First Day of Monroe County Budget Hearings

Last night, the Monroe County Council completed its first day of four scheduled days of budget hearings.

The following is a very abbreviated summary of changes made from the 2012 budget. I’m only including changes here that in my opinion have some policy implication, and are not just corrections of errors, technical changes, or continuation of the status quo, etc.

  • Recorder: Moved around $55K of personnel expenses from the Recorder’s Perpetuation Fund to the General Fund, to reduce the amount of subsidy that the Recorder’s Perpetuation Fund (funded by fees on recorded documents) has been providing to the General Fund over the past 4 years or so.
  • County Council:
    • BEDC: Reinstated the County Council’s voting membership in the Bloomington Economic Development Corporation (BEDC) in the amount of $5250. In effect, ever since the County Council eliminated the Community Development position in the Commissioners’ budget, Monroe County has outsourced our economic development functions to the BEDC. If we are going to make that choice, then we need to have a seat at the table. Unfortunately, due to fiscal necessity, the County Council was forced to eliminate this membership in the 2012 budget. This very small expenditure is controversial primarily because in previous decades, and under different leadership, the BEDC was primarily a real estate development organization (i.e., an organization primarily focused on increasing rents to property owners). More recently, the BEDC has been very clear in both word and action that it is focused entirely on jobs and wages — the rightful focus of a community economic development organization.
    • Community Service Grants: The appropriation for the Community Service Grants program (which provides small competitive grants to local nonprofits and units of government) was increased from $95K (where it has been since it was created in 2008) to $100K.  This increase is minuscule compared to the needs of the community; however, it was an amount that received unanimous approval on the Council.
    • Compensation Consulting Fees: A request for $5250 for additional services from the County’s compensation and job classification consultant (Waggoner, Irwin, Scheele & Associates, generally referred to as WIS) was stripped from the budget.
  • Human Resources: Approved an additional $10,400 for hourly support. This was one of the most controversial votes of the evening. The key question under debate was the importance of human resources itself as a professional function — is Human Resources a critical function for a large, modern organization? Monroe County Government is a corporation with over 500 employees, and needs a professional human resources organization. One full time professional and a half-time hourly employee is less than functional for the size and complexity of our organization; however, apparently even the existence of a professional HR department is controversial to some, who seem to imply that HR is little more than record-keeping, which can just as easily be performed by the auditor’s office.
  • County Commissioners:
    • Ambulance: The Commissioners requested $100K to support the ambulance service (Bloomington Hospital Ambulance Service, BHAS). Traditionally some support for the ambulance has been provided by the County, although it was stripped from the budget last year. The ambulance request was rejected by the Council again this year. I argued strenuously in favor of the appropriation, noting that it was a vital public service and that the hospital was not required to provide the services, or to provide them at the high level of quality that it does. Other councilors seemed more swayed by the arguments that this service was just another subsidy of a large corporation (IU Health) that would put more money in the pockets of its top executives.
    • Funding for Stone Belt, LifeDesigns, and Centerstone were all given a cost of living increase of 2.8% (and in addition the Council corrected the $67K  error that had been made that shorted LifeDesigns $67K for 2012).  I have written about this issue before here.
    • Rural Transit: the subsidy for Rural Transit was doubled from $30K to $60K to provide the County with seed money to try to start a rural commuter park and ride program. Indiana Public Media wrote a brief story about this initiative here.
    • Temporary Space: Rental for temporary space was reduced from $21K to $10K, reflecting increasing use of the Showers Government Center. The remaining $10K is still needed for Extension Services, which pays utilities and cleaning for a part of the Solid Waste Management District building, and for the Cantol Wax Building, which is being used temporarily for old document storage.
    • CATS: Community Access Television Services (CATS) was given a 3% increase out of Cable Franchise Fees revenues.
    • WFHB Weather Alert: The county chose to continue to fund the weather alert service of WFHB (community / public radio) in the amount of $2K from the Cable Franchise Fees budget. The county has for a number of years funded a similar service for WFIU, but started this year funding WFHB for the same public safety service.
    • Tech Support Position: An IT technical support position was placed in the Cumulative Capital Development (CCD) fund (and presumably will be removed from the general fund budget tomorrow). This brings to 7 the number of IT employees funded out of the CCD budget. Normally, the CCD fund can only be used for capital items; however, the statute specifically permits IT support positions to be paid from this fund.
    • Voting Machines: The Council voted to zero out the $271K voting machines line from the CCD fund. This line was to be used to pay for voting machines necessary because we are not going to be a vote center county for 2012. Although this is a somewhat symbolic act (the Commissioners can move money to another line if they choose, to pay for this equipment), the Council Democrats voiced their extreme displeasure at the Election Board for not approving vote centers (the vote must be unanimous on the 3-member Election Board, and the lone Republican appointee has thus far refused to allow the County to become a vote center county).
  • Health: The Health Department was allowed to budget for the creation of a new grant-funded Disease Intervention Specialist position.

The following budgets were approved yesterday:

  • Recorder
  • Extension Services
  • County Council
  • Human Resources
  • Commissioners
  • Fleet
  • County Building Services (Maintenance)
  • Weights and Measures
  • Legal
  • Parks and Recreation

More action tonight, when the Council considers the budgets for Veterans Affairs, the Assessor, Sheriff, Jail, Coroner, Airport, Building Commission, Plan Commission, the Auditor, and Technical Services (IT)!

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