Tax Abatement Application and Grant Funding for Futures Family Planning Clinic — Preview of Monroe County Council Meeting 2016-03-08

2016 County Council MembersThis Tuesday’s regular session of the Monroe County Council (2016-03-08 5:30 PM in the Nat U Hill Room) will feature several important topics, including a first reading for a tax abatement application for the 3D Stone mill at 6700 S Victor Pike and appropriation of grant funding for the County’s Futures Family Planning Clinic. The full packet for the meeting is available here: Council_Packet_20160308.

The Council will be hearing the first reading (of two) for a personal property tax abatement application from Lily and Kurt Sendek (doing business as L & K Real Estate Investments) for an expansion of their 3D Stone business at 6700 S Victor Pike, in southern Monroe County.

The property is shown below. Note that the property crosses Victor Pike, and includes a parcel that a proposed County greenway (going along the Illinois Central rail line) goes through.

Screenshot 2016-03-06 08.52.49
3D Stone Mill Property, 6700 S Victor Pike

The site currently has 44 full-time employees. The owners are proposing to add a second production shift to the business, which will add approximately 32 new full-time permanent positions, ranging in starting wages from $11 (General Labor) per hour to $20 (Stone Cutter) per hour, plus a supervisor at $25 per hour. Benefits include employee profit-sharing plan and health/dental/vision insurance. The abatement application in the council packet (Council_Packet_20160308) provides more details on positions, wages, and benefits.

The owners are requesting the tax abatement only on personal property (i.e., business equipment) — on the approximately $800,000 in equipment they propose to purchase for the business expansion (including CNC cutting equipment, saws, forklifts, and IT production management system).

Here is a picture of the business. Note that the red lines are caused by an error in the county’s GIS.

Screenshot 2016-03-06 09.05.43
3D Stone Mill

The County Council will be hearing this tax abatement application for the first reading. It has already been reviewed and received a favorable recommendation by the Monroe County Economic Development Commission (EDC). If the County Council votes in favor of this tax abatement at the meeting, a public hearing will be conducted and the Council will take a final vote (“confirmatory resolution”) on the abatement.

Other items up for discussion at the meeting include:

  • The Health Department is requesting the appropriation of funding (as well as creation of budget lines and other housekeeping) for the County’s Futures Family Planning Clinic from Title V, Title X, and Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF)
  • The Legal Department is requesting the appropriation of $40,000 in fees that the county attorneys are allowed to receive in penalties and fees collected from delinquent personal property taxpayers. County attorneys are able to supplement their regular salary by working off-the-clock to collect unpaid personal property taxes. The amount they receive is on top of the taxes actually collected on behalf of the county, so the county does not lose any tax revenue.
  • The Probation Department is requesting the appropriation of $50,000 in grant funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), which supports alternatives to incarcerating youth.
  • The Veterans Affairs department is requesting an additional appropriation of $41,503, primarily because the county’s Veterans Service Officer position was reclassified and upgraded to full time after the 2016 budget had been set. In addition, $5000 of new training funding is being requested.

As always, the meeting is open to the public, and will be held this Tuesday evening (March 8, 2016) at 5:30 in the Nat U Hill room of the Monroe County Courthouse, and it will be broadcast on CATS. Public comment will be taken. Hope to see you there!

More Discussion about Funding for Volunteer Fire Departments and New Financial Software for the County? Preview of Monroe County Council Work Session 2016-02-23

2016 County Council MembersThis evening’s work session of the Monroe County Council (5:30 PM in the Nat U Hill Room) will feature two topics: funding for volunteer fire departments and potential new financial software for the county.

Funding for Volunteer Fire Departments

At the last regular session, the Council appropriated $5000 for each fire department in the county with a volunteer component (8 total fire departments) from revenues received by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources from timber sales from state forests located in Monroe County.  This was the amount requested by the County Commissioners — $2500 for each fire department from 2014-2015 revenues and $2500 for 2011-2012 revenues (somehow the county neglected to make the distribution to fire departments in 2012).

I provided a little more background on the timber sales distributions here.

The reason for tonight’s discussion is that some councilors, and in particular Council President Cheryl Munson, who has been strongly involved in volunteer fire departments through her service in Indian Creek Township, think that the distribution requested by the County Commissioners ($2500 per department) is too low compared to the need. The statute that requires the timber sales distribution to volunteer fire departments earmarks up to 50% of the timber sales revenue for fire departments, if the Commissioners request it. For this year (2014-2015), this would mean that the Commissioners could have requested up to $4955 per fire department.

The purpose of this discussion tonight is to explore options and interest in providing additional funding for fire departments.  For additional background, here is some data on county distributions of timber sales revenues to volunteer fire departments from 2005-present:

Screenshot 2016-02-23 06.27.38

County Financial Software

A an item that is not yet on the agenda will likely be discussed. The county council is still under discussions to potentially fund the purchase of new financial software. We are considering, upon request from the Auditor’s Office, the purchase of financial software from Low Associates to replace the County’s aging Harris Open Window financial system.

A representative from Low is anticipated to be at the work session to answer Council questions, as will the County’s Director of Technical Services (IT).

