Combined Regular Session – Work Session of the County Council Tonight

Tonight, the Monroe County Council will conduct a brief regular meeting at 5:30PM in the Nat U Hill Room, to hear one item of business (creating budget lines, and possibly appropriating the funding from the $2M infrastructure general obligation (GO) bond passed by the Council in late 2013. The following are the lines that will be created, which shows what the proceeds of the bond will be spent on:

  • 10.0014 Administration Costs
  • 30.0001 Bond Issuing Cost $ 80,000.00
  • 40.0001 Showers Building Repair 200,000.00
  • 40.0002 IT Infrastructure 176,000.00
  • 40.0003 Courthouse Waterproofing 600,000.00
  • 40.0004 Jail Remodel 270,000.00
  • 40.0005 County Vehicles 41,641.00
  • 40.0006 Voter Registration 20,000.00
  • 40.0007 Archive Project 20,000.00
  • 40.0008 Proximity Locks/Fire Suppression 35,000.00
  • 40.0009 Jail Control Panel 222,000.00
  • 40.0010 Siren 25,000.00
  • 40.0011 Ambulance 100,000.00
  • 40.0012 Solar Thermal System 160,359.00
  • 40.0013 Karst Connection Trail 50,000.00
  • Total: $2,000,000.00

Public comment will be taken at the beginning of this regular session.

After the regular session is adjourned, the council will meet in a work session. As always, although public comment isn’t taken at work sessions, they are open to the public (and we welcome members of the public!). The following items are planned to be discussed at this work session:

  1. Resolution for Replacement of Lost Personal Property Tax Revenue 
    The council will consider a resolution requesting that the Indiana General Assembly take no action this year regarding exempting business personal property from taxation, but rather take the time to come up with a more comprehensive property tax reform solution. The resolution also requests that IF the General Assembly does take action this year, that the state simultaneously provides a replacement for the lost revenue.
  2. AIC Debrief
    Council members will provide comments and discussion related to the Association of Indiana Counties Legislative Conference, in which 5 County Council members participated last week.
  3. Brief Discussion of Public Defender PERF Payments
    This is a brief follow-up to ongoing discussions about a mandate from the Public Defender Commission to equalize the compensation between the Chief Public Defender and the Prosecutor (as well as between their chief deputies). The Council has discussed the equivalence of salaries in the past, and at last month’s meeting, raised the salaries of the Chief Public Defender and his chief deputy to match their counterparts in the prosecutor’s office. This discussion will focus on the degree to which their benefits are equivalent. Currently, the County pays the 3% employee contribution to the PERF retirement fund on behalf of all county employees who are in the PERF program (including the Chief Public Defender). The State pays the Prosecutor’s 3% employee contribution. However, the County is not required to at this point, and the issue has been raised that if the Public Defender Commission is going to mandate that benefits, as well as compensation be equal, then the Commission should mandate that ALL counties pay the 3%, not just those that voluntarily pay it today.
  4. Technical Services Update
    Commissioners Administrator Angie Chalfant will provide a brief update to the Council on plans for the Technical Services department, which has seen substantial staff attrition recently and has multiple vacant positions.
  5. Plan Commission Compensation
    The Council will continue previous discussions on increasing the compensation for Plan Commission members, who spend many hours each month in meetings and need to drive all over the county to visit sites.

Attached is the official agenda as of yesterday evening. The Plan Commission Compensation issue did not make it on the agenda before it was distributed.

Winning I-69 Proposal Available from Indiana Finance Authority

On Friday, I wrote about the winning and losing proposals for I-69 Section 5 (the section from Bloomington to Martinsville, IN):

Today, the Indiana Finance Authority released the winning proposal (well, most of it — some parts are redacted) on its Web site. The proposal is in a number of separate files. To find it, go to the Indiana Finance Authority I-69 Web site and scroll down to “Selected Proposer”.

