Preview of Tomorrow’s Monroe County Council Meeting (2014-08-12)

11 Aug
Monroe County Courthouse at Night

Monroe County Courthouse at Night

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

Following are the highlights of the agenda:

  • The Assessor is requesting to refill a vacant position (Third Deputy/Administrative Assistant to the Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals)
  • The Monroe County CARES Board is requesting an appropriation of the annual grant allocation of $81,484. Monroe County CARES  (CARES is not an acronym, by the way) is the local coordinating council of the Governor’s Commission for a Drug Free Indiana. The purpose is to coordinate, support, and promote local efforts to prevent and reduce harmful involvement with alcohol and other drugs. The funding comes from drug and alcohol-related court fees, and the grants are divided between prevention, treatment, and criminal justice services.
  • The Youth Services Bureau (YSB) is requesting the appropriation of $116,553 for the Runaway and Homeless Youth grant they received, which funds a full-time counselor and a full-time Safe Place Coordinator/YSB Shelter Outreach Coordinator. This is a very important grant for youth services in Monroe County.
  • The Health Department is requesting the appropriation of a $21,103 grant for bio terrorism prevention and response from the Indiana State Department Of Health, Preparedness Division.
  • The Probation/Community Corrections department is requesting the appropriation the remainder of an already-awarded $11,970 Juvenile Accountability Block Grant, provided by the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute (ICJI) to support training for staff to work in a “change based” supervision environment (as opposed to a “compliance based” environment).
  • The Probation/Community Corrections department is requesting an additional appropriation of $7700 from the County’s COIT fund to provide security during day-reporting time (7AM-9AM) at the Johnson Hardware/Community Corrections building. The large number of community corrections participants (day reporting, drug screens, road crew, drug court, home detention and juvenile probation appointments) during a short period of time have created significant safety concerns, including traffic jams on the alley, disorderly conduct, and even drug dealing. Community Corrections is requesting contract funding for an off-duty Bloomington police officer to provide security for Community Corrections during the two hours daily during weekdays.
  • The Public Defender is requesting both permission to refill two vacant positions and for an additional appropriation out of their supplemental fund (state funding) to accommodate the mid-year increases in salary for the Chief Public Defender and Chief Deputy Public Defender in order to match the mid-year increase provided by the state for the Prosecuting Attorney.
  • The Monroe Circuit Court is requesting an additional appropriation of $75,000 out of the County’s COIT fund for the pauper attorney line. This line is spent in two ways: (1) Pauper attorneys are private attorneys that are appointed to indigent defendants when there would be a conflict of interest with the Public Defender (i.e, an attorney in the Public Defender’s office may represent a co-defendant); and (2) Guardians ad Litem may be appointed in adoption, dissolution, guardianship, and juvenile delinquency cases. During the 2014 budget sessions last year, the Court originally requested $150,000; however, due to budgetary constraints that request was reduced by the Council to $75,000. That request was based on the anticipation of spending an excess of $160,000 for 2013 and no anticipated reduction for 2014. Actual expenditures for 2013 were $168,302. Projected expenditures for 2014 could exceed $180,000 to $200,000.
  • The Prosecutor has several requests:
    • To move two positions — a legal secretary and a paralegal, from the Pretrial Diversion fund into County General. These two positions perform general prosecutorial functions and are not related to the Pretrial Diversion program. The degree to which the Pretrial Diversion program should subsidize basic prosecutorial operations has been a significant source of debate over the last 8 years. Because the revenues for Pretrial Diversion have decreased so much in recent years, the Prosecutor is requesting that the positions be moved into County General retroactively to the beginning of the year, at an expense of $68,416 for 2014. We anticipate that these positions will also show up in the Prosecutor’s request for funding from the 2015 County General budget.
    • To create the position and appropriate $36,869 of grant funding for the position of Sex Crimes Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Investigative Assistant from the Office of Violence Against Women via Indiana Criminal Justice Institute.
  • The County Council office is requesting an amendment to the salary ordinance, in order to raise their part-time maximum rate from $20/hour to $30/hour, in order to hire a short-term (two weeks) part-time assistant to prepare budget databases and spreadsheets for the upcoming budget hearings.
  • There may be several County Council appointments to boards and commissions, including the Parks Board, Bloomington Economic Development Commission, Monroe County Women’s Commission, and Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals.

