Monroe County 2019 Budget Advertised in Advance of Budget Hearing

Monroe County Courthouse
Monroe County Courthouse in the Fall

Today, Monroe County published its official advertisement of its proposed 2019 budget and tax levies, in advance of the public hearing scheduled for Tuesday, October 2, 2018 at 5:30 PM in the Nat U Hill Room of the Monroe County Courthouse.

The official advertisement (“Notice to Taxpayers”) provides a total budget and tax levy (the amount of property taxes to be collected) for each fund. Not all funds receive property taxes. Note that the tax levies are frequently advertised higher than the level at which the County Council will actually adopt them, in order to give the Council flexibility (after advertisement, budgets and levies can only be decreased, not increased). 

While the Notice to Taxpayers includes a summary of the proposed budget by fund, the following report provides line-by-line detail of the budget to be considered:

The following is a summary of the major changes to the budget from 2018 to 2019:

  • Addition of 5 corrections officers to the Monroe County Jail, in order to alleviate understaffing concerns (paid out of the Public Safety Local Income Tax/PS-LIT). More staff means a more humane environment for everyone – the existing staff, those incarcerated, and the families of those incarcerated. We’ll have to look closely and see if that is enough. I suspect we’ll have to revisit the jail staffing levels over the next year. 
  • Addition of 1 audit coordinator position in the Auditor’s Office, to improve internal compliance, along with a move of an employee in the financial division of the office from 35 hours to 40 hours.
  • Addition of 1 tech services (IT) technician who will focus on jail and justice-related applications.
  • Move of 2 probation officer positions in Community Corrections, along with some hourly staff and electronic monitoring fees out of unsustainable user fee funds into tax-supported funds. This was my number one priority for this budget. We need to support alternatives to incarceration, and base funding for Community Corrections is one of those ways that the Council can demonstrate our commitment. One of the reasons why the user fee funds are no longer sustainable is because of the partial elimination of the use of cash bail, which is a very positive development.
  • Similarly, move of 1/2 a position in the Prosecutor’s Office to the General Fund, out of Pretrial Diversion fees. This represents the conclusion of almost a decade-long effort to move essential positions in the Prosecutor’s Office out of unsustainable user fee funds.
  • Increase in the costs of providing employee health care from $9800 to $10,200 per full-time employee.
  • Cost of living increase for county employees (including elected officials) of 1.7%. This number represents the change in Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the midwest region from December to the previous December. This is the benchmark that the County Council uses for cost of living. We have spent a lot of effort over the past two years increasing employee salaries in various ways, and it is important that we don’t let county employees’ salaries erode due to inflation.
  • Addition of 3 shift supervisor positions and funding of capital equipment projects in the Unified City/County Dispatch Center. The positions will actually be City of Bloomington employees.
  • Funding of the 2019 municipal election. Each year, the budget of the Election Board is different, depending on the specifics of each election year. In municipal election years, a substantial portion of the costs of the election will be reimbursed by the City of Bloomington and potentially the Town of Ellettsville. 
  • Addition of a second K-9 unit in the Sheriff’s Department, funded by the PS-LIT.

If there is anything that attracts your interest that I didn’t cover in this summary, please let me know, and I’ll be happy to explain!

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, a public hearing will be held on this proposed budget on Tuesday, October 2, 2018 at 5:30 PM in the Nat U Hill Room of the Monroe County Courthouse. The public is invited to read the above proposed budget, and make comment, either at the public hearing, or beforehand to any or all of their County Council representatives

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INDOT Proposes Intersection Improvements on East Side

The Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) is proposing a number of road improvements in Bloomington and Monroe County to the Bloomington Monroe County Metropolitan Planning Organization (BMCMPO) in the upcoming years. Two in particular planned for the east side caught my attention.

The first is intersection improvements at State Road 46 (3rd Street) and N Smith Road. The lack of turn lanes at that intersection often causes a single poorly-positioned left turner to to take up an entire light cycle, causing significant unnecessary congestion, as well as potentially dangerous maneuvers to get around the blocked intersection.

