Unemployment Numbers for October 2014 Within Normal Fluctuation – And Better than Previous Years

Last June I took the Herald Times to task for writing an alarmist (and incorrect) story about a supposed unusual jump in unemployment in Monroe County: The June Doldrums for Monroe County Employment.

Today, the HT has a much more accurate and better-written article on the October 2014 unemployment numbers, that is still somewhat ominously-headlined: Monroe County Jobless Rates on Rise.

As I have said before, I really think they should include some visual data to put the numbers into better context.  As the following graph makes clear, the October uptick in unemployment for Monroe County is well within the typical seasonal pattern (the specific months of fall unemployment increase vary from year to year slightly) — and more importantly, all of 2014 is much better employment-wise than it has been for the past four years!

Monroe County Unemployment Rate 2010-2014 (October)
Monroe County Unemployment Rate 2010-2014 (October)

Public Hearing Announced for the Fullerton Pike Corridor – December 11, 2014

Monroe County will be holding a public hearing on Thursday, December 11, 2014, beginning at 6:00 p.m., at the Monroe County Courthouse, Nat U Hill Meeting Room for the proposed Fullerton Pike Corridor project. An open house session will take place from 6:00 p.m. until 6:45 p.m., with the formal presentation beginning at 6:45 p.m. The purpose of the public hearing is to offer the public an opportunity to view and comment on the environmental document and preliminary design plans for the proposed project.

The full legal notice of the public hearing, along with the project description, can be found here: DES 0801059 Fullerton Pike Legal Notice of Public Hearing.

The proposed project provides a continuous two-lane corridor from Rockport Road at the west to Sare Road at the east. The following maps illustrate the corridor under consideration.

Please note that I made these maps myself just for a rough illustration of the corridor — they are not engineering drawings, and don’t presume any particular road alignment.

The full project extends from Rockport Road to Sare Road. Fullerton Pike will also be a full interchange on I-69 just to the west of the intersection with Rockport Road.

Screenshot 2014-11-26 10.33.30
Fullerton Pike Corridor

The next map illustrates the western part of the corridor. I just drew the corridor as a straight line — the proposed reconstruction doesn’t really go north of the existing corridor.

Screenshot 2014-11-26 10.33.57

Finally, this map illustrates the eastern part of the corridor, ending at Sare Road.

Screenshot 2014-11-26 10.34.16

According to the project description, the intersection of Fullerton Pike and Sare Road would be re-designed as either a three-leg roundabout or a signalized intersection.

One concern about this project is how the project would affect active transportation.  On the very positive side, the proposed project includes a 10′ multi-use path on the north side of the road. On the negative side, the proposed corridor cuts through new terrain from just east of Rockport Road to Gordon pike, and would cross the Clear Creek Trail, a very popular recreational trail. The map below shows where the proposed corridor (in blue) intersects with the Clear Creek Trail (in red). The current proposed design includes a bridge over the crossing, however, which would mitigate the negative impact, and not increase the number of at-grade crossings of the trail.

Fullerton Pike and the Clear Creek Trail
Fullerton Pike and the Clear Creek Trail

There are also concerns from neighborhoods and residents who live along the Fullerton Pike corridor that putting more and potentially higher-speed traffic through this mostly residential corridor would harm their quality of life and make it more dangerous for children. Hopefully these residents will attend the public hearing, learn about the details of the project if they aren’t already aware, and make their concerns known.

Trails and Economic Development Area Aesthetics on Redevelopment Commission Agenda Tonight

Karst Farm GreenwayThere are two items on tonight’s agenda for the Monroe County Redevelopment Commission (RDC) that are very important to me and the issues that I ran for public office on.

Placemaking for the Westside Economic Development Area

The first is a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a consultant to design aesthetic improvements to the County’s three economic development areas: Westside Economic Development Area, Bloomington Township State Road 46 Economic Development Area, and the Fullerton Pike Economic Development Area. I have written may times about these areas; this previous blog post has maps and links to several reports. According to the RFP, the project may include “items such as gateways, landscaping, decorative signage, art and wayfinding to delineate and personalize our economic development areas.”

