Second Day of Monroe County Budget Hearings

Tonight the Monroe County Council completed the second (of four) days of hearings for the 2013 budget. Today, the following departments’ budgets were approved:

  • Sheriff
  • Correctional Center (Jail)
  • Veterans Affairs
  • Assessor
  • Animal Control
  • Planning
  • Technical Services (IT)
  • Building Commission
  • Auditor

The evening began with some good news: Monroe County’s share of the County Option Income Tax (COIT) for 2013 came in at $9.66M, instead of the $9.5M that we had projected. I’ll do another post about the COIT receipts shortly.

After taking into account the new COIT news, and the evening’s activities, the Council cut $209K from departmental requests, leaving a “paper” deficit of around $905K. Remember that departments never spent all of their budgets (primarily because of vacant positions), and so a nominal budgeted deficit will not necessarily actually result in a real reduction in cash at the end of the year. At the same time, the Council created a new sheriff’s deputy position, a priority that a number of councilmembers, including myself, have declared as priorities for several years.

As with yesterday’s posting, I’ll give a quick synopsis of the budgetary decisions made today that have (in my opinion) policy implications:

  • Sheriff
    •  Chief Deputy and Jail Commander: The council provided a 3.5% raise to the Sheriff’s Chief Deputy and the Jail Commander. For most chief deputy positions, the County pays, by compensation policy, 75% of the elected official that the chief deputy provides. However, the chief deputies of the Sheriff do not fall under this policy, and make significantly less than 75% of the Sheriff’s salary. This was a small attempt at an equity adjustment for these two chief deputies.
    • Merit Deputy: Typically the Sheriff’s Department can only provide three deputies on duty at any shift to cover the entire unincorporated area of the county. Many members of the Council, including myself, have sought to increase the number of road deputies. Last year we were able to create one new position and this year we did the same.
    • Animal Control: The animal control interlocal agreement between Monroe County, the town of Ellettsville, and the City of Bloomington sets the terms of the payment that Monroe County and Ellettsville make to the City of Bloomington for the use of their animal shelter, and is perennially a source of controversy. This evening, the Council appropriated $293,580 for this service, a (substantial) increase from $237,342 in 2012.  For the past two years, the interlocal agreement has been based on a formula: the county pays the City of Bloomington a percentage of the actual costs of running the shelter (and only the shelter itself, not the outreach, programming, and other services provided by the City). That percentage is determined by the percentage of the animals dropped off at the shelter from residents of the unincorporated areas of the county as a percentage of the total number of animals dropped off at the shelter the previous year. Similarly the Town of Ellettsville pays the percentage based on the number of animals dropped off by Ellettsville residents. Pretty much everyone agrees that this agreement is fair. However, it is frustrating to Monroe County because it represents a cost to the county that is not controllable. In particular, this year’s substantial increase was caused by a policy change of the City’s. Per the interlocal agreement, the City of Bloomington counts animals dropped off by out-of-county residents towards the city’s share of the costs of the shelter.
  • Planning
    • Consulting: The Council rejected a request from the Plan Commission for $75K for consulting fees for one of two projects: the plan for the Bloomington Urbanizing Area (BUA) and/or an update of the zoning code. Although the request was denied, the Council recognized that it is necessary eventually, and also that it should be handled as an additional appropriation (essentially as a one-time investment), rather than a regular budget item. Several councilors also wanted to see pricing from potential consultants before making the appropriation.
  • Technical Services
    • Hourly: The Council denied the Technical Services Department (IT) requested to increase their $23K hourly budget to over $75K. Tech Services requested additional hourly funds for several purposes, including equipment inventory management and a one-time cable-pulling project in the Justice Building. Several councilors requested additional detail on the inventory management project, and one or two suggested that it should be a single full-time position (with benefits) instead. The Council had also previously advised the department that the cable-pulling project should be funded through an additional appropriation this year (2012), rather than as part of the 2013 budget. (*)
  • Auditor
    • Despite having requested a flat budget, the Auditor’s Office prompted what was probably the most spirited debate of the evening, centered around some State Board of Accounts comments in the most recent (2011) annual audit related to grants records management in the Auditor’s Office. Some councilors wanted to increase the staff in the Auditor’s Office (despite the fact that the Auditor did not request any increased staff) in order to better support the grants compliance process. Several others suggested that the Grants Administrator position in the Commissioners’ Office should be moved to the Auditor’s Office for this purpose. However, the Grants Administrator position in the Commissioners’ Office was created for a completely different purpose (and Council meeting minutes from when the position was created confirm this): to pursue grant and other partnership and community development opportunities and to oversee grants compliance with the various funding agencies, not to manage the claims files in the Auditor’s Office. At the end of the day, however, no changes were made to the Auditor’s budget — but there was a general recognition that the next auditor might come forward with a request depending on how he or she chose to organize the office.

All in all, some good progress was made on the budget — but many of the more challenging requests (mostly for additional staff, or movement of staff from other funds to the general fund) will come next week.

(*) Not infrequently, departmental budget requests will be denied, but with instructions to request the funding as an additional appropriation, rather than as part of their annual budget. It is the same money — why the difference? Mainly because anything that is put into the usual annual budget for a department will over time become the base for subsequent years’ budget requests. As councilmembers change, the original context of a one-time appropriation may be forgotten. By handling one-time expenses as additional appropriations, the Council is trying to make sure that those one-time expenses don’t become part of the “base” for subsequent budget requests.

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