds to the Juvenile COIT fund. 0.085% would likely be adequate to cover existing costs and mandatory annual increases for the next 3-5 years. Of course, the revenue that an income tax brings in depends on the income earned by Monroe County residents, and could go up or down; if the income tax brings in too little or too much money, the rate would have to be reexamined.
    • All councilors expressed strong support both for the judicial philosophy expressed by our juvenile justice and social services system — treatment over incarceration — and for an increase in the Juvenile COIT rate to support our youth services. The major area of discussion was whether certain expenses related to the maintenance of our youth services facilities (utilities, maintenance costs, facilities replacement costs, etc.) could also be paid for by the Juvenile COIT , and thereby relieving other overstressed county funds such as the General Fund and the Cumulative Capital Development fund. In order to develop a set of recommendations for the facilities maintenance costs that could potentially be moved from other funds to the Juvenile COIT fund, I created a subcommittee of Councilors Hawk, Jones, and Yoder, who will work with Council Attorney Michael Flory, the Courts staff, and the Commissioners’ Office to analyze past and future essential expenditures on the Youth Shelter property.
    • It is important to note that this proposed increase to the Juvenile COIT rate would only be sufficient to fund current services. As good an investment as youth services is to the future of the community, we are not even at a point where we can fund expansion; the best we can do is maintain current services and current expenditures in an environment in which costs are continually increasing and revenue (in particular the reimbursements we receive from the state for judicial placements in the youth shelter) is declining dramatically.
    • The Council has advertised a public hearing on the potential increase in the Juvenile COIT rate at its regular meeting on 2014-04-08 at 5:30PM.

This meeting was televised by CATS and be seen here:

And the Herald Times also published a wrap-up article on the meeting here:

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