These activities and elements are sometimes referred to as “placemaking” — transforming and reimaginging nondescript public spaces and giving them a real sense of place and identity. This certainly does include the elements in the RFP — signage, landscaping, etc. — but also needs to include an overarching concept…a name, an identity that hopefully accentuates the virtues of the space and its people, honors the history of the space, and envisions and enacts its future.

I’ve been particularly interested in placemaking for the Westside Economic Development Area. This area has been a real economic engine for Monroe County, and includes such businesses as Cook, Baxter, Grocery Supply.

Here is a letter I wrote early this year advocating for a focus on placemaking for the Westside:

“Since its establishment in 1993, the Monroe County Westside Economic Development Area (WEDA)—also known as the Westside TIF or the Richland TIF—has been an engine of economic development for the unincorporated area of the county, and serves as the site for many of Monroe County’s largest employers, including Cook, Baxter, Printpack, and Ivy Tech Community College. With the addition of several public amenities, including Will Detmer Park, the Northwest YMCA, and the in-progress Karst Greenway, the WEDA is also seeing and will continue to see a significant number of visitors (community residents) beyond the employees of the businesses in the WEDA.”

“Unfortunately, as successful as it is, the WEDA also falls short of its full potential as Monroe County’s employment and economic development hub. The area has no sense of identity or place. It is little known by residents who aren’t employees of one of the businesses therein. It has no well-defined boundaries (except on paper), and the primary entrance points on Curry Pike and Vernal Pike are at best unattractive and at worst somewhat blighted. For these reasons, marketing the area to prospective employers can be challenging – and even residents who are entering the area to visit the YMCA or other amenities are often confused, thinking that they couldn’t possibly be going to the right place.”

“However, a small amount of effort into giving the WEDA a distinctive identity and a distinctive, more attractive common visual appearance will pay dividends.

1.The area should have a distinctive name – one that honors our community’s heritage.

2.The area should have well-defined and visible boundaries and signage, particularly along common gateway areas.

3.The area should have a distinctive and attractive landscaping scheme, and common signage that
identifies the area.”

“An area with a distinctive identity and sense of place is easier to market to prospective employers. It connotes prosperity, attention, and care. Most importantly, though, it is more attractive and inviting to residents and visitors. While the economic development tools are in place to continue to sustain and enhance the success of the Monroe County WEDA, we can do much better for employees, employers, visitors, and residents.

Capital Equipment for Maintenance of the Trails

The Monroe County Parks and Recreation Department will also be presenting their request for $87,575 to the RDC to purchase capital equipment (truck with snow plow and spreader, mower, and trail-friendly maintenance vehicle) to support the maintenance of the county active transportation network, including the newly constructed Karst Farm Greenway. Parks and Recreation is proposing a total budget of $152,190 to maintain the trail network for 2015; this includes the $87,575 in one-time capital equipment. Presumably the Parks department will approach the County Council and request an additional appropriation for the other expenses — personnel, fuel, supplies, etc. early in 2015. The full proposed budget for supporting the active transportation network for 2015 can be found here: Parks Trails Management Proposal.

Since most of the County’s active transportation network is in or adjacent to the Westside Economic Development Area and serves the WEDA, the RDC is allowed to purchase capital equipment to serve the WEDA. However, it cannot pay for ongoing maintenance expenses.

I will be there tonight to support both requests of the RDC.

The full agenda is available here: RDC Agenda-11-19-14. The meeting is scheduled for 4:30PM today in the Nat U Hill Room of the Monroe County Courthouse.

Indy Library Projects – $58M in Bonds but no Referendum

Indy Public Library Central Branch
Indy Public Library Central Branch

The Indy Star had an interesting article today on a proposed plan by the Indianapolis Public Library to invest $58.5M across 11 different branches, raised by bonds and paid for via property tax levies (“$58M in bonds, no referendum? Indy library project raises questions“). The issue raised was why the $58.5M proposal would not have to go through the referendum process, which has been required for capital projects over $12M since 2008.

The answer, which is both legally correct and widely accepted, is that the Indianapolis Public Library proposal, although presented as a single coherent package, is not a single capital project. It is spread over 11 different branches, paid for by 8 different bonds spread over 6 years. In fact, it would not even be feasible to implement the proposal as a single project, as different branches would be ready for the renovations at different times.

