2015 TIGER Grant Awards Include Complete Streets and Intermodal Shipping for Louisville Area

Bill Williams Bridge in Stinesville IN
Bill Williams Bridge in Stinesville IN

On Thursday, the US Department of Transportation announced their 2015 awards for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program. TIGER is a competitive grant program that awards nearly $500 million annually for major transportation infrastructure investments that support the key transportation goals of safety, innovation, and opportunity.

The Louisville area was the clear winner in our region from this year’s round of awards.

The Louisville Metro Government (a unified city-county government, similar to Indianapolis-Marion County) was awarded $16,910,000 for the Transforming Dixie Highway project, a series of complete streets improvements along the Dixie Highway corridor. Following is the project description:

This TIGER grant will provide funding to install Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) infrastructure, Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) upgrades (including transit signal priority), and complete streets improvements along approximately 15 miles of the Dixie Highway corridor, a congested regional transportation corridor. The ITS improvements include transit signal priority equipment and signal phasing improvements to prioritize transit. The complete streets roadway and safety improvements include pedestrian facilities, intersection improvements, and new roadside urban design elements including raised medians and driveway consolidations, turn lanes, signage, and striping upgrades.

In addition, the Ports of Indiana in Jeffersonville, right across the Ohio River from Louisville, was awarded $10M for a truck-rail-water intermodal shipping facility. Here is the project description:

This TIGER grant will provide funding to construct a double rail loop and rail-to-barge transfer facility with additional rail and turnouts. The project also includes construction of a nearly mile-long rail siding extension that will allow rail carriers to deliver a 90-car unit train to the port. The project will also construct a truck-to-rail intermodal facility in the vicinity of Connector Road to accommodate increasing truck traffic expected from the East End Bridge over the Ohio River.

This was the only award in the state of Indiana.

Monroe County is no stranger to TIGER grants, however. Back in 2012, Monroe County was awarded $3,126,250 for replacement of the Stinesville Bridge, a functionally obsolete bridge with a dangerous approach that would routinely have to be closed when Jack’s Defeat Creek flooded. The bridge was renamed Bill Williams Bridge by the Stinesville Town Board, in honor of long-time (and now former) Monroe County Highway Director Bill Williams.

Here are a couple of pictures from the ribbon-cutting of the TIGER-funded Bill Williams bridge on September 25, 2014:

Ribbon-Cutting for Bill Williams Bridge
Ribbon-Cutting for Bill Williams Bridge
Ribbon-Cutting for Bill Williams Bridge
Ribbon-Cutting for Bill Williams Bridge
Ribbon-Cutting for Bill Williams Bridge
Ribbon-Cutting for Bill Williams Bridge
Ribbon-Cutting for Bill Williams Bridge
Ribbon-Cutting for Bill Williams Bridge

Local Government Investment in the Life Sciences Industries

Dr. Sengyong Lee Introducing the Indiana Center for the Life Sciences
Dr. Sengyong Lee Introducing the Indiana Center for the Life Sciences

This Tuesday, I had the opportunity to attend the Bloomington Life Sciences Partnership‘s Annual Summit, highlighting the state of the life sciences industry in Bloomington. The event featured an introduction by Dr. Sengyong Lee, the chair of the Ivy Tech Biotechnology Department, along with a panel discussion among representatives of 3 Bloomington life sciences companies of very different sizes: Dan Peterson from Cook Group (approximately 4700 employees in the Monroe County area), Susan Easton from Baxter BioPharma Solutions (approximately 800 employees in the Monroe County Area), and John Morris from Morris Innovative (a startup with 6 employees). The panel was moderated by George Telthorst, the Director of the Center for the Business of Life Sciences at the IU Kelley School of Business.

The panelists highlighted the drivers affecting their businesses, including customers, local supplier networks, workforce, and regulatory issues. They also discussed workforce issues, and highlighted the large number of jobs that are currently available and unfilled, as well as the opportunities for promotion. Workforce issues came up multiple times in the conversation. One comment that I found particularly interesting was that students coming out of high school do not necessarily think of life sciences as a choice for employment; that  students often think of life sciences employment as being only for scientists and engineers, when in reality the majority of employees work in a manufacturing/production environment.

