Agenda for Tomorrow’s Monroe County Council Meeting (2014-03-11)

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 of the agenda include:

  • Request from the Unified Courts to fill a vacant associate court reporter position in Division VIII (Judge Haughton’s Court). Division VIII handles small claims, divorces, protective orders and civil miscellaneous cases. The policy issue that the Council will need to consider is whether it intends to cut positions during 2014 (in which case, vacant positions would be the obvious positions to cut) or simply hold the line against new positions. Unfortunately requests such as the one for increased compensation for deputy public defenders, mandated by the Public Defender Commission and considered later in this meeting, make simply holding the line against increases nearly impossible.
  • Request for approval of an additional appropriation from the Legal Department for collection fees and penalty payments collected from delinquent personal property taxpayers.
    • By statute and local ordinance, county attorneys (including the County Council attorney) are permitted to make efforts to collect delinquent personal property tax on their own time (i.e., after business hours) on behalf of the county. If they are successful (i.e., the county collects the delinquent tax), they are allowed to assess an attorney fee, which the delinquent taxpayer pays, and the county attorney receives in compensation. This fund receives these attorney fees, and must be appropriated annually in order for the county attorneys to receive compensation. No tax money goes into this fund or is paid out to attorneys; the fee is assessed on top of the delinquent taxes, and the attorney is only compensated if they are successful on behalf of the county.
    • This arrangement at times raises controversies, and there have been proposals to outsource the collection of delinquent personal property taxes to commercial collection agencies. However, the counterarguments to these proposals include that (a) the arrangement does not cost the county anything; (b) that the collection cases that the attorneys work on are the more complex cases that the collection agency wouldn’t take on anyway; and (c) that the county attorneys are more likely to be diplomatic with taxpayers than a collection agency.
  •  Appropriation of the 2014 annual budget for the County Fair. This is a new procedure for the County Council; in previous years, the County Council has not actually appropriated the budget for the County Fair, although county tax revenues are used to fund it. 
  • Appropriation of a $2K Homeland Security SHSP County Planning grant and another $27K SHSP District Training Grant for the Department of Emergency Management
  • Transfer of $1000 from equipment to supplies for the Medical Reserve Corps grant fund in the Health Department
  • Request to raise the classification of 8 deputy public defenders from EXE I classification to EXE II.
    • This is the latest round in a long series of discussions between the Council and the Public Defender’s Office, set off by a mandate by the Indiana Public Defender Commission that specified that in order to participate in the state Public Defender reimbursement program (in which 40% of the costs of felony cases are reimbursed by the state), counties must (a) compensate the Chief Public Defender and the Chief Deputy Public Defender at the same rate as their counterparts in the Prosecutor’s Office; and (b) compensate Deputy Public Defenders (i.e, the attorneys who work in the Public Defender’s Office).
    • The Council already approved the first mandate last month, after much discussion about the Council’s frustration with the unfunded/underfunded nature of the mandates from the Public Defender Commission. After absorbing the impact of these mandates, the Council will have to seriously consider whether we can continue to afford to participate in the state reimbursement program.
    • For this reclassification request, because the mandate from the Public Defender Commission requires the county to pay deputy public defenders the same based on the nature of their work and their years of experience as their counterparts in the Prosecutor’s Office, the Public Defender is requesting that 8 (out of 12) of their positions be raised to the higher (EXE II) level. This is because, unlike in the Prosecutor’s Office, where they choose to organize their department around the criminal courts, in which each of the four criminal courts has a felony deputy prosecutor (classified at an EXE II) and a misdemeanor deputy (classified at an EXE I), the Public Defender distributes his felony cases across all deputies. This arrangement makes sense from the perspective of case management, but also in this case has the perverse effect of actually increasing the the number of top-level staff in the Public Defender’s office above the level in the Prosecutor’s Office. Despite the mandate, I expect this issue to generate some significant controversy tomorrow night.
  • A proposal to increase the compensation of County Plan Commission members. This issue has been discussed over the past several months. The proposal on the table for tomorrow is:
    • “Members of the Plan Commission shall be compensated for attendance at the regular monthly meeting of the Plan Commission and other official meetings and committee meetings of the Plan Commission according to the following schedule: $50 for attendance at the regular monthly meeting of the Plan Commission, and $50 for attendance at any other official meeting or official committee meeting during that same month, with a cap of $150 payment for attendance at meetings during the course of any calendar month.”

The meeting will be tomorrow, Tuesday, 2014-03-11, at 5:30PM in the Nat U Hill Room of the Monroe County Courthouse. As always, all meetings are open to the public, and public comment on items not on the agenda will be taken at the beginning of the meeting. Hope to see you there!

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