Right off the bat, based on a very quick read, I would think that the parts of the proposal most interesting to the public include:

  • Executive Summary
  • Financial Proposal Volume I
    • The section labeled “Type and Purpose of Each Funding Source and Facility” details the sources of funding used for the project as well as the overall costs of building and financing. I’ve included a screen shot below.
    • The equity member (prime contractor), Isolux Infrastructure, is committing $44.75M of its own investment to build the highway. They also plan to raise $253.51M through private activity bonds (PABs). Commitment of PAB funding by the underwriters is provided in this volume as well.
    • The “Uses” column on the right outlines how the funds would be spent. The first three items (Construction Costs, Construction Oversight Costs, and Operations & Maintenance Costs during Construction) add up to the $325M in construction costs that has been quoted in press releases.
  • Technical Proposal Volume 1
    • This section details the team’s approach to construction, design, operations and maintenance of the highway. A lot of this volume is very high-level and not particularly specific. Most of the pages consist of required letters of authority, certifications and representations, references (the contents of which have been redacted!), responsible proposer forms, etc. However, there are a couple of factors of note in the volume:
    • Page 7 includes a high-level Gantt chart (which I screen-shot below) outlining the design and construction schedule, indicating a construction start in mid-late 2014 and a finish by the end of 2016 (Volume 2 of the technical proposal, page 20, refers to a deadline of October 31, 2016 as the”Baseline Substantial Completion” deadline).
    • Rehabilitation of the pavement is scheduled for years 15 and 30.
  • Technical Proposal Volume 2
    • Volume 2 contains a wealth of information about the proposed approach to all aspects of design and construction, including pavement, bridge structures, bicycle and pedestrian access, drainage, lighting, traffic signals, etc., as well as communications and public outreach — far too much to summarize here.  There are just a couple of elements I quickly wanted to call out.
    • Page 43 provides a more detailed schedule of key completion milestones:
    • Page 47 indicates that the proposal design specifies that the construction will be asphalt, rather than concrete. Both were acceptable in the Request for Proposals; sections 1-4 are being constructed using concrete. Per this proposal, bridge structures, retaining walls, and noise walls will be constructed using concrete. As mentioned above, rehabilitation of the asphalt pavement is scheduled for years 15 and 30. Assuming that the asphalt pavement has a 15-year useful life, the rehabilitation at year 30 will mean that the pavement will have 10 years left of useful life when contract is completed (year 35).
    • Screenshot 2014-02-23 12.07.07

Undoubtedly there is much more to comment on in the thousands of pages of this proposal; however, I wanted to get a couple of quick highlights out to the public as soon as possible.

Winning and Losing Teams for I-69 Section 5 Released

logoYou have probably already heard in the media about the selection of a winning proposal to design, build, operate, maintain, and finance Section 5 of I-69. However, you probably haven’t seen all of the winning and losing teams yet!

This past Wednesday, the Indiana Finance Authority preliminarily announced the winning bid to design, build, operate, maintain, and finance the construction of Section 5 of I-69, 21 miles of highway from Bloomington to Martinsville. I-69 Development Partners, led by prime contractor Isolux Infrastructure Netherlands B.V. from Spain, was selected as the preferred proposal.

The winning proposal would design and build the highway for $325M. The state will pay $21.8M per year over a period of 35 years (minus any penalties for non-performance), which will cover not only the design and construction, but also all maintenance and operation, including snow and ice removal, repair, resurfacing etc. for the entire 35-year term of the contract. In the form of public-private partnership used for this contract, the contractor provides the financing for the project. However, unlike most arrangements in which the contractor provides the financing for an infrastructure project, this project will not be a toll-road.

The full press release from the Indiana Finance Authority can be found here:

More interesting than the press-release, however, is the full list of proposing teams, including all of their subcontractors.  In all, there were 4 teams proposing, all with very generic names: Connect Indiana Development Partners, Plenary Roads Indiana, WM 1-69 Partners, LLC, and I-69 Development Partners. Each team consists of an “equity member” (essentially a prime contractor) and over a dozen partners and subcontractors, including construction, design, environmental, operations and maintenance, etc.

