Archive | January, 2015

End of the Year Fiscal Update for Monroe County Government

30 Jan

At last week’s Monroe County Council work session, I gave a presentation to the council and the public on the fiscal state of Monroe County Government as of the end of 2014, particularly from the perspective of the county’s primary general operating funds — the General Fund (property tax) and the County Option Income Tax (COIT) fund (income tax), as well as the Rainy Day fund (essentially, our savings account).

In short, the county’s financial position is strong. The most important slide in the presentation was the following, which summarizes the two general funds (property tax and income tax) as well as the Rainy Day fund:

2014 General Funds Summary

Although the County had $2.2M less in cash on hand at the end of 2014 as it did in the beginning, this was due primarily to planned spending on one-time capital expenses, including $1.8M to equip the 911 Dispatch Center and $155K for the Monroe County Urbanizing Area plan. In addition, because settlement (the process by which the property tax collected by the county gets distributed to all of the taxing units that receive property tax) was not complete by the end of 2014, the county only received 95% of the property tax it should have received  for the second half of the year. The remainder will be paid in 2015.

A couple of other important findings in the report:

  • We paid out approximately $200K in expenses that did not by law require an appropriation by the Council. These expenses include special prosecutors, certain election expenses, elected official travel to certain state-mandated meetings, and State Board of Accounts audit expenses. This $200K per year number is relatively stable from year to year, so my recommendation is that the Council budget that amount per year, even though we don’t have any control over it.
  • Both general funds (property tax and income tax) end the year with healthy balances. The general property tax fund required a transfer of $2.7M from rainy day to stabilize it after several large one-time capital purchases over the last several years (Johnson Hardware Building, 911 Dispatch Center equipment, and the Monroe County Urbanizing Area plan).
  • We still have a $3.3M balance in the Rainy Day fund, which gives us a buffer in case property tax settlement continues to be delayed, or if income tax should take an unexpected nosedive.
  • County departments reverted (i.e. didn’t spend) approximately $1.3M of their appropriations in 2014. $605K of this was in personnel. Personnel reversions also appear to be quite stable from year to year. Personnel reversions generally occur because of employee turnover. When a position is vacant — even for a day —  it leaves unused personnel (salary and benefits) appropriations. Even when that position is filled, it is generally filled with someone whose salary is at the entry level for that classification — creating more reversions. The council was in general agreement that departments should transfer any of their unused personnel appropriations before requesting any additional appropriations towards the end of the year.
  • The circuit breakers (tax caps) are taking an increasing (but still not yet alarmingly large) bite out of property tax revenues in Monroe County. I have written about circuit breakers before here and here.

The last slide in the presentation summarizes the 2015 budget that the Council adopted in October:

2015 Budget Summary

As this chart shows, the budget that was passed is a balanced budget (actually, is about $122K in surplus). However, there  are a lot of things that this small surplus doesn’t take into account both good, like the additional 2014 property tax revenue that we will receive in 2015, as well as 2015 reversions, and bad, like the circuit breakers and any additional appropriations that we might have to make beyond what was budgeted for 2015.

The entire report can be found here: 2014 Budget Wrapup Presentation G McKim

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Preview of Today’s Monroe County Council Work Session (2015-01-27)

27 Jan
2014 Monroe County Council

2014 Monroe County Council

Tonight’s work session of the Monroe County Council will feature several substantive issues for discussion. The packet with narrative descriptions of each of the issues can be found here: 2015-01-27 Work Session Packet

Very briefly, the major issues to be discussed are:

  • The Health Department is asking to offer health insurance its public health nurse position, which is currently split by two people in a job share. Both positions are half-time on their own, and do not currently receive county benefits.
  • Human Resources and the County Commissioners are asking extend county retirement benefits (through the Public Employees Retirement Fund – PERF) to all elected officials. Currently the County Commissioners, County Council, and Coroner are excluded. The overall list of PERF-eligible positions is also out of date and must be updated.
  • The County Highway department is asking whether snow and ice supplementary pay should also be extended to non-union Highway employees who are also required to forgo vacations during the snow and ice season.
  • The County Commissioners will provide an update on possible funding mechanisms for the major energy upgrades being planned
  • Parks and Recreation is presenting their proposal for an additional appropriation (for 2015, and then again annually thereafter) to fund the maintenance of the Monroe County Active Transportation (Greenway) network. I’m very excited about this presentation, and about several of the trails initiatives that are on the horizon.

