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What Are the Spending Priorities of the County?

2 Sep
Monroe County Courthouse at Night

Monroe County Courthouse at Night

The Monroe County Council is in the middle of budget hearings for 2017, so it seems an ideal time to talk about what the county spends money on. It is almost a truism that budgets reflect priorities, and to some degree that is accurate. I’ve always struggled with representing the county budget, though, in a manner that actually does reflect county spending priorities, rather than the statutory requirements of various funding sources, grant availability, and so on. A better picture of spending priorities, in my mind, consists of those expenditures among which tradeoffs can be made, and I’ve included a chart of these expenditures by department below.

In order to do that, I included all of the budgets under the so-called “frozen levy“. In essence, these are the budgets that the County Council can make priority decisions. As an example, Monroe County’s total adopted budget was $63,165,714 in 2016. However, a substantial portion of this includes highway funds, which can’t be spent for any purpose other than roads. So although roads are a critical priority for county government, I didn’t include them in this table, because road funding can’t be traded off against any other funding. I also included voter registration and election costs because, although not actually part of the General Fund or the frozen levy, these functions are entirely dependent on cash that would otherwise go to the General Fund (or other funds in the frozen levy).

There is another very important caveat to these numbers: they reflect the operational costs of running county government. Capital items, with the one exception of the Cumulative Bridge Fund, which is included in this data, are almost entirely funded through other means, including the Cumulative Capital Development fund or bonds, both of which are supported by additional property tax levies.

So here is how Monroe County prioritizes tax revenues, based on the 2017 budget so far. Budget hearings are still ongoing, however, so these numbers can and will change as budgeting decisions are made.

Screenshot 2016-09-02 13.02.26

Snapshot of Monroe County 2017 budget requests for functions in the frozen levy, plus election and voter registration costs, midway through 2017 budget hearings, in descending order of budget amount

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Public-Private Partnerships and the Proposed Indianapolis Justice Center

15 Mar

Interesting article in yesterday’s Indy Star about the $1.75B justice complex being proposed for Marion County: Weighing the scales: $1.75B justice center could be a bargain or a boondoggle.

The article in the Indy Star is less about the justice center itself (which nearly everyone seems to agree is needed) than about the procurement method being selected to build and operate it — so-called performance-based infrastructure. This is a form of public-private partnership (often called P3) that will be familiar to Monroe County residents, because it is being used for construction and operation of I-69 Section 5 (I have written about P3 used for Section 5 here). It has already been used as well for the Ohio River Bridges project near Louisville (and note that this method is NOT what was used with the Indiana Toll Road).

Per the studies cited in this article, the results of performance-based infrastructure (PBI) have been mixed. However, the most interesting aspect to me from a public policy perspective is how dependent these cost-benefit analyses (comparing the performance-based infrastructure procurement method against the traditional method, where the government bids out the construction, bonds for the funding, and then operates the facilities) are on the assessment of risk. Depending on how much risk you build into your cost-benefit model, the savings from performance-based infrastructure can be made to appear much larger or much smaller. This is because one of the primary benefits from PBI is that the contractor absorbs cost and schedule overruns (along with other risks), not the government. However, how much actual risk is avoided can often (always?) be a matter of disagreement and dispute.

This also leads to another question: how do you fairly assess the success of such a project after the fact? Once the project is completed, the risk that was avoided is obviously no longer a factor. But did the government still get the benefit of avoiding a risk of an event that wound up not happening anyway? Did you get the benefit of having car insurance last year even though you didn’t have any accidents or making any claims?

In any case, the article is worth reading. We will undoubtedly be seeing more, not less, of these P3/PBI deals, as local and state governments continue to try to build and operate infrastructure with flat or diminishing tax revenues.

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!

 

 

Criminal Case Filings in Monroe County, 1993-2011

31 Aug

The Monroe County Prosecutor’s Office had a 2012 budget of around $2.17M, not counting the child support collection-related activities or grant-funded programs like adult protective services. This $2.17M was paid for both out of the General Fund ($1.43M) and the Pretrial and Infraction Diversion Fund (fees paid by participants in the Pretrial Diversion Program and Infraction Diversion Programs, $732K).

A substantial portion of the $732K from pretrial and infraction diversion fees goes towards basic operations of the Prosecutor’s Office. This is a practice that goes back to the 2008 budget, and has a long and complicated history that I won’t go into detail on right now. However, the upshot is that the Pretrial and Infraction Diversion Fund is not only currently unsustainable given current revenues and expenditures, but is projected to run out of money this year. Beyond the fiscal unsustainability of the current funding arrangement, some philosophical/policy objections have also been raised (i.e., that funding basic operations of the prosecutor’s office from user fees and fines creates an incentive for the prosecutor to “shake down” students for pretrial diversion revenues).

In any case, for the 2013 budget, the Prosecutor’s Office is requesting that the Council move 5 legal secretary positions (as well as some additional expenses, for a total of almost $270K) from the Pretrial and Infraction Diversion Fund to the General Fund, in order to make the pretrial diversion fund sustainable. This essentially would result in a General Fund budget increase of $270K, and is part of the almost $1.4M of departmental budget requests that exceed projected revenue. The Council is obviously going to make some tough choices here.

All of this is a long preamble for the chart I wanted to provide here. In considering whether or not to accept some (or all?) of the positions that the Prosecutor’s Office is requested be moved back into County General, we have to consider the appropriateness of the overall staffing level of the office with respect to the needs of the community. One component of that analysis is the criminal case filings, which of course is a measure both of the crime that occurs in the community (which the Prosecutor generally has very little control over, although our current Prosecutor has been a model of proactive crime prevention) and of the specific policies of the Prosecutor. One of the policy questions faced by fiscal bodies like the County Council is: to what degree is the county required to pay for policy decisions by individual elected officials?

I put together the following chart, courtesy of data from the Monroe County Circuit Courts, on criminal case filings in Monroe County from 1993-2011 (1993 is the earliest I could get good data from). The cases are separated into misdemeanors and felonies, and I have labeled those cases that occurred under prosecutor Carl Salzmann and those that occurred under (current) prosecutor Chris Gaal.

Monroe County Criminal Case Filing Statistics 1993-2011

 

Overall it does not appear that there has been a substantial increase in overall criminal case filings over the past 10 years (beyond a small among that is probably accounted for by overall population growth — more people generally is going to mean more crime). It is interesting to note that criminal case filings had dipped quite low in the last two years of the Salzmann administration. Was this simply a result of less crime in the community, or was there a policy decision to pursue criminal filings less aggressively? As you can also see, when prosecutor Chris Gaal took over in 2007, there was a large spike in filings, leading to 2007 being the high-water mark for criminal case filings. However, the filing rate appears to have stabilized in the ensuing years, and is probably a better indication of the “normal” rate of criminal filings, rather than the “prosecution-lite” last two years of the previous prosecutor’s administration.