The actual contract has not yet been released to the public; however, according to the Indiana Finance Authority, “portions of the preferred proposal” will be posted on its website next week. You can be sure that MoCoGov will be watching!

County Council Seeks Volunteer for Environmental Quality and Sustainability Commission

Deam Wilderness
Deam Wilderness

Are you interested in environmental issues and/or sustainability? Are you willing to serve your community? The Monroe County Council seeks a citizen appointee to the Monroe County Environmental Quality and Sustainability Commission. This particular position that is currently open is for a resident of Monroe County who lives outside of the corporate limits of the City of Bloomington.

If you meet all of these criteria, please download and fill out the Monroe County Government Boards and Commissions Application. We need to hear from you!

The Environmental Quality and Sustainability Commission is working on some very important projects for Monroe County Government, including planning for sustainable use of the Thompson Property, analysis of energy use in county buildings, and planning for a solar thermal hot water system to serve the Charlotte T. Zietlow Justice Building.

Incidentally, if you are interested, but live inside the limits of the City of Bloomington, please fill in the application anyway. There is turnover on the commission from time to time, and the County Council will consider your application as soon as there is another slot available on the commission that isn’t restricted.

Highlights From Monroe County Council Meeting 2014-02-11

Just wanted to provide a quick summary of yesterday’s Monroe County Council meeting (I had previously posted the agenda along with a summary of the agenda items).

The following were the agenda items discussed:

  • Lindsay Shipps was appointed to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA). Shipps had previously served as a Commissioners’ appointee to the BZA since 2009. The appointment passed 5-2, with the two Republican councilors Langley and Hawk supporting another candidate.
  • An additional appropriation of $15,000 for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) from the Juvenile Services Nonreverting Fund (a fund created several years ago from the leftover child welfare money when funding for child welfare was taken over by the state) was passed unanimously.
  • The Health Department had several requests, including one for appropriation of a grant from the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) to support staff training for leadership of the Medical Reserve Corps, and a transfer of funds in another grant from one category to another. Both passed unanimously.  The transfer request was for a total of $57, leading to some discussion that it would make sense, if legal, to come up with some policies where department heads would not have to come to the County Council meeting for de minimis transfer requests like this one.
  • The Legal Department had a housekeeping resolution, which updated Monroe County Code Chapter 255 Surety Bonds to match new state legislation that increases the bond amounts required for certain elected officials. The resolution passed unanimously.
  • A request from the County Commissioners to retain (rather than revert to the General Fund) the balance from the Showers Building/Johnson Hardware fund for 2013. The Showers Building/Johnson Hardware fund receives the rental income from tenants in the Showers Building and the Johnson Hardware Building was passed unanimously. This request was a consequence of decisions made during 2014 budget hearings, in which the Commissioners transferred a maintenance position from the County General fund to the Showers Building fund which freed up general funds, but conversely spent Showers Building revenues. The request passed unanimously, although Councilor Hawk did not support the initial decision to move the maintenance personnel out of the general fund. Several councilors still expressed concern that rental revenues from Showers were not to the level that was initially used to support the purchase of the building.
  • An additional appropriation of $15,910 from the Cable Franchise Fees fund to support CATS (Community Access Television Service) was passed unanimously; $10,000 of this is a correction of an error in the CATS appropriation during budget hearings, and the remaining $5,910 was CATS’ requested 2.6% increase for their 2014 budget. During the discussion, I expressed concern that cable franchise fees revenue might not be available long-term, endangering the CATS program. Last year there was a bill heard in the General Assembly to eliminate cable franchise fees revenue; it was sent to summer study committee. There weren’t any cable franchise fees-related bills this year; however, one is likely to reappear next year. Councilor Hawk also asked whether CATS employees received any raise this year (as County employees did not). Michael White, CATS director, responded that employees received a “1% increment and a 1% COLA”.
  • Deappropriation of almost $830,000 from the Cumulative Capital Development Fund; this fund has been over-budgeted compared to available revenue, and so the budget must be pared down. The Commissioners reduced the budget both in personnel (some tech services AKA IT staff are paid out of this fund) and in long-term capital projects.  As there are several vacancies in the technical services department, the Commissioners are leaving those lines vacant for the time being until the final structure of the department can be determined, in order to reduce the budget. There was some debate between Councilor Hawk and Commissioners Administrator Angie Chalfant. Councilor Hawk maintains that the needed budget reduction was simply because of an error on the form 4B sent to the Department of Local Government Finance, and that if the Commissioners are leaving the technical services positions empty, the Council should move the technical services positions remaining in the General Fund and pay them out of the Cumulative Capital Development fund. Ms. Chalfant maintains that the Commissioners have determined that the available cash and predicted revenues would not support that. After a lengthy exchange on this issue, however, the deappropriation request passed 6-1 (with Hawk voting against).
  • Approval of a 5-year lease from the county to the Convention and Visitors Bureau (Visit Bloomington) for the Visitors’ Center on North Walnut. Previous leases have been 2-year leases. Clauses that allowed either party to terminate the agreement for any reason with a year’s notice alleviated concerns that the longer lease would prohibit the county from potential higher and better use of the property. The lease was passed unanimously.
  • An additional appropriation out of the Motor Vehicle and Highway (MHV) fund for a supplement to be paid to snow and ice removal employees to compensate them for not being allowed to take any vacation time between December and March was approved unanimously and enthusiastically. Councilors Munson and Hawk worked on this effort during the negotiation between the Commissioners and the AFSCME union on the highway employees contract. One employee and union member spoke in favor of the supplement as well.
  • There was an extensive discussion of the compensation for members of the Plan Commission, continuing discussion that began at the last council work session. Currently, members of the Monroe County Plan Commission are paid $55 for each of the monthly meetings they attend. However, participation on the Plan Commission also generally requires 2-3 additional committee meetings per month, along with multiple hours of preparation for each meeting and site visits throughout the county.  One proposal discussed was to compensate members $55 for the main meeting, and up to two committee meetings per month at $50 per meeting.  Two members of the Plan Commission, Scott Wells and Richard Martin, spoke generally in favor of increasing the compensation. Both noted the large amount of work involved and the importance to the public of the work done by the Plan Commission. Mr. Martin also noted that one of the reasons why the demands on Plan Commission members were so great is the failure of Monroe County thus far to adequately update and consolidate its zoning codes for all of the property under its jurisdiction. During the discussion, Councilor Hawk asked if it was fair to increase the compensation for this commission, and not the others. The general consensus was that the work burden on Plan Commissioners was substantially greater than that of other commission members. Since the actual proposal to amend the salary ordinance for Plan Commission members wasn’t on the agenda, and no councilor moved to amend the agenda, the salary ordinance amendment will be added to the agenda of the next meeting for discussion and possible vote.

In addition to the regular agenda items, there were several items of interest presented in public comment and councilor comments:

  • During public comment, Scott Wells presented a letter of complaint to four federal agencies (EPA, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Federal Highway Administration, and the US Army Corps of Engineers) that was agreed upon by the Plan Commission asking these federal agencies to address the issues of ongoing siltation and sedimentation of Monroe County waterways during the I-69 corridor construction (Section 4). Mr. Wells also showed some pictures of heavy sedimentation in several creeks after rain events. Tom Tokarski and Sandra Tokarski also spoke in support of the letter of complaint. No council action was being requested; however, the Plan Commission and Mr. Wells are requesting that any interested officials individually sign the letter. The full letter is available here: 02-07-14 I-69 FINAL Plan Commission Complaint Letter with Signatures.A3.D3.
  • Councilor Hawk brought up the issue of compensation of the Chief Public Defender and the Chief Deputy Public Defender. As was widely reported in the media, this past year the State Public Defender Commission issued a mandate that to continue to participate in the state’s public defender program (which funds about a third of the expenses of the public defender’s office), the Chief Public Defender and the Chief Deputy Public Defender would have to be paid the same compensation as their counterparts in the Prosecutor’s Office. Prior to last month, Monroe County Government paid the Chief Public Defender 90% of the salary of the Prosecutor, reflecting, in the eyes of the County Council, the difference in the scope of responsibilities of their respective departments. The County Council had to raise the salaries of both officials. Councilor Hawk noted, though, that the State Public Defender Commission mandate did not address the issue of benefits, and that while the county voluntarily pays the 3% employee contribution to the PERF retirement plan (as it does to all PERF-eligible employees), it is not required to. The council could choose to eliminate the 3% employee contribution to PERF for the Chief Public Defender and Chief Deputy Public Defender, in order to reduce the burden of the underfunded mandate from the State Public Defender Commission.

Agenda for Tomorrow’s Monroe County Council Meeting (2014-02-11)

Monroe County Courthouse in the Fall
Monroe County Courthouse in the Fall

The agenda for tomorrow’s Monroe County Council meeting is available here:

Highlights include:

  • Monroe County Council appointment to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA)
  • An additional appropriation of $15,000 for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) from the Juvenile Services Nonreverting Fund
  • A request from the County Commissioners to retain (rather than revert to the General Fund) the balance from the Showers Building/Johnson Hardware fund for 2013. The Showers Building/Johnson Hardware fund receives the rental income from tenants in the Showers Building and the Johnson Hardware Building.
  • An additional appropriation of $15,910 from the Cable Franchise Fees fund to support CATS (Community Access Television Service); this is a correction of an error in the CATS appropriation during budget hearings.
  • Deappropriation of almost $830,000 from the Cumulative Capital Development Fund; this fund has been over-budgeted compared to available revenue, and so the budget must be pared down.
  • Approval of a 5-year lease from the county to the Convention and Visitors Bureau (Visit Bloomington) for the Visitors’ Center on North Walnut. Previous leases have been 2-year leases.
  • An additional appropriation out of the Motor Vehicle and Highway (MHV) fund for a supplement to be paid to snow and ice removal employees to compensate them for not being allowed to take any vacation time between December and March.

The meeting will be tomorrow, Tuesday, 2014-02-11, at 5:30PM in the Nat U Hill Room of the Monroe County Courthouse. Public comment on items not on the agenda will be taken at the beginning of the meeting. Hope to see you there!

Monroe County Tax Rates for 2014

Monroe County Courthouse Dome Under Construction
Monroe County Courthouse Dome Under Construction

Yesterday, I posted that the 2014 Budget Order for Monroe County had been received from the Department of Local Government Finance.  This budget order includes the approved budgets and tax rates for all taxing units in Monroe County, as well as the tax rates for all taxing districts.

Here are the property tax rates for 2014 for all taxing districts, from the budget order, along with the changes from 2013.

Taxing District 2013 Rate 2014 Rate Increase (Decrease) % Change
Bloomington City – Richland Township 2.2895 2.4191 0.1296 5.66%
Ellettsville – Bean Blossom 2.2131 2.4220 0.2089 9.44%
Ellettsville Town 2.2100 2.4241 0.2141 9.69%
Bloomington City – Van Buren Township 2.0582 2.1105 0.0523 2.54%
Bloomington City – Perry Township 2.0196 2.0754 0.0558 2.76%
Bloomington City – Bloomington Township 2.0194 2.0762 0.0568 2.81%
Stinesville Town 1.6146 1.7598 0.1452 8.99%
Bean Blossom Township 1.5393 1.6267 0.0874 5.68%
Richland Township 1.5390 1.6455 0.1065 6.92%
Bloomington Township 1.4652 1.4872 0.0220 1.50%
Van Buren Township 1.4180 1.5064 0.0884 6.23%
Polk Township 1.4060 1.4173 0.0113 0.80%
Clear Creek Township 1.3393 1.3642 0.0249 1.86%
Perry Township 1.3073 1.3328 0.0255 1.95%
Salt Creek Township 1.2318 1.3602 0.1284 10.42%
Indian Creek Township 1.2293 1.2535 0.0242 1.97%
Benton Township 1.2194 1.3141 0.0947 7.77%
Washington Township 1.1929 1.1996 0.0067 0.56%