In addition, there will be several financial issues up for discussion, including the Auditor’s decision not to prorate the final payroll of the year that straddled 2014 and 2015, a financial update on 2014 from me (I’ll post my presentation as a separate blog entry) and the Council President’s discussion of the Council Office and general meeting procedures.

As always, the meeting is open to the public, and will be held tonight at 5:30 in the Nat U Hill room of the Monroe County Courthouse, and it will be broadcast on CATS.

City of Bloomington Economic Development Commission Meeting Today

23 Jan

Today, the City of Bloomington Economic Development Commission (EDC) will be meeting at noon (2015-01-23 at 12:00PM) in the Hooker Conference Room in City Hall. There are 3 substantive issues that will be covered in the meeting — issues that might be characterized as the good and the ugly in economic development. Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of time to write about this in much detail before the meeting, but will update the public afterwards.

1. Big-O properties (principal Mary Friedman, Bloomington) is requesting a 3-year tax abatement for a mixed-use project at 338 S Walnut Street. I have written about this project extensively before here (City Tax Abatement Request for Mixed Use Building 338 S Walnut St). They are coming back before the EDC because they are requesting to change the plan a bit — to reduce the amount of retail square footage on the ground floor from 2500sf to 1663sf to make room for bicycle storage (in order to make the bedroom to bicycle storage ratio 1:1). This abatement request will need to be approved by the City Council.

2. Cook Pharmica is requesting a 10-year personal property tax abatement for a significant expansion to their vial and syringe-filling business unit. They are proposing to invest $25M in new equipment, which will result in the creation of 70 new jobs, with $3.2M in new payroll. All wages would (and would be required to) be compliant with the City’s Living Wage Ordinance. The jobs would be created between 2015 and 2020. Cook Pharmica is also investing several million in the building to accommodate this expansion; however, they are only requesting the tax abatement on the personal property improvements (the equipment), not the real estate improvements.

The abatement is requested as a 70% abatement over 10 years. The 70% figure was chosen because Cook Pharmica could alternatively take advantage of an automatic 10-year Urban Enterprise Zone tax abatement, which also results in a net 70% savings on the personal property taxes resulting from their new investment, but distributes the remaining 30% to the Bloomington Urban Enterprise Association, the City’s Redevelopment Commission, and the Indiana Economic Development Corporation. Structuring their request as a 70% abatement on personal property tax instead keeps the 30% as being distributed to the taxing units serving the property (i.e., City of Bloomington, Monroe County, MCCSC, Monroe County Public Library, etc.). This abatement would need to be approved by the City Council.

3. Between 1986 and 2012, the City issued business loans through the Bloomington Investment and Incentive Fund (BIIF). There are 5 outstanding BIIF loans, of which 4 are current. The remaining loan was made to XfiniGen — a company that proposed to build the “next generation lithium batteries for large scale energy storage applications”, and proposed bringing 107 jobs to Bloomington. The company folded, and has left $37,464.07 in principal outstanding. Their last payment was in November 2013. The City is proposing that this remaining debt be written off, as there is little to no chance of collection. The memo in the packet about this situation provides some more detail about the company and the City’s attempts to collect the debt.

The full packet can be found here: Bloomington EDC Packet 2015-01-23

What Defines Agricultural Land?

12 Jan

There was an interesting article in today’s Indy Star for those interested in tax policy: Tax bills shock Hoosiers whose farmland is reclassified.

The gist is that agricultural land in Indiana is assessed at a much lower value than residential land. However, what exactly determines whether land is classified as agricultural apparently leaves a lot of discretion to the county assessor. By law, land should only be assessed as agricultural land if it is used for agricultural purposes. But it isn’t always obvious what constitutes agricultural purposes. As some counties change the standards for what constitutes agricultural purposes — or, from another perspective simply correct past errors in classification, some rural property owners have seen big increases in their assessed value, and therefore their property tax bills.

The property tax circuit breakers (tax caps) make matters even more complicated. While land classified as residential is assessed at a higher rate than agricultural land, the homestead (owner-occupied residential) tax cap is at 1% of the assessed value. While agricultural land is assessed at a lower value, the tax cap is at 2% of assessed value. So the actual property taxes paid by the owner will depend on whether or not their property is already at the tax caps.

Our own County Assessor and president of the Indiana County Assessors Association, Judy Sharp, is quoted extensively in the article describing the difficulty in determining what constitutes agricultural use. She is also quoted in support of legislation that Representative Bob Cherry (R-Greenfield) says he intends to introduce this session that would specify that for land whose use doesn’t change, the classification for property tax purposes can’t change either. However, this legislation may, despite protecting taxpayers from increases in property taxes due to corrections in classification, also make it very difficult to correct past errors and county-by-county inequities in classification of agricultural land.

