Archive | February, 2016

More Discussion about Funding for Volunteer Fire Departments and New Financial Software for the County? Preview of Monroe County Council Work Session 2016-02-23

23 Feb

2016 County Council MembersThis evening’s work session of the Monroe County Council (5:30 PM in the Nat U Hill Room) will feature two topics: funding for volunteer fire departments and potential new financial software for the county.

Funding for Volunteer Fire Departments

At the last regular session, the Council appropriated $5000 for each fire department in the county with a volunteer component (8 total fire departments) from revenues received by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources from timber sales from state forests located in Monroe County.  This was the amount requested by the County Commissioners — $2500 for each fire department from 2014-2015 revenues and $2500 for 2011-2012 revenues (somehow the county neglected to make the distribution to fire departments in 2012).

I provided a little more background on the timber sales distributions here.

The reason for tonight’s discussion is that some councilors, and in particular Council President Cheryl Munson, who has been strongly involved in volunteer fire departments through her service in Indian Creek Township, think that the distribution requested by the County Commissioners ($2500 per department) is too low compared to the need. The statute that requires the timber sales distribution to volunteer fire departments earmarks up to 50% of the timber sales revenue for fire departments, if the Commissioners request it. For this year (2014-2015), this would mean that the Commissioners could have requested up to $4955 per fire department.

The purpose of this discussion tonight is to explore options and interest in providing additional funding for fire departments.  For additional background, here is some data on county distributions of timber sales revenues to volunteer fire departments from 2005-present:

Screenshot 2016-02-23 06.27.38

County Financial Software

A an item that is not yet on the agenda will likely be discussed. The county council is still under discussions to potentially fund the purchase of new financial software. We are considering, upon request from the Auditor’s Office, the purchase of financial software from Low Associates to replace the County’s aging Harris Open Window financial system.

A representative from Low is anticipated to be at the work session to answer Council questions, as will the County’s Director of Technical Services (IT).

Costs of the new software (including installation, implementation, and training) are estimated at $188,236, plus an additional $37,176 in annual maintenance expenses. Discussions will likely center around (1) should the County move forward in purchasing the new financial software; (2) if so, when, and (3) if so, how should we pay for it. Options for funding the software include cash on hand from County Option Income Tax (COIT) revenues, the Commissioners’ Cumulative Capital Development fund, and a potential future General Obligation (GO) bond.

The packet for the meeting is available here: Council_Work_Session_Packet_20160223. However, it probably won’t be particularly useful — there is no detail on the timber sales issue, and the Low software discussion is a last-minute addition.

As always, the meeting is open to the public and will be televised on CATS. Hope to see you there!

 

2016 Monroe County Budget Order — Property Tax Rates and Budgets Approved

12 Feb
Monroe County Courthouse at Night

Monroe County Courthouse at Night

Yesterday, Monroe County received its budget order for 2016 from the Indiana Department of Local Government Finance. This means that the Department of Local Government Finance has approved for Monroe County:

  • 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)

Here is a chart showing the 2016 tax rates by taxing district (along with the 2013, 2014, and 2015 rates for comparison):

2016 Monroe County Tax Rates by District

 

Tax rates for all taxing districts actually went down this year, except for Bloomington Township and Salt Creek Township. Tax rates for these two districts went up a bit, because of fire debt service payments.

The full budget order can be found here: Monroe County 2016 Budget Order

Funding for Volunteer Fire Departments, CASA, and New Financial Software for the County? Preview of Monroe County Council Meeting 2016-02-09

7 Feb

2016 County Council Members

The packet and agenda for this Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Monroe County Council is now available: Council_Packet_20160209.

The following are the major substantive items on the agenda:

  • The Monroe County Circuit Court is requesting an additional appropriation of $27,334 out of the Juvenile County Option Income Tax (a 0.095% special income tax earmarked for juvenile services) for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), a a volunteer-powered program which provides representation in juvenile court for child victims of abuse and neglect. This is an increase over the 2016 budgeted amount of $137,166 (which was unchanged from the 2015 amount), and is being requested due to increasing demands on the program.
  • The Health Department is requesting an appropriation of a $15,000 grant to support the Monroe County syringe exchange program, in an agreement with the Indiana Recovery Alliance. The Health Department announced the opening of the syringe exchange program this past Friday. The program will provide free syringes, prevention supplies, HIV and Hepatitis C testing, treatment and social service referrals, and harm reduction and naloxone education.
  • The Probation Department is requesting the creation of a fund and appropriation of a $32,065 Justice Assistance Grant for the Drug Court Coordinator position, funding for which is shared with the COIT General Fund budget. This is a cut from last year’s grant, and we have been notified that after 11 years of funding, we will be unlikely to receive funding next year. Monroe County’s Drug Court has been a demonstrable success in the past, and it will be a priority both of the Probation Department and — hopefully — the County Council to continue to fund Drug Court operations.
  • The Legal Department is requesting an appropriation of $25,000 for potential claims settlement. The legal department has typically had this amount available to it to settle claims on behalf of Monroe County when a negotiated settlement is in our best interest. The line was cut in 2016 budget hearings; however, the legal department is requesting it be reinstated, in order to broaden our options in future negotiations.
  • The Correctional Center is requesting an additional appropriation of $35,441.61 out of the Misdemeanant/County Corrections Fund for part-time hourly. It appears that this part-time hourly request was accidentally omitted from the jail’s 2016 budget request. The hope is that better use of part-time hourly revenue could result in reduced overtime costs, which was a major problem in 2015, and will likely be in 2016 as well, following a collective bargaining agreement with the correctional employees that changed the rules on overtime. In addition, there might be additional discussion of recent and proposed statutory changes to the rules for the Misdemeanant Fund.
  • The Auditor’s Office is requesting an appropriation of $235,000 out of the COIT General fund for purchase of new financial software (LOW Windows Accounting System).
    • The Auditor’s Office switched to LOW’s property tax management system two years ago, and has been investigating a potential conversion for the past couple of months, and has conducted a public demonstration with all county stakeholders, worked extensively with the Technical Services Department (IT), and led site visits to other counties that are using the same system.
    • The Council has not seen the full financial plan for purchasing and supporting LOW yet, nor a requested cost-benefit analysis, though, so while the switch to LOW is very promising, this request is premature, in my opinion.
  • The County Commissioners are requesting an appropriation of $40,000 out of the General Fund for aid to volunteer fire departments in the county.
    • Every year, by statute, the county receives 15% of the net proceeds from logging activities on state forests located in the county from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
    • For the 2015-2016 fiscal year, Monroe County received $79,295, which was deposited in the Property Tax General Fund in December. Also by statute, 50% of this revenue is earmarked for rural and volunteer fire departments within the county that have a cooperative agreement with the state.
    • However, the statute also specifies a $1000 maximum annual distribution per fire company, unless the legislative body (the County Commissioners) allows a greater distribution.
    • Whatever the distribution amount allowed, it must be the same for all eligible fire departments. There are 8 fire departments in Monroe County eligible for this funding: Bean Blossom Township Fire Department, Benton Township Fire Department, Bloomington Fire Department, Bloomington Township Volunteer Fire Department, Ellettsville Volunteer Fire Department, Indian Creek Firefighters Inc, Perry/Clear Creek Fire Protection District, and Van Buren Township Volunteer Fire Department. Note that many of these fire departments have both volunteer and professional firefighters.
    • The Commissioners have decided to give each volunteer fire department $2500, for a total of $20,000. The maximum that they could have provided each department was $4956 ($4956 x 8 departments = $39,648, which is 505 of the revenue). The rest of the revenue not provided to volunteer fire departments reverts to the Property Tax General Fund, where it can be spent on any expense of county government.
    • In addition, it was discovered that no distribution was provided to fire departments from the 2012 timber sales revenues. Therefore, the Commissioners are requesting an additional $2500 per fire department, to make up for the missed distribution. Honestly, I am really shocked that no one noticed this omission before now. Some of these rural fire departments are very small, and need all of the assistance they can get!
  • The Commissioners are making several requests for  appropriations for capital projects that have already been programmed.
    • They are requesting $317,609 in appropriations from the 2013 General Obligation bond, to finish up several projects, including Showers building repairs, a remodel of the jail, fire suppression systems, the solar project on the Justice Building, and a section of the Karst Farm Greenway.
    • They are also requesting $239,140 in appropriations from the 2014 General Obligation bond for emergency notifications, IT hardware, and the energy conservation project.
  • The Commissioners are requesting $102,500 from the Cable Franchise Fees fund for several items that were accidentally left off of 2016 budget requests (but are typically funded from the Cable Franchise Fees fund): telephone maintenance, software development services, and the county’s copier lease.
  • The Clerk is requesting the appropriation of $191,918 from a federal Violence Against Women grant that will pay a program coordinator and supplies for the Clerk’s Office, the courts, and law enforcement.
  • The Council will be working with the Clerk and the Election Board to complete the establishment and appropriations for the county’s new Election and Voter Registration Fund. The purpose of this fund is to smooth out the variability in election expenses over the four-year cycle (Presidential election, no election, off-year election, municipal election). The new fund has already been created and the Council transferred $986,000 into it out of the Rainy Day Fund. At this meeting, the council will be setting up the budget lines in the new fund, appropriating into these lines, and deappropriating the old Voter Registration and Election budgets (in the Property Tax General and COIT General Funds, respectively).

Whew, sounds like it could be a long night!

As always, the meeting is open to the public, and will be held this Tuesday evening (February 9, 2016) at 5:30 in the Nat U Hill room of the Monroe County Courthouse, and it will be broadcast on CATS. Public comment will be taken. Hope to see you there!