The article pointed out, though, that while it was appropriate to consider this proposal across multiple projects, none of which reached the $12M level required for a referendum, other governmental units could theoretically attempt to subvert the referendum requirement by breaking projects down into separate pieces all of which individually fall beneath the $12M threshold but collectively would have required the referendum.

The article also discussed an example in which the City of Lebanon managed to split a $4.5M aquatic center project into smaller projects, none of which individually required that the city go through the petition and remonstrance process. Petition and remonstrance is a process that allows taxpayers to object to a capital project over $2M (and less than $12M, which requires a referendum), and results in a race between supporters and opponents of a project to get the most petition signatures.

One important consideration, which I was surprised was not mentioned in the article, is that there IS an advantage (from the perspective of units of local government) to going through a referendum: property tax levies that are approved through the referendum process are exempt from the circuit breakers (property tax caps). Debt service levies that do not go through a referendum are within the property tax circuit breakers.

You may remember that this issue had some application close to home. The 2008 general election in Monroe County included a referendum in the Richland-Bean Blossom School Corporation to raise $35M for several school building projects (the Junior High and the High School). The referendum failed. In 2009, however, the RBBSC school board passed two separate $10M bond levies, in order to make improvements to the Junior High School and the High School, separately. Each of these projects were below the $12M referendum threshold. Both added to taxpayers’ property tax bills. However, since they didn’t go through the referendum process, these bond levies were inside the property tax circuit breakers, and resulted in some circuit breaker revenue loss to all units of local government serving the Richland and Bean Blossom townships.

Note: The following memo from the Department of Local Government Finance (November 25, 2008) outlines the processes for capital projects, petition and remonstrance, and referendum.

City Tax Abatement Request for Mixed Use Building 338 S Walnut St

I was recently appointed to the City of Bloomington’s Economic Development Commission (EDC), as a County Council nominee, and just received word that we will be considering a tax abatement request for a mixed-use development at 338 S Walnut St downtown. One of the primary roles of the EDC is to evaluate and make recommendations on requests for tax abatements. The EDC is purely advisory; the City Council has the ultimate authority to approve tax abatements in the City of Bloomington.

Monroe County also has an Economic Development Commission, which makes recommendations on tax abatements in the unincorporated part of the county. This will be my first time considering a tax abatement on a project with a residential component; County projects have all been for employment-generating facilities (manufacturing and logistical facilities), at least during the time I’ve served on the Council.

The photo below shows the currently vacant lot currently on 338 S Walnut, along with a bit of the two adjoining properties — 340 S Walnut to the south (owned by the same owners as 338 S Walnut) and the old Costume Delights to the north.

338 S Walnut St
338 S Walnut St

Interestingly, 338 S Walnut St used to be the home of Monroe County Health Department’s Futures Family Planning Clinic; the clinic has since moved into the basement of the Monroe County Health Building. The building has already been demolished, and the lot is currently vacant.

Former County Futures Family Planning Clininc
Former County Futures Family Planning Clinic

The following is an architectural rendering for the planned project provided as part of the tax abatement application. The building is expected to be mixed-use, residential and commercial, and provide a total of 14,400 square feet. It will also include some on-street landscaping.

Renderings - 338 S. Walnut St._Page_3
Renderings – 338 S. Walnut St._Page_3

The owners anticipate investing around $2M in the property, and are asking for a 3-year phase-in of the property taxes associated with the new assessed value. This means that the new assessed value would be 100% abated the first year, 66% the second year, 33% the third year, and subsequent years would be taxed at the full value.

The property currently generates around $4000/year of property tax. At full value, the new project will generated around $40K/year of property tax, so even after the first year of the abatement, the new project will be generating 3 times as much property tax as it is currently.

The following abatement schedule (from the EDC packet) shows the estimated taxes with and without the abatement:

338 S Walnut Proposed Abatement Schedule
338 S Walnut Proposed Abatement Schedule

The EDC meeting to evaluate this application is on November 21, 2014 at noon. I’m not yet sure when this application will appear on the City Council agenda.