The second project is one that I’ve been calling for for a long time — to improve the intersection at State Road 45 (10th Street) and Pete Ellis (to the south) and Range Road (to the north). This intersection sees many of the same problems as 3rd Street and Smith Rd — lack of turn lanes causes frequent very dangerous passing maneuvers. And now that we know that this intersection will be a backup entrance to the new hospital/medical campus, it becomes even more crucial that this intersection be fixed.

The following map shows the locations:

Screenshot 2018-09-13 09.53.27

Unfortunately we won’t be seeing these improvements soon enough. The INDOT proposal shows the engineering/design being performed in Fiscal Year 2019 (which we are already in, running from July 1, 2018-June 30, 2019), any right-of-way acquisition in Fiscal Year 2021, and construction in future years (Fiscal Year 2022 or beyond — the MPO Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) only runs through Fiscal 2021).

Nonetheless, I’m glad to finally see some action on these two dangerous and important intersections.

The MPO Policy Committee will be asked to add these projects, along with other INDOT improvement projects, to the Transportation Improvement Program on Friday, at 1:30 PM. The meeting packet is available here.

Annual Report and Presentation on the Monroe County Jail Today

The Monroe County Correctional Center and the criminal justice system that feeds it has been on my mind a lot lately. Each day, the jail reports the number of people in custody, in several different categories (e.g., secure beds, program beds, detox, etc.). Because many people are in the jail for a very short period of time, the numbers vary widely over time. Today’s count of individuals in secure beds was a whopping 290, out of a rated capacity of 248. On the other hand, that count was “only” in the low 230s back in mid-March. Clearly some of that dramatic increase is due to the combination of the onset of good weather combined with IU’s Little 500.

But even factoring out localizes spikes in jail population, it is clear that we are seeing a longer-term secular increase. Recently the County Council received the statutorily-mandated 2017 Monroe County Correctional Center Annual Jail Report.  The report is definitely worth reading in its entirety — it provides a good overview both of the programs provided in the jail as well as the staffing challenges, which are of significant concern to the County Council. Unsurprisingly, though, what stands out most from the report is the average population count over time:

Screenshot 2018-04-24 06.25.35

After a period of relative stability, we see a fairly dramatic overall increase, undoubtedly overlapping with the growth of the opioid epidemic. There have also been statutory changes in Indiana that have made local jails responsible for some people convicted of felonies who used to be the responsibility of the Department of Corrections. Clearly this growth rate is unsustainable. There are many stakeholders in Monroe County who are working on various initiatives, both present and future, to help keep the jail population down, including community corrections, treatment and recovery, pre-trial release, various diversion programs, etc. I want to highlight some of these initiatives in the near future, and grow and fund those that have been proven to be effective.

Tonight’s work session of the Monroe County Council will feature a presentation from Jail Commander Sam Crowe, who will highlight some of the initiatives and programs in the jail, and address questions from Councilmembers about the report. Of course the jail is only one component of a complex system including lawmakers, police, prosecutors, public defenders, the judiciary, and probation and community corrections, I encourage members of the public to read this report and watch the presentation tonight.

The County Council work session is at 5:30PM tonight, April 24, 2018, at the Nat U Hill Room in the Monroe County Courthouse. The meeting is open to the public, and will also be televised on CATS.

Public Hearing Scheduled on New TIF District for Cook Redevelopment of GE Plant

IMG_1864Note: This version of the posting has been revised to address some questions from an early reader.

The last stage of the process of splitting off two parcels from an existing Tax Increment Finance (TIF) district and creating a new TIF district to support the planned Cook Group redevelopment of the shuttered General Electric property in the County’s Westside Economic Development Area has been scheduled for Wednesday, March 21, 2018 at 4:30PM in the Nat U. Hill Meeting Room at the Monroe County Courthouse. This meeting of the Monroe County Redevelopment Commission (RDC) will include a public hearing, followed by an anticipated vote on resolutions creating the new TIF district and pledging any TIF revenues from the new area towards paying the bonds for the redevelopment.