As with all County Council meetings, this meeting is open to the public. Public comment will be taken at the beginning of the meeting, as well as in conjunction with all items on the agenda. The meeting will also be broadcast live on CATS. Hope to see you there!

Karst Farm Greenway Under Construction

7 Aug

After 8 long years of waiting, construction on the Karst Farm Greenway, the north-south backbone of Monroe County’s active transportation network, has finally begun.

I have written about the Karst Farm Greenway previously here:  Karst Farm Greenway Plans Advance. That posting includes some additional maps.

Phase I of the Greenway begins at Karst Farm Park to the south, and ends at the intersection of Loesch Road and West Vernal Pike to the north. The northern end of Phase I is just east of Innovation Court, where the new Northwest YMCA is located. A multiuse trail already exists that will connect the Karst Farm Greenway to the YMCA.

Here is a map of Phase I:

Karst Farm Greenway Phase 1

Karst Farm Greenway Phase 1


I am also including some photos of the construction of the greenway. This is the northern end, at Loesch and Vernal Pike, where the construction began (working from north to south). The asphalt at the bottom of the picture is the existing trail that connects to the YMCA.

Dave O’Mara is the contractor.


Northern End of Phase I, on Vernal Pike East of Innovation Court

Northern End of Phase I, on Vernal Pike East of Innovation Court

The trail continues south along Loesch Road, where it then cuts over to the west, to connect with Wayne’s Lane.

Karst Farm Greenway Along Loesch Before Wayne's Lane

Karst Farm Greenway Along Loesch Before Wayne’s Lane

The trail then cuts through the woods to Wayne’s Lane.


Connection from Loesch Road to Wayne's Lane

Connection from Loesch Road to Wayne’s Lane


The trail runs right up to the end of Wayne’s Lane. In the picture you can see where it gets very close to the house of a friend of mine. She would definitely prefer that it not be quite so close to her house. I am hoping the county will be able to plant more of a visual buffer when the project is complete.


Trail at Wayne's Lane

Trail at Wayne’s Lane

Then, the trail parallels Wayne’s Lane, running to Profile Parkway.

Wayne's Lane to Profile Parkway

Wayne’s Lane to Profile Parkway

The trail passes right by the Indiana Center for the Life Sciences, on Profile Parkway.


Indiana Center for the Life Sciences

Indiana Center for the Life Sciences

Then the trail crosses and cuts west along Third Street, and then cuts back south along Cobblestone Street and then to Park Square Dr to West Gifford, to Endwright Road.

Trail Through W Gifford Road

Trail Through W Gifford Road

The trail runs down Endwright Road.

Trail Along Endwright Road

Trail Along Endwright Road

Finally, the trail turns from Endwright Road into Karst Farm Park, which will be the southern terminus of the Karst Farm Greenway.

Trail from Endwright Road Running Into Karst Farm Park

Trail from Endwright Road Running Into Karst Farm Park

All in all, this is great news for supporters of the trail!

Watch for more news on the Karst Farm Greenway soon, as the bid will likely be awarded in the next week or two for Phase IIA, which will go north along Loesch Road from Vernal Pike up to the railroad. I’ll post more news when that bid is awarded.

2015 Income Tax Projections for Monroe County Received – 2.8% Increase

4 Aug

On August 1st, the Indiana State Budget Agency released the estimates of local option income tax collection (County Option Income Tax, or COIT) for each county, to be distributed for the 2015 budget year. The projections show Monroe County’s collections of its 1% COIT at $26,909,660, an increase of $712,539, or 2.8%, over the collections for 2014. In addition, the special Monroe County Juvenile COIT, used to fund juvenile services, is projected to jump from $1,309,856 to $2,556,418, an increase of $1,246,562, resulting from a recent hike in the Juvenile COIT rate from 0.05% to 0.095% that takes effect October 1, 2014.