Costs of the new software (including installation, implementation, and training) are estimated at $188,236, plus an additional $37,176 in annual maintenance expenses. Discussions will likely center around (1) should the County move forward in purchasing the new financial software; (2) if so, when, and (3) if so, how should we pay for it. Options for funding the software include cash on hand from County Option Income Tax (COIT) revenues, the Commissioners’ Cumulative Capital Development fund, and a potential future General Obligation (GO) bond.

The packet for the meeting is available here: Council_Work_Session_Packet_20160223. However, it probably won’t be particularly useful — there is no detail on the timber sales issue, and the Low software discussion is a last-minute addition.

As always, the meeting is open to the public and will be televised on CATS. Hope to see you there!

 

2016 Monroe County Budget Order — Property Tax Rates and Budgets Approved

Monroe County Courthouse at Night
Monroe County Courthouse at Night

Yesterday, Monroe County received its budget order for 2016 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 (i.e., county, cities and towns, school districts, townships, public library, special 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)

Here is a chart showing the 2016 tax rates by taxing district (along with the 2013, 2014, and 2015 rates for comparison):

2016 Monroe County Tax Rates by District

 

Tax rates for all taxing districts actually went down this year, except for Bloomington Township and Salt Creek Township. Tax rates for these two districts went up a bit, because of fire debt service payments.

The full budget order can be found here: Monroe County 2016 Budget Order

Funding for Volunteer Fire Departments, CASA, and New Financial Software for the County? Preview of Monroe County Council Meeting 2016-02-09

2016 County Council Members

The packet and agenda for this Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Monroe County Council is now available: Council_Packet_20160209.

The following are the major substantive items on the agenda:

  • The Monroe County Circuit Court is requesting an additional appropriation of $27,334 out of the Juvenile County Option Income Tax (a 0.095% special income tax earmarked for juvenile services) for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), a a volunteer-powered program which provides representation in juvenile court for child victims of abuse and neglect. This is an increase over the 2016 budgeted amount of $137,166 (which was unchanged from the 2015 amount), and is being requested due to increasing demands on the program.
  • The Health Department is requesting an appropriation of a $15,000 grant to support the Monroe County syringe exchange program, in an agreement with the Indiana Recovery Alliance. The Health Department announced the opening of the syringe exchange program this past Friday. The program will provide free syringes, prevention supplies, HIV and Hepatitis C testing, treatment and social service referrals, and harm reduction and naloxone education.
  • The Probation Department is requesting the creation of a fund and appropriation of a $32,065 Justice Assistance Grant for the Drug Court Coordinator position, funding for which is shared with the COIT General Fund budget. This is a cut from last year’s grant, and we have been notified that after 11 years of funding, we will be unlikely to receive funding next year. Monroe County’s Drug Court has been a demonstrable success in the past, and it will be a priority both of the Probation Department and — hopefully — the County Council to continue to fund Drug Court operations.
  • The Legal Department is requesting an appropriation of $25,000 for potential claims settlement. The legal department has typically had this amount available to it to settle claims on behalf of Monroe County when a negotiated settlement is in our best interest. The line was cut in 2016 budget hearings; however, the legal department is requesting it be reinstated, in order to broaden our options in future negotiations.
  • The Correctional Center is requesting an additional appropriation of $35,441.61 out of the Misdemeanant/County Corrections Fund for part-time hourly. It appears that this part-time hourly request was accidentally omitted from the jail’s 2016 budget request. The hope is that better use of part-time hourly revenue could result in reduced overtime costs, which was a major problem in 2015, and will likely be in 2016 as well, following a collective bargaining agreement with the correctional employees that changed the rules on overtime. In addition, there might be additional discussion of recent and proposed statutory changes to the rules for the Misdemeanant Fund.
  • The Auditor’s Office is requesting an appropriation of $235,000 out of the COIT General fund for purchase of new financial software (LOW Windows Accounting System).
    • The Auditor’s Office switched to LOW’s property tax management system two years ago, and has been investigating a potential conversion for the past couple of months, and has conducted a public demonstration with all county stakeholders, worked extensively with the Technical Services Department (IT), and led site visits to other counties that are using the same system.
    • The Council has not seen the full financial plan for purchasing and supporting LOW yet, nor a requested cost-benefit analysis, though, so while the switch to LOW is very promising, this request is premature, in my opinion.
  • The County Commissioners are requesting an appropriation of $40,000 out of the General Fund for aid to volunteer fire departments in the county.
    • Every year, by statute, the county receives 15% of the net proceeds from logging activities on state forests located in the county from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
    • For the 2015-2016 fiscal year, Monroe County received $79,295, which was deposited in the Property Tax General Fund in December. Also by statute, 50% of this revenue is earmarked for rural and volunteer fire departments within the county that have a cooperative agreement with the state.
    • However, the statute also specifies a $1000 maximum annual distribution per fire company, unless the legislative body (the County Commissioners) allows a greater distribution.
    • Whatever the distribution amount allowed, it must be the same for all eligible fire departments. There are 8 fire departments in Monroe County eligible for this funding: Bean Blossom Township Fire Department, Benton Township Fire Department, Bloomington Fire Department, Bloomington Township Volunteer Fire Department, Ellettsville Volunteer Fire Department, Indian Creek Firefighters Inc, Perry/Clear Creek Fire Protection District, and Van Buren Township Volunteer Fire Department. Note that many of these fire departments have both volunteer and professional firefighters.
    • The Commissioners have decided to give each volunteer fire department $2500, for a total of $20,000. The maximum that they could have provided each department was $4956 ($4956 x 8 departments = $39,648, which is 505 of the revenue). The rest of the revenue not provided to volunteer fire departments reverts to the Property Tax General Fund, where it can be spent on any expense of county government.
    • In addition, it was discovered that no distribution was provided to fire departments from the 2012 timber sales revenues. Therefore, the Commissioners are requesting an additional $2500 per fire department, to make up for the missed distribution. Honestly, I am really shocked that no one noticed this omission before now. Some of these rural fire departments are very small, and need all of the assistance they can get!
  • The Commissioners are making several requests for  appropriations for capital projects that have already been programmed.
    • They are requesting $317,609 in appropriations from the 2013 General Obligation bond, to finish up several projects, including Showers building repairs, a remodel of the jail, fire suppression systems, the solar project on the Justice Building, and a section of the Karst Farm Greenway.
    • They are also requesting $239,140 in appropriations from the 2014 General Obligation bond for emergency notifications, IT hardware, and the energy conservation project.
  • The Commissioners are requesting $102,500 from the Cable Franchise Fees fund for several items that were accidentally left off of 2016 budget requests (but are typically funded from the Cable Franchise Fees fund): telephone maintenance, software development services, and the county’s copier lease.
  • The Clerk is requesting the appropriation of $191,918 from a federal Violence Against Women grant that will pay a program coordinator and supplies for the Clerk’s Office, the courts, and law enforcement.
  • The Council will be working with the Clerk and the Election Board to complete the establishment and appropriations for the county’s new Election and Voter Registration Fund. The purpose of this fund is to smooth out the variability in election expenses over the four-year cycle (Presidential election, no election, off-year election, municipal election). The new fund has already been created and the Council transferred $986,000 into it out of the Rainy Day Fund. At this meeting, the council will be setting up the budget lines in the new fund, appropriating into these lines, and deappropriating the old Voter Registration and Election budgets (in the Property Tax General and COIT General Funds, respectively).