Panelists Dan Peterson, Susan Easton, John Morris
Panelists Dan Peterson, Susan Easton, John Morris

The life sciences industry is clearly of strategic importance for Monroe County, employing more than 4000 local residents in medical device manufacturing and 1750 in biopharmaceuticals (Source: http://bloomingtonlifesciences.com/workforce/data/). And local government needs to be engaged with the regional significance of the industry. The Indiana Biosciences Research Institute (IBRI) in Indianapolis — the anchor of a proposed major tech-centered development on the south side of Indianapolis, aims to bridge the gap between university-based research and corporate research in the life sciences, and represents a major strategic opportunity for Monroe County and central Indiana.

One of the most exciting aspects of this summit, however, was the opportunity to highlight the summit’s venue — the Indiana Center for Life Sciences (ICLS). Operated by Ivy Tech, the ICLS is a state-of-the-art workforce development facility located in Monroe County’s Westside Economic Development Area. In addition to lab and classroom space, the ICLS includes a voluminous 5000 square foot training facility, which allows local life sciences companies to conduct training in a simulated production facility. The real advantage of the ICLS training facility is that it allows companies to conduct realistic training that they could not easily conduct in their own “clean room” facilities.

Indiana Center for the Life Sciences
Indiana Center for the Life Sciences

The ICLS was created in 2007 through a strategic partnership between Monroe County Government and Ivy Tech, that included a $5M investment in the facility by the Monroe County Redevelopment Commission. This investment was funded through Redevelopment District Bonds (2007 Series), with a principal of $5M, and paid by property tax revenues in the Westside Economic Development Area tax increment finance district. The debt is scheduled to be retired in 2024.

Thus far, the ICLS has been a story of successful local government investment in strategic economic development, and has become a valued facility in the local life sciences industry, bringing in millions in additional investment and grant funding.

Hartman and Williams Report on Treasurer’s Cash Book Reconciliation

I’m not going to make any comments in particular on this blog entry, because my purpose is simply to make this report available to the public as quickly as possible.

The Monroe County Commissioners contracted with governmental accounting consultants Hartman and Williams for $150K to assist the Monroe County Treasurer’s Office in reconciling the Treasurer’s cash book to the corresponding bank accounts for the years 2012-2014.

Attached are the documents delivered by Hartman and Williams:


Preview of Monroe County Council Work Session 2015-10-27

2015 Monroe County Council
2015 Monroe County Council

The packet and agenda for tonight’s work session of the Monroe County Council is now available: Council_Work_Session_Packet_20151027_AMENDED

The following topics will be discussed at the work session:

  • The Solid Waste Management District is requesting that the County provide landfill post-closure financial assurance that is required by new state requirements. Essentially the District is requesting that the county guarantee the landfill closure costs, if for some reason the District is unable to cover those costs.
  • The Auditor and the Treasurer will provide some discussion on their respective responses to the Hartman and Williams report on financial reconciliation issues up to December 31, 2014.
  • The Council will discuss a proposed new policy for providing a mechanism by which department heads can start certain new hires at above the current initial starting salary. Currently all new county employees start at the minimum salary for the classification, unless they have 1-3 years of experience with Monroe County Government. The intention of this policy is to allow experience at a substantially similar organization to substitute for Monroe County Government experience. The purpose is to provide department heads with better tools to recruit good employees to Monroe County Government.
  • The Sheriff will provide a proposed amendment to the Monroe County Police Retirement Plan, which increases the vesting schedule for retirement pension from 8 years to 10 years.

In addition to these work session topics, the Council will be voting on a number of requests from departments:

  • The Auditor has two requests:
    • One to increase their maximum hourly rate for part-time employees from $15.00 to $19.25. The Auditor is requesting that this increase be retroactive to April 1, 2015.
    • The second is to reclassify the Payroll Financial Representative from a COMOT V ($32,995/year) to a PAT III ($36,232/year), effective immediately.
  • The Treasurer has several requests as well:
    • To reclassify their Financial/Cash Book position (PAT II at $35,793 per year) to a Financial Cash Manager position (PAT IV, at $40,286).
    • To add a new position to the department, a Deputy Judgments position (COMOT III, at $29,575).
  • Courts is requesting the appropriation of a $100,000 Title IV-D Parenting Time grant.
  • Planning has several requests:
    • Permission to hire a new senior planner at the midpoint, rather than the entry level (see the discussion above).
    • Request to move 3 planner positions from 35 hours/week to 40 hours/week immediately. These positions were funded at 40 hours/week in the upcoming 2016 budget, but this request is to make the change take effect immediately.
    • A transfer of $10,008 from Hourly/Work Study to Consultant Fees/Legal Expenses line.
    • Request for appropriation of two grants: Limestone Heritage Project ($5000) and Indiana Landmarks/Indiana Humanities Educational Outreach Program ($2000)
  • The Prosecutor is requesting that a Case Management/Tech Specialist position be funded out of the County General fund. Typically this position has been funded 2/3 out of Pretrial Diversion; however, the Pretrial Diversion balance it too low to support this position.
  • The Recorder is requesting the appropriation of $10,000 in the County Elected Officials Training Fund (supported from a county recording fee and statutorily earmarked for mandatory training for certain elected officials). Appropriation of this fund was omitted during budget hearings last year for 2015.
  • Probation is requesting a salary ordinance amendment to create two new positions in the Community Alternative Supervision Program (Community Corrections). These positions would be funded by a grant that has not been awarded yet. However, the county has been advised that turnaround for this grant will be quick, so this request would set up the salary lines for immediate funding IF the grant is awarded.
  • County Council is requesting an additional appropriation of $41,500 for PERF, part-time hourly, contractual services, and community services grants. This is the first year that County Council members receive the PERF retirement benefits, and so this line was underfunded for the year. In addition, the Council hired a new administrative assistant and additional assistance during budget hearings, which increased the part-time hourly burden. The council also engaged the services of Waggoner, Irwin, Scheele (WIS) for a classification study.
  • Veterans’ Affairs is requesting a $1000 transfer from the Secretary Part-Time line (which is unused) to the Training/Travel line.

As always, the meeting is open to the public, and will be held tonight at 5:30 in the Nat U Hill room of the Monroe County Courthouse, and it will be broadcast on CATS. Hope to see you there!

Monroe County Council Adopts 2016 Budget

2015 Monroe County Council
2015 Monroe County Council

Last night the Monroe County Council unanimously adopted a $63.1M budget along with the property tax rates and levies for Monroe County Government for 2016. In part, this budget will be funded by $25.8M in property tax levies and a property tax rate of $0.4723 for every $100 of assessed value.

The budget is divided into a number of different funds. Some of these funds by law are reviewed by the State Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF), and others are considered “home rule funds”. This distinction is more historical than substantive, however; many of the home rule funds are very tightly restricted by law. After review by the DLGF, it is likely that the property tax levy and property tax rates will be reduced, as the rates and levies are always calculated using a smaller assessed value than the actual assessed value as a margin for error. In addition, the request for the General Fund includes an appeal for an “excess levy” — a property tax levy outside of the normal limits to correct several past errors and major property tax appeals — that will not necessarily be granted.

The following DLGF-reviewed budgets, tax levies, and tax rates were adopted for 2016:

2016 Monroe County DLGF-Reviewed Funds
2016 Monroe County DLGF-Reviewed Funds

Here are a few notes about several of these funds:

  • Debt Payment fund is for the mortgage on the Showers building. This debt will be paid off in 2017
  • Bond #2 is a one-year general obligation bond for county capital needs, including major building repairs, security upgrades, and vehicles. This bond will be paid off in 2016
  • Convention and Visitors Bureau is funded by the innkeepers tax
  • Highway and Local Road and Street funds are funded by gas tax and vehicle excise taxes
  • The Cumulative Bridge budget of $460,246 looks lower than it really is because the bridge budget and specific projects are always presented mid-year and funded through additional appropriations

The following budgets for home-ruled funds were also adopted. These funds do not have property tax rates and levies associated with them:

Monroe County 2016 Budgets for Home-Ruled
Monroe County 2016 Budgets for Home-Ruled

Just a couple of notes about these home-ruled funds:

  • The Juvenile Facility COIT fund is supported by the 0.95% Juvenile County Option Income Tax (JCOIT)
  • The COIT County Distributive Shares fund is supported by the County’s share of the 1% County Option Income Tax (COIT), and includes several major county departments, including the Sheriff, Courts, Probation, Treasurer, Auditor, Surveyor, Weights and Measures, and the Election Board. The Council intends to move the Election Board expenses out of the COIT fund and into a separate Elections fund early in 2016.
  • The Westside Economic Development, 46 Corridor Economic Development, and Fullerton Pike Economic Development funds are the 3 Monroe County Tax Increment Finance (TIF) districts

The next step is for the DLGF to review the budgets, tax rates, and tax levies. The County will receive what is called a 1782 statement, which represents the results of the DLGF review. The DLGF review is based on the financial statements submitted along with the statutes related to budgets, rates, and levies; it isn’t making a policy decision on the specific expenditures. The County has 10 days to review and respond to the 1782 statement, after which the results are final. The County will then receive a final budget order from the DLGF.

