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.

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