Deadline for Public Comment on Fullerton Pike Project Tomorrow

8 Jan

End of Gordon PikeThe County Council has been hearing a lot of comments on the proposed Fullerton Pike road project in the last couple of days. I wanted to remind everyone that tomorrow (January 9, 2015) is the deadline for public comment.

The full Environmental Assessment and project description of the project can be found here:

My previous postings on the road project can be found here.

Comments can be submitted in the following ways:

  • Emailed to fullertonpike@structurepoint.com
  • Mailed to Benjamin Harvey at American Structurepoint, Inc., 7260 Shadeland Station, Indianapolis, IN 46256
  • Faxed to 317-543-0270 [editorial comment: seriously, fax?]

After the public comment period is closed, the County (and the project consultants) will provide a written response to each comment (comments that are substantially similar may be combined) for the record. The Federal Highway Administration will then either approve a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) or not, in which case a much more extensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) would need to be prepared.

Vacant County Council Appointment to the Monroe County Alcoholic Beverage Commission

6 Jan

The Monroe County Council is seeking applicants for a vacant position on the Monroe County Alcoholic Beverage Commission (ABC). This appointment was recently vacated by Eric Schmitz, who, as the newly elected County Recorder, is not able to serve on the commission.

Requirements for the position are:

  • At least 21 years of age
  • Have been a resident of the county for at least 5 years immediately preceding the appointment
  • Must never have been convicted of a felony
  • Must have a “good moral character” (yes, that is the language in the statute)

The full statute governing the appointment can be found here: IC 7.1-2-4

The function of the local ABC is to investigate alcoholic beverage permit applications, including applications for new permits, renewal of existing permits, and transfers of ownership and/or locations of a permit. All ABC meetings are advertised, open to the public, and subject to Indiana’s Open Door laws. The ABC then makes a recommendation to the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, which has final authority on permit decisions. A full list of duties of the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission and local Alcoholic Beverage Commissions can be found in the Local Board Handbook.

Local ABCs have 4 members: one appointed by the county commissioners, one appointed by the county council, one appointed by the mayor of the largest city, and one representative of the Indiana Excise Police.

Our current members are:

  • Perry Metz, County Commissioners
  • Fred Turner, Mayor of Bloomington
  • Lonnie Gibson, Excise Police Officer

The application form can be found on the Monroe County Council web page. If you are interested and meet the qualifications, please apply ASAP!

Proposed “New Terrain” Connection from Fullerton Pike to Gordon Pike

5 Jan

The public comment period on the Environmental Assessment for the proposed Fullerton Pike road improvement project ends this Friday, January 9, 2015. The project proposes covers the corridor from Rockport Road at the west to Sare Road at the east. I have posted about this project previously here and here.

Part of the proposed corridor includes approximately 0.8 miles of new terrain road (actually, running along an old farm road), connecting Fullerton Pike (at the west) to Gordon Pike (at the east). I walked the corridor yesterday afternoon, and am including a few pictures here, in my somewhat melancholic and ongoing interest in documenting corridors before they are forever transformed.

This map illustrates the “new terrain” portion of the proposed Fullerton Pike highway project that connects Fullerton Pike just east of Rockport Road to Gordon Pike. The map shows where I actually walked — and you can see a gap right at Clear Creek. It had just been raining hard, and the creek was too high to cross, so I had to turn back and approach the corridor from the other side.

Fullerton Pike to Gordon Pike Connection

 

This is where Gordon Pike westbound ends, right at the neighborhood called The Highlands.

End of Gordon Pike

The gravel lane leads west towards the Clear Creek Trail. My daughter Tessa wasn’t really that happy about walking in the cold! Even on a cold blustery day, I found something really beautiful about this narrow gravel lane.

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My son joined on the hike as well.

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From here the lane slopes down to the Clear Creek Trail (and Clear Creek). The proposed road project includes a bridge here, passing over the creek and the trail.

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Here the creek was very high following a day of hard rains.

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Here is Clear Creek from the west side.

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The corridor then passes through farmland. At this point there is no visible remnant of a road, other than the utility easement.

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The gravel road returns to the west.

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The gravel road finally connects up with Fullerton Pike to the west.

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Despite the bitter cold and windy day, it was a really a lovely hike through a rural trail that will likely not be part of our landscape in the next few years.