For historical reference, here is the same post I made last year, when the 2013 property tax rates were released.

2014 Monroe County Budget Order

Yesterday, Monroe County received its budget order for 2014 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
  • 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)

The budget order doesn’t really offer any big surprises. All tax rates for all taxing districts have gone up slightly. As in previous years, tax rates in Ellettsville taxing districts are highest in the county. Bloomington tax rates are next, though substantially lower than those in Ellettsville. Tax rates in the unincorporated areas, not surprisingly, are the lowest, with those in Washington Township the very lowest in Monroe County.

The full budget order can be found here: Monroe County 2014 Budget Order

Beurt SerVaas, Architect of Indianapolis Unigov, Dies at 94

Tonight’s Indianapolis Star is reporting the death of Beurt SerVaas, famed civic leader of Indianapolis. Among other things, SerVaas is credited with architecting the Indianapolis-Marion County combined governmental system (“unigov”), and served as the president of the combined City-County Council for over 28 years.

SerVaas is perhaps best known in Monroe County for having floated a proposal in 2006 to the Indianapolis Department of Waterworks to construct a 60-mile water pipeline from Lake Monroe to Indianapolis, that could siphon away 90 million gallons per day from the lake to serve the Indianapolis metro area. An article on this proposal in the Herald Times can be found here: Indy wants to tap Lake Monroe.

The full article on SerVaas’ death can be found here: Beurt SerVaas, 94, former Indianapolis council president, dies.

The Phantom Council and Personal Property Taxes

There is a lot of attention  during this session of the Indiana General Assembly on personal property taxes (i.e., taxes on business equipment), spurred by a call from Governor Pence for their elimination. I’ll talk about the impact of the Governor’s proposal, as well as several of the bills in the Indiana General Assembly, on local governments in a separate post. My purpose here is to talk about a little-known institution called the County Income Tax Council — a body that has been referred to as the “phantom council.”

The connection is that one of the primary legislative vehicles for reduction or elimination of the personal property tax is House Bill 1001, which gives counties the option of eliminating personal property taxes on newly acquired personal property. This option, at least in the version of the legislation on the floor as of today, is exercised, not by the County Council, which normally exercises fiscal authority over county-wide taxation, but instead by the County Income Tax Council.

What is the County Income Tax Council?

The County Income Tax Council is a body created by statute (IC 6-3.5-6-2) for each county in Indiana to exercise oversight over the County Option Income Tax (COIT), one of 6 local income taxes allowed by Indiana statute. Its statutory duties and powers are: to impose or rescind the county option income tax, increase, freeze, or decrease the tax rate, and increase the COIT homestead credit for the county.  The County Income Tax Council also has some powers with respect to the wheel and vehicle excise taxes. And now — the General Assembly is proposing to give this body the power to eliminate personal property taxes on newly acquired personal property. For reasons I will explain below, this is highly problematic — in fact, the whole existence of the County Income Tax Council is problematic.

In keeping with the monicker “the phantom council”, the County Income Tax Council is not a regular deliberative body with individual members. Instead, it is  a “virtual council” that rarely, if ever meets. It is defined by statute as follows:

Every county income tax council has a total of one hundred (100) votes. Every member of the county income tax council is allocated a percentage of the total one hundred (100) votes that may be cast. The percentage that a city or town is allocated for a year equals the same percentage that the population of the city or town bears to the population of the county. The percentage that the county is allocated for a year equals the same percentage that the population of all areas in the county not located in a city or town bears to the population of the county. On or before January 1 of each year, the county auditor shall certify to each member of the county income tax council the number of votes, rounded to the nearest one hundredth (0.01), it has for that year. (IC 6-3.5-6-3)

In other words, this council is made up not of individuals, but of fiscal bodies of other units of government.