Preview of Monroe County Council Meeting Today 2014-11-12

2014 Monroe County Council
2014 Monroe County Council

Today’s regular meeting of the Monroe County Council should be relatively short (I know, famous last words!). The meeting is being held tonight rather than last night because County Government was closed for Veterans Day.

The full packet for tonight’s meeting is available here: 2014-11-12 Regular Session Packet

Most of the agenda consists of appropriation of grants. The following items are on the agenda:

1. The Commissioners are requesting that the Council approve a resolution directing the Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County to distribute $13,322 in income from the trust fund of around $350,000 held by the Community Foundation. This money will be distributed to the Monroe County Building Preservation Fund, which is used for preservation activities for Monroe County Government’s historic buildings.

2. The Health Department is requesting the appropriation of $31,792 in grant funding from the Indiana Family Health Council to allow the Futures Family Planning Clinic to hire a certified navigator for one year to assist clients in the Affordable Care Act (e.g., Obamacare) application process.

3. The Prosecutor’s Office is requiring an appropriation of $11,078 for a three-month extension of the current grant contract for two victim assistance assistants and the victim assistance director. The prosecutor is then requesting the transfer of $15,000 from the victim assistance salary lines in the general fund (as they are now being paid out of the 3-month grant extension) into the depositions line.

4. The Highway department has two requests. One is to create a line for the Bottom Road Bridge #21 project in the Cumulative Bridge Fund. The department will then transfer existing appropriation into that line.

The more interesting request is for an additional appropriation of $650,000 out of the Local Road and Street Fund (which is funded by gas and special fuel taxes). This will be used for the preliminary engineering and right of way acquisition associated with a planned reconstruction of Sample Road from Bottom Road to Old State Road 37 North. I’ve included a map that shows the corridor below. This is a Federal Aid highway project, which means that the Federal Government pays 80% of the costs and Monroe County pays 20%.

This project is necessitated by the inclusion of Sample Road as an interchange on I-69 Section 5 — the northernmost exit in Monroe County.

Sample Road Corridor
Sample Road Corridor

5. The Clerk is requesting the appropriation of a $10,333 grant from the US Department of Health and Human Services to assist in ensuring that polling places are compliant with the Help America vote Act (HAVA).

6. The Monroe County Solid Waste Management District is requesting an additional appropriation of $255,000 for building improvements and machinery and equipment for the creation of a clean-stream Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). The clean-stream MRF will bail and market recyclables that have already been separated at one of the recycling sites around the county. This project has already been included in the adopted 2015 budget for the District. However, the District is requesting an additional appropriation out of THIS year’s budget to get started on the project early. We have been told that this does not increase the costs of the project, and that anything spent out of this year’s appropriation would then not need to be spent out of the 2015 budget (and in fact, the Council may choose to de-appropriate it).

Update: I just received the following breakdown of the $255K appropriation request from Larry Barker, executive director of the Solid Waste Management District:

Below is the break-out of the Clean Stream MRF Appropriations request of $255,000.

  • 40-44220 Building Improvements      $150,000
    •  60’X200’ steel building materials only,  $69,000  (this comes with a 30 year warranty).
    •  60’X200’ steel building erection only,    $57,000 ( this is a certified construction to comply with warranty).
    •  Concrete for footing and pad improvement $16,000. (estimated)
    •  Electrical for the steel building $8,000. (estimated)
  • 40-44390 Other Improvements           $3,000
    •  Recalibration and certification of existing weight scales.
  • 40-44430 Computer equipment          $2,000
    •  Computer, printer and software for scale house.
  • 40-44450 Machinery & Equipment Purchase/Lease  $100,000
    • Purchase of three (3) reconditioned auto-cycle Horizontal Balers with infeed Conveyors. $99,450 ( this includes installation, start-up, training and freight).
    • Electrical wiring for the balers. $550.00 (estimated) 

Although the Monroe County Solid Waste Management District is not a department of Monroe County Government, by statute the County Council has binding authority over its budgets, and so must vote on any appropriations.

This meeting will begin at 5:30PM today in the Nat U Hill Room of the Monroe County Courthouse, and public comment will be taken. The meeting will also be broadcast live on CATSTV (County Channel).