Income tax is one of the primary sources of revenue to fund non-highway general operations of County Government — property tax is the other. Along with the annual “cost of living” increase in the property tax levy (2.7% for 2015, see State Releases Assessed Value Growth Quotient for Local Governments), the annual certified local option income tax collection is one of the most carefully-watched numbers in local government, since those two numbers determine to a large degree what the budgets of local units of government look like for the ensuing year.

The COIT collections are important not only because of their importance  to local governments as a source of revenue, but also because they serve as a barometer of the local economy (albeit a bit lagged). The following chart shows the overall COIT collections (not counting the Juvenile COIT) from 2008 to the current projection for 2015 in Monroe County. As the chart illustrates, our COIT, and therefore the income of local residents, has been going up relatively slowly but steadily since 2011, after a relatively sharp plummet from 2010-2011.

Monroe County Option Income Tax 2008-2015

Monroe County Option Income Tax 2008-2015

The income tax numbers that were just released are only projections; the state is required to release the official income tax certification before October 1. However, in the past the official September certifications have not differed from the August projections significantly. In fact, the income taxes to be paid out for 2015 (local units of government receive approximately equal monthly payments throughout 2015) have actually already been collected from Monroe County residents during the period of July 1, 2013-June 30, 2014.

The $26,909,660 projected for Monroe County for 2015 will be divided among all of the local units of government in Monroe County that receive COIT: Monroe County Government, the City of Bloomington, the towns of Stinesville and Ellettsville, the Monroe County Public Library, Perry Clear Creek Fire Protection District, and all of the township governments. The total income tax for Monroe County is divided up among all of these local units of government; each unit’s share — called Certified Shares — is determined roughly in proportion to each unit’s property tax levy as a fraction of the whole (with an adjustment for new debt, so that taking on debt doesn’t entitle a governmental unit to a higher proportion of the income tax). This distribution of the total COIT among the various local units of government has not yet been released.

All in all, the COIT projections are good news for local governments; although we are not seeing the sharp annual increases that we did before the recession hit, we are seeing another year of modest but steady growth. Good for the local economy, good for residents of Monroe County who, on average, are earning more, and good for the local units of government tasked with serving the local residents.

For reference, I have written about local option income taxes in Monroe County several times in the past:

2014-Pay 2015 Net Assessed Values Certified for Monroe County

29 Jul

The Monroe County Auditor’s Office just released the 2014 Pay 2015 Certified Net Assessed Values for all taxing units in Monroe County, a key step in the annual budget cycle. Net assessed value (NAV) is what results after deductions, exemptions, and other adjustments are applied to the gross assessed value. Net assessed value is what is used to calculate property taxes paid in 2015 — both the overall tax rates and the individual property tax bill. Thanks to the staff of the Auditor’s Office for getting this information out to us!

Our 2014-Pay 2015 NAV is $6,459,490,036 (yes, that is almost $6.5 billion!), an increase of $89,317,707 over the 2013-Pay 2014 NAV of $6,370,172,329.

Remember that in general, an increase in NAV doesn’t mean that individuals pay more in taxes (although it does give the constitutional circuit breakers less effect) — it means that the existing property taxes are spread across a higher tax base. Increased assessed value is generally a good sign for both taxpayers and local units of government alike.

The following table I put together shows a quick history of our net assessed value from 2009-2015:

Monroe County Net Assessed Value 2009-2015

Monroe County Net Assessed Value 2009-2015

Data Source: Department of Local Government Finance


Is a Commuter Tax Fair? Comments on Tully’s Column and Application to Monroe County

27 Jul

Matthew Tully wrote a very thoughtful column in last Thursday’s Indy Star (Tully: Commuter tax is fair, like it or not) on the idea of a commuter tax, and in particular the unfairness of Indiana’s current system of taxation, in which the residents of Marion County/Indianapolis provide and subsidize the jobs and infrastructure that benefit the residents of surrounding counties whose residents commute into Marion County to work.

This is a topic that comes up from time to time, and various proposals are periodically floated to make the system more fair to counties (like Marion) that are net employment counties — counties into which large numbers of residents of other counties commute for work.  Indiana’s system of income taxation has all income tax collections going to the county in which an individual resides, regardless of where she or he works. There are fewer net employment counties (generally, but not always, urban counties) than suburban counties, and thus a more fair system of taxation has proved thus far to be politically unpalatable.

Tully makes the case (and I agree with him) that some sort of modification of this system — for example, in which a small percentage of the income tax collected from an employee would go to the county where the job is — would be more fair, and in fact, would benefit everyone by ensuring that the employing county would have the resources to maintain the infrastructure that benefits both the employer and the employee.

So how would a commuter tax — or at least some sort of income tax revenue sharing between employer counties and the counties in which employees live — look in Monroe County? The StatsIndiana site provides a nice tool with which to analyze commuting patterns — the Annual Commuting Trends Profile — using Indiana Department of Revenue data analyzed by the Indiana Business Research Center (IBRC).

The data from Indiana tax returns for 2012 (the latest year for which data is available)  shows that Monroe County is clearly a net importer of labor from other counties (and states). 15,613 workers live in other counties or states but work in Monroe County. Only 5,683 workers live in Monroe County but work outside of the county, meaning that almost 10,000 net workers commute into Monroe County for work.

The following chart illustrates the top five counties sending workers into Monroe County.

Commuters Into Monroe County (2012)

Commuters Into Monroe County (2012)

Another similar chart illustrates the top five counties receiving workers from Monroe County (“out of state” counts as a county, for this analysis).

Commuters Out of Monroe County (2012)

Commuters Out of Monroe County (2012)

So while Monroe County employers clearly provides jobs — and local government provides the infrastructure and services required to support these jobs — local government in Monroe County does not receive any revenue associated with these jobs filled by commuters from other counties. No property tax, no income tax.

Unfortunately this data set only includes the number employees commuting in or out of Monroe County, not their income. It would be useful to have this information to determine whether or not a revenue-sharing arrangement would be beneficial to Monroe County. For example, 1076 employees commute to Marion County from Monroe County. While this number is much smaller than the number of employees commuting overall into Monroe County, one might surmise that the incomes of employees commuting to Marion County from Monroe County would be substantially higher than average. We would have to know the incomes of the employees commuting into versus out of Monroe County to know whether a commuter tax or revenue sharing arrangement would be beneficial. However, regardless of how beneficial it is, it is clearly a fairer system to apportion the revenues in some way between the county in which an employee lives versus where she works.

I’ve been playing around with some sort of metric that would measure the commuting patterns as a percentage of the overall economy of a county — that is, a good measure of whether a county is a net employer-county — and would allow good comparisons between counties for analysis of tax fairness.

My first attempt is the following: net in- versus out-commuters as a percentage of the total number of residents of a county who work (known as the implied resident work force). The following chart shows what this calculation would look like for a couple of Indiana counties that Monroe County is frequently benchmarked against:

Screenshot 2014-07-27 20.13.49


Clearly this metric does distinguish net employer counties like Marion — and Monroe and Tippecanoe and Vanderburgh– from suburban “bedroom” counties, like Hamilton and Hendricks and from rural counties like Greene. There are a couple of anomalies that show up. Despite including the second-largest municipality in Indiana, Allen County’s net in-commuting is a relatively small percentage of its work force. Martin County is also an anomaly, due to the large number of people who commute to the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center from surrounding counties.

I hope that the discussion will continue during the upcoming General Assembly session, and I would expect this topic to receive some significant discussion by the newly-created blue ribbon commission on taxation. It is in everyone’s interest to promote economic development by ensuring that local governments can continue to provide the infrastructure and services to create and sustain good jobs.

The June Doldrums in Monroe County Employment

20 Jul

Yesterday, the Herald Times published the story Monroe County’s jobless rate jumps 1.1% in June [subscription required]. The HT typically publishes a short story of this type monthly, after the unemployment numbers by county are released by the Indiana Department of Workforce Development. In particular, the (unsigned) story states that:

“Monroe County’s unemployment rate rose in June by more than a full percentage point to 6.3 percent, moving it into the bottom half of Indiana’s 92 counties in terms of employment. That is as far down the list as the county has fallen in recent memory. Monroe’s employment fluctuates with Indiana University’s calendar, but to fall to more than 6 percent unemployed during the summer months is highly unusual.” [emphasis mine]

This paragraph lends the story a bit of an ominous tone, as though our local economy is somehow teetering on the brink of another recession…that we are in uncharted territory with such a drop in June employment. In fact, the data shows that not only do we always have a drop in employment in June (as businesses cut back due to large numbers of students leaving for the summer), but that we have a drop of similar magnitude.

I created a chart of Monroe County’s unemployment rate from 2010 to the present (June 2014), and as you can see below, the exact same phenomenon happens every year — that April is an annual trough for unemployment, that unemployment peaks by about 2 percentage points by June, and then starts to fall again. In fact, even the Herald Times’ own article for the same period last year –Monroe County unemployment jumps with the season — shows our June (2013) unemployment rate at 8.5%! So how can they now claim that “to fall to more than 6 percent unemployed during the summer months is highly unusual”?

Monroe County Unemployment Rate 2010-2014 (June)

Monroe County Unemployment Rate 2010-2014 (June)

In fact, what is unusual about 2014, as shown from the graph, is how low the overall unemployment rate is! Even our peak June employment rate in 2014 is fairly close to the low point for the previous four years.

The data that I used for this chart can be found all the way back to 2000, from the STATSIndiana site.

State Releases Assessed Value Growth Quotient for Local Governments

1 Jul
Monroe County Courthouse Under Renovation

Monroe County Courthouse Under Renovation

Today, the Indiana State Budget Agency (SBA) released the Assessed Value Growth Quotient (AVGQ) for 2015: 2.70%, a slight increase from 2.6% in 2014.

The AVGQ is essentially the “cost of living adjustment” for property taxes for all local units of government — the maximum amount by which local units of government are allowed to increase their controlled property tax levies by. For Monroe County Government, 2.7% is the maximum that the following levies combined can be raised for 2015: General Fund, Health, Aviation, County Fair, Reassessment, and Cumulative Bridge.

Although named the Assessed Value Growth Quotient in the statute, the AVGQ actually no longer has anything to do with assessed value. It is calculated as the 6-year moving average of nonfarm personal income growth. The theory behind it is that the costs of government should not be increasing at a greater rate than the taxpayers’ incomes are going up.

Also note that the AVGQ is independent of the circuit breakers or so-called “tax caps” (see here and here for more background). The circuit breakers can kick in and prevent a local unit of government from actually receiving the full growth in property tax levies specified by the AVGQ. In addition, the AVGQ doesn’t affect property taxes collected to service debt for capital projects (although the circuit breakers do affect these property taxes).

The AVGQ is calculated uniformly statewide — so that the limit on levy growth is the same for every local unit of government, whether the local economy is booming or busting, and regardless of the demands (or willingness of the taxpayers to pay) for services. There are, however, procedures for appeal for what is called an “excess levy” for specific cases, including: annexation, excessive growth over a 3-year period, shortfalls due to certain errors, and emergencies.

The following table shows the 6-year calculation for budget year 2015.

AVGQ Calculations for 2015

AVGQ Calculations for 2015

Note that the change from 2008-2009 is -2.91% — that means that during that year, personal incomes actually shrank. After two more years, that -2.91% will drop out of the 6-year calculation, and so unless we have another recession, we should see the AVGQ go back up to more historically normal levels.

The announcement is available here: 140701 – State Budget Agency Memo – Assessed Valuation Growth Quotient and the supporting calculations here: 140701 – State Budget Agency Memo – 2015 State Assessed Value Growth Quotient Worksheet.







Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 27 other followers