How Does This Play Out in Monroe County?

In Monroe County, the county income tax council is thereby made up of the fiscal bodies of the county (the Monroe County Council) and the fiscal bodies of each of the municipalities in the county — the Bloomington City Council, the Ellettsville Town Council, and the Stinesville Town Council.  As described above, the votes are allocated amongst these bodies in proportion to their populations (and the county is given the population only of the unincorporated areas). For 2014, this means that each body gets the following “votes” in the phantom council:

  • Monroe County Council: 36 votes
  • Bloomington City Council: 59 votes
  • Ellettsville Town Council: 5 votes
  • Stinesville Town Council: 0 votes

All votes are cast by the body as a whole — in other words, all of the Bloomington City Council votes as a single bloc, Monroe County Council as a single bloc, etc.

Taxation Without Representation?

The important thing to notice about this breakdown is that the Bloomington City Council has an absolute majority on the County Income Tax Council. This is generally going to be the case in any county that has a single large municipality. In other words, it doesn’t matter what the County or Ellettsville or Stinesville say — the Bloomington City Council has the power to set income tax policy for the entire county. This raises a serious issue of representation. While every resident of Monroe County, including all residents of cities and towns, are represented by 4 (out of 7) members of the Monroe County Council (1 district and 3 at-large members), there are many residents of Monroe County — in fact, all residents outside of the City of Bloomington corporate limits — who are not represented by any City Council member.

Taking this argument one step further, because elimination of the personal property tax doesn’t simply reduce tax revenue — it actually shifts the tax burden to other property owners (i.e. raises the taxes of homeowners, to the benefit of businesses), we are actually faced with a situation in which a city council could vote to raise the taxes on residents who have NO representation on that council. This is a loophole that needs to be eliminated.

When Does the Income Tax Council Meet?

 So when does the Monroe County Income Tax Council — controlled by the Bloomington City Council — meet? In practice — never. The statute (IC 6-3.5-6-13.5) states that “A county income tax council must [emphasis mine] before August 1 of each odd-numbered year hold at least one (1) public meeting at which the county income tax council discusses whether the county option income tax rate under this chapter should be adjusted.” However, at least in the time that I have served on the County Council (since 2009) there has definitely not been a meeting of the Income Tax Council, and I believe that there has not been a meeting quite a bit before that. In fact, the most recent evidence I can find of a vote of any kind from the Income Tax Council is from 1995 (interestingly, in the form of a vote from the Bloomington City Council, then presided over by current Monroe County Commissioner Iris Kiesling). This lack of meeting, despite statute saying that the council “must” hold a public meeting on odd-numbered years, is similar to the experience of officials in other counties I’ve spoke with about the matter, and bolsters the notion of the income tax council as a “phantom council.”

What, Then?

 Most broadly, the county income tax council needs to be eliminated. The current situation allows, in some situations,county tax policy to be dictated by municipal councils who don’t represent the entire county. The obvious broader fix is simply to replace the county income tax council with the county council — the county fiscal body that is already empowered with oversight of all other countywide fiscal policy. As I mentioned above, the county council already represents all residents of the county, including those in cities and towns. The converse is not true. There is actually a bill this session, Senate Bill 258, that replaces the county income tax council with the county council; however, it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere this year.

Even if the General Assembly can’t find its way to close this loophole this session, it should still at least amend HB1001, which looks likely with a republican supermajority to pass in some form, to give the ability to opt out of personal property taxes, to the county council — the county’s fiscal body representing all county residents — rather than the phantom council.