This was also the last meeting for County Councilor Rick Dietz, who resigned in order to move out of his district (District IV) with his new wife. We all wish Rick well!

Dangerous Intersection at State Road 45 and Pete Ellis Drive/Range Road

The intersection of State Road 45 (10th Street) and Pete Ellis Dr (to the south) and Range Rd (to the north) is unsafe and needs to be addressed. And as bad as it is now, in five years when IU Health Bloomington Hospital moves to the area north of Range Road, it will be 10 times worse, as this intersection will be the backup/alternate route to/from the hospital. Because this intersection is on a state road (SR 45), the road is in the state’s jurisdiction (i.e., not in the jurisdiction of the City of Bloomington or Monroe County).

The following map shows the intersection that I am concerned about:

Map of Range Road Area
Map of Range Road Area

The following diagram illustrates the problem with this intersection. Basically, there are a lot of cars traveling on SR45 (10th Street) going westbound that stop at the traffic signal to make a left turn (there is no left turn lane or leading light). However, many motorists traveling behind the stopped car (or cars) will attempt to pass on the right, despite lack of a passing lane. When the car at the intersection turns left, it creates an unsafe and ambiguous situation, in which the car behind the car making the left turn will move ahead and go straight through the intersection (properly), while at the same time a car is passing them on the right in an area that isn’t large enough to merge back in safely.

SR45 - Range Road/Pete Ellis Intersection
SR45 – Range Road/Pete Ellis Intersection

The crash statistics bear out the perception that this is a dangerous intersection. Per the 2012-2014 Draft Bloomington/Monroe County Metropolitan Planning Organization Crash Report:

  • This intersection ranks 14th in overall crashes from all the intersections in the MPO boundary, up from 32nd, and averaging 18 crashes per year.
  • When weighted by traffic volume, the overall crash rate (crashes per million entering vehicles) is ranked 22nd among all intersections
  • And ranked by severity of crash, it is 16th in the county.

Although INDOT has, at some point, planned to reconstruct state road 45 from the bypass east to Russell Road, at this point they have no plans to address the situation. As serious as the situation is right now, the situation will become dire if not addressed before IU Health Bloomington Hospital relocates in the Range Road area.

Here is a brief history of INDOT’s purported plans in this area. from what I can ascertain from searches of local media:

  • INDOT announced in 2005 that widening SR 45 from the bypass to Russell Road was on their 10-year priority list for the area (Source: Herald Times)
  • Governor Mitch Daniels announced in September of 2005 that the widening of SR45 from the bypass to Pete Ellis Dr was planned for 2006 (Source: Herald Times)
  • In a “final” 10-year plan for Major Moves projects, the widening of the bypass, plus widening SR 45 from the bypass to Pete Ellis would be completed in 2008-2009, and from Pete Ellis to Russell Road would be completed by 2011 (Source: Herald Times)
  • INDOT held a public hearing on the proposed SR45 improvements at University Elementary School on September 18, 2008 (I attended and spoke at this public hearing about providing better pedestrian access to University Elementary School)
  • In October 2008, INDOT launched a Web site dedicated to the potential widening of SR45 from Pete Ellis to Russell Road: www.in.gov/indot/div/projects/sr45/. Unfortunately this Web site no longer exists. However, due to the wonders of the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, the contents of this site are still available! Most importantly, INDOT updated the site on 2010-03-24 to say:
    • “Due to an extensive “re-racking” process recently completed by INDOT and state of Indiana leadership, the road improvement project on State Road 45 (E 10th Street in Bloomington) from Pete Ellis Drive to Russell Road has been shelved. This means that the scheduled Begin Construction date is now TBD (To Be Determined). This effectively means that the project will not be considered for possible re-activation until 2020 at the earliest.”
  • In January of 2013, the Hotline column of the Herald Times reported that Beth Hamilton from INDOT stated that the expansion of SR45 from the bypass to Pete Ellis was “still an active project”, but that there had been no bid-letting date scheduled, so no date was available (Source: Herald Times)
  • In October of 2015, Brandi Fischvogt from the INDOT Seymour District (the district that has jurisdiction over Monroe County) wrote me to tell me that she had been informed that “INDOT does not currently have any projects planned in this area”.
The upshot is that INDOT does not have any plans at all to address this dangerous intersection, whether through a broader road reconstruction, or a more targeted solution. This is not acceptable. We as a community need to work together and work with INDOT to make sure that this situation is addressed before a major new regional hospital moves in.
I am already working to put together a group to raise the profile of this issue, and would very much appreciate any suggestions or ideas from other members of the community.