Old GE Plant Before Cook Renovation
Loading Docks at the GE Factory

This public hearing culminates a series of actions that began with the RDC passing an initial resolution on January 17, 2018 that stated its intention to pull the two parcels of the GE plant purchased by Cook Group out of the County’s Westside Economic Development Area (WEDA), sometimes referred to as the Richland TIF, and create a new TIF district (referred to as an allocation area in the documents) consisting solely of these two properties. Since then, the Monroe County Plan Commission and the County Commissioners have both approved this action. On February 13, 2018, the Monroe County Council approved the issuance of $6.2M in economic development bonds to support the redevelopment project.

The following map shows the proposed new TIF allocation area. The purple shaded area illustrates the City of Bloomington’s incorporated area. On October 18, 2017, Cook Group and the City of Bloomington signed an agreement for Cook to pay the City of Bloomington $100K per year for 15 years in order to avoid annexation by the City. The new TIF district would last for 25 years. Note that this proposal does not actually increase the number of parcels in Monroe County in a TIF district — it simply splits off two parcels from the Westside Economic Development Area and creates an independent allocation area out of the two.

Screenshot 2018-03-11 07.44.01

The RDC’s stated purpose for the creation of the new TIF allocation area, from Exhibit B in the resolution is:

Site clean-up and preparation; paving of parking lots; hardscape and soft-scape landscaping including streetscape improvements, curbs and sidewalks; site access improvements; and exterior building improvements. The estimated cost of the entire redevelopment project is $125 million, and the Commission’s contribution to these costs will be based on what may be financed from the new tax increment revenues derived from the project.

Based on representations of the Companies, the Commission has determined that the development will not proceed as planned without the contribution of tax increment revenues to be derived from the Cook Allocation Area to the projects described above.

Essentially, Cook is estimating the cost of the redevelopment of the sprawling factory at around $125M. The County is providing $6.2M in bond funds towards this effort to support streetscape, access, sidewalk and walking trail, and exterior building improvements to what has become a blighted area of the County’s westside — all improvements that will benefit the public as well as Cook.

The sole source of repayment of these bonds will be the additional property taxes generated from this new TIF district (the so-called “increment” in Tax Increment Finance) resulting from Cook’s redevelopment efforts. This includes both real property and personal property (equipment).  Further, the bonds have been structured so that Cook (or a related business entity) will purchase the bonds, meaning that the risk of any shortfall in revenue would be borne by Cook, not the County taxpayers. Once the bonds have been paid off, any additional revenues can be spent on improvements in this new district or in the larger Westside Economic Development Area.

Old GE Plant Before Cook Renovation
Inside the Shuttered Former GE Plant, Site of New Cook Group Project

If you really want to get into the weeds of the estimated revenues and payments from this proposed TIF district, you can see the analysis performed by the County’s financial analyst Financial Solutions Group, Inc.

One of the questions that has come up from a reader of a previous edition of this posting is why to create a separate TIF allocation area at all — why isn’t the existing Westside Economic Development Area adequate? The answer is that creating a separate single-taxpayer TIF district constrains the risk of the project. First of all, if by some chance the developer is unable to generate the required revenues to pay the bond (unlikely, but is within our due care duty to prevent against) it is only they who will suffer. The rest of the taxpayers of the westside TIF will not have to make up the difference (or have to shift resources out of other important westside projects). Secondly, if the project were funded out of the Westside, then the revenues (increment) from the rest of the Westside TIF would need to be pledged for repayment of these bonds as well. The need was to have the revenues from Cook’s investment and only those revenues pledged for repayment. The structure of an independent allocation area provides both of those protections.

IMG_1868
Power substation at Curry Pike and Profile Parkway

In my view, this project represents a generational opportunity to redevelop a blighted and abandoned factory and allow it to return to providing jobs for Monroe County residents (Cook is pledging at least 500 new jobs from the project), and also represents an effective and responsible use of tax increment finance to improve the well-being of Monroe County residents.

This public hearing gives you an opportunity to make your thoughts known about this project to the Redevelopment Commission. Please come on Wednesday, March 21, 2018 at 4:30PM in the Nat U. Hill Meeting Room at the Monroe County Courthouse.