Whew, sounds like it could be a long night!

As always, the meeting is open to the public, and will be held this Tuesday evening (February 9, 2016) at 5:30 in the Nat U Hill room of the Monroe County Courthouse, and it will be broadcast on CATS. Public comment will be taken. Hope to see you there!

Tax Abatement Considered at Tonight’s County Council Meeting

2015 Monroe County Council
2015 Monroe County Council

The Monroe County Council will be considering an application for a tax abatement at its work session tonight, 2015-12-22, the only item on the agenda. The packet is available here: Council_Work_Session_Packet_20151222

Tax Abatement Application Facts

Here are the basic facts about the tax abatement application:

  • The applicant is RSSJ Rentals, AKA Robert (Bobby) Scank, local restaurateur (Bobby’s Colorado Steakhouse), who plans to build a 3600 sf building. The application that the building will cost approximately $300,000 — however, Mr. Scank told the Economic Development Commission (EDC) that the cost will be closer to $425,000 (since the tax abatement is tied to the investment, the value of the abatement would scale accordingly).
  • The tenant will be Shoshone Trucking, based in Peru, IN. Shoshone will use the property for truck storage, vehicle maintenance, materials storage, and an office. The company currently has 12 employees, and plans to expand to 20 when they are able to move into the building
  • The jobs to be added are truck drivers, with a starting wage of $21.10/hour plus benefits.
  • The property is 5260 W Vernal Pike.  A map is included below. This property is within the county’s Westside Economic Development Area (TIF District). This means that the costs of and benefits of this take abatement will both accrue to the TIF district, not to the other units of government that service this parcel. This also has implications as to the process (which I’ll discuss below).
5260 W Vernal Pike Map
Parcel Boundary, at West Vernal Pike and Angelina Way
  • The property is zoned Light Industrial, with no zoning changes required for this usage.
  • Mr. Scank reported that he had a 5-year lease with Shoshone Trucking, with 2 2-year options. For this reason, he is applying for a 5-year tax abatement (this is shorter than the more typical 10 years). As with all tax abatements, the percentage of new assessed value as a result of the investment that is abated declines throughout the life of the abatement.
    • For example, for a 5-year abatement, the first year 100% of the new assessed value is abated, in the second year 80%, down to only 20% in the fifth year. After the term of the abatement, 100% of the new assessed value is taxed.

This abatement application is unusually small in scale compared to our typical tax abatement applications. Most of our abatements come in the form of much bigger investments (i.e., bigger buildings); this project is similar in scale  and scope to the abatement that  the Council granted for Eco Logic in 2014.

Process

All tax abatement applications in the unincorporated county (which this is go to