$3M Upgrade to Monroe County Youth Facilities Considered

Old YSB House Before Demolition
House in Front of the Youth Shelter That Would Be Demolished

This past Tuesday, the Monroe County Council discussed a request for major capital improvements to Monroe County’s facilities for youth services, including the Binkley House Youth Shelter (located at 615 S Adams St).

 

Back in February of 2017, the County Commissioners GSD Contract in partnership with the architecture and design firm RQAW to review existing facilities and recommend a plan for renovation and expansion based on the analysis of current and future needs.

The report from the consultants was received in July 2017, and provides an extensive review of the needs of the programs, condition of existing facilities, and proposed combination of renovation and new facilities. Major recommendations include:

  1. Demolition of an old house that is currently used for a few offices and storage, and whose maintenance costs have become unsustainable (I included a picture of the house above).
  2. Additional parking along South Adams St, including improvements to allow delivery truck access, and a nature path and pavilion outside.

  3. Upgrades to the Binkley House Shelter portion of the facility, including paint, carpet, restroom upgrades, better separation of recreational from study spaces, more storage for youth belongings, and a walk-in freezer to allow more bulk purchasing. The shelter currently serves up to 15 youth; there are no plans to increase this capacity.
  4. New large multi-purpose space that can be used as a gym, classroom, group meeting room, space to take youth out of stressful situations, etc.
  5. Upgrades to the Administrative wing of the facility, including creation of small conference/meeting rooms, better waiting areas, secure file storage, additional office space, and public restrooms.
  6. Furnishings, including office furniture and furniture for the shelter.
Screenshot 2018-03-03 08.51.11
Feasibility Study

The Feasibility Study (Exhibit A) includes a description and rationale for all of the recommended upgrades, demolition, and new construction.

 

Last week, the County Commissioners approved a follow-on contract with RQAW for approximately $190K to provide detailed architectural design documents for the project. These documents would then be used to solicit bids for the demolition and construction work. This contract is subject to appropriation of funds by the County Council; the Council will consider this request at our regular meeting on March 13th.

The total cost estimate for the recommended facilities range from $2.9M and $3.2M. As per our role in the process, the County Council spent most of our time discussing potential sources of funds for the project. Options include:

  • One-time funds (in the Juvenile Services Non-Revering Fund) of around $1.1M saved from excess property taxes collected for child welfare at the time the State took over child welfare funding. The County Council earmarked this money to be spent on juvenile-related services and initiatives.
  • $1.7M in the County Per Diems fund, which consists of money paid by the State to the County for court-ordered and Department of Child Services (DCS) placements.
  • One-time funds (in the Juvenile COIT Rainy Day fund) of $164K from past distributions of the juvenile county option income tax from the State.
  • Funds in the Location Income Tax Special Purpose (formerly known as the Juvenile COIT) could potentially be used for the furnishings (not bricks and mortar construction) component of the project.
  • Future general obligation bond (paid for by a property tax rate).

It appears that a large proportion of the project (if not all of it) could be paid for out of cash (in the above funds). However, there is also concern among some (including me, along with the director of Monroe County’s Youth Services department) that it would be prudent to hold back some cash reserves, particularly in light of the turmoil and chronic underfunding in the State Department of Child Services.  One option would be to pay for a majority of the $3M out of cash savings, and the rest from bond issue.

The County Council will continue this discussion at our regular meeting on March 13, 2018, at 5:30PM.

 

Update on County Trail Projects

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Me Pointing at Potential New Multiuse Trail Connecting 2nd Street and Karst Farm Greenway

Last week I gave a presentation to the Bloomington Bicycle Club at their annual meeting, giving an update on a number of County (and one City thrown in there) infrastructure projects with a bike/pedestrian component. This is only a sample — there are more. Since several people asked for copies of that presentation I thought I’d make it available here: BBC Presentation 2018-02-10.

Please note that all of the maps are ones that I made for illustrative purposes. None are official, and project plans may change for any variety of reasons.

Among other projects, I talked about the the Limestone Greenway/Illinois Central corridor south of the Bloomington Rail Trail, the Monon Corridor connecting the Karst Farm Greenway with Ellettsville, and several westside road projects that will have multiuse paths and sidewalk facilities accompanying them. I also discussed a potential project that is still in the conceptual stages that would connect the multiuse path on the north side of Second Street/Bloomfield Road with the Karst Farm Greenway, via Liberty Drive. Here is the map I drew of that potential project:

Screenshot 2018-02-15 16.04.42

Also gave an update on the Vernal Pike Greenway project, that will connect Will Detmer Park (where the existing multiuse path along Vernal Pike ends) to the Karst Farm Greenway. This path will provide multiuse facilities along one of two remaining breaks between the City’s B-Line Trail and the County’s Karst Farm Greenway. This project, after long delays, will finally go into construction this year (2018), and will feature an historic truss bridge over the Indiana Railroad tracks just west of Curry Pike, very similar to this bridge (the actual bridge to be used is in pieces in a warehouse at the moment):

Screenshot 2018-02-16 08.39.10
Historic Truss Bridge to be Used on Vernal Pike Greenway

Finally talked about a City of Bloomington trail project that will run south of Winslow, parallel to and just to the east of the Bloomington Rail Trail.

Screenshot 2018-02-16 08.44.53
City of Bloomington’s Planned Southern B-Line Extension

The idea is to maintain the existing Bloomington Rail Trail’s soft surface, which is beloved by walkers and runners, and create a paved trail in the old CSX railroad corridor parallel to and just to the east of the Rail Trail. This corridor was given to the City by Monroe County in a land swap for the Illinois Central corridor south of Church Lane that the County is currently developing as a trail. The paved surface will be much more usable by cyclists, strollers, wheelchairs, etc. I’ve been told by City Parks and Recreation Officials that this project is slated for 2020, although the corridor has already been cleared by City of Bloomington Utilities for a sewer interceptor project.

Here is a link to a drone flight I took over the corridor.

It was a great opportunity to update the cycling community on many exciting Monroe County projects — and I was also accompanied in the presentation with the City of Bloomington Bicycle Coordinator Beth Rosenbarger, who gave us an update on numerous bike/ped developments and initiatives in the City of Bloomington.

2018 Monroe County Budget Order, Tax Rates Set

Monroe County Courthouse at Night
Monroe County Courthouse at Night

Last Friday, Monroe County received its 2018 Budget Order from the state, which includes:

  • The budgets for all taxing units (i.e., county, cities and towns, school districts, townships, public library, special units)
  • The property tax levies and tax rates for all taxing units
  • The property tax rates for each taxing district (i.e., the tax rates that actually affect each property owner)

The following table summarizes the total 2018 property tax rate (per $100 of net assessed value) for each taxing district in Monroe County, sorted from highest to lowest. I’ve also included the 2015-2017 tax rates for comparison.

Screenshot 2018-02-13 15.28.36

I highlighted the taxing districts that are within incorporated municipalities in aqua.

The rates for most taxing districts went up, at least partially because the maximum civil levy statewide increased by 4% (this is sort of like a cost-of-living increase for local government operating funds), and because the County established a new Major Bridge Fund for 2018 (with a tax rate of $0.0333).

The two exceptions, in which the rates went down for 2018, were Bloomington Township (unincorporated) and Washington Township. This is because of the Northern Monroe Fire Territory, which first began in 2017. The first year’s tax rates of a new fire territory are typically the highest, both because the territory needs to collect more than it needs for the year in order to create an operating reserve, and because the local income tax (LIT) associated with the new property taxes of the fire territory doesn’t come in until the next year. Bloomington and Washington Township residents thus saw a large increase in property taxes for 2017 over 2016.

Because during the second year of the fire territory (a) the territory doesn’t need to collect extra for reserves and (b) the township providing fire services (Bloomington Township) receives additional LIT, the property tax rates for the second year can be reduced, and thus both Washington Township and Bloomington Township saw overall reductions in their 2018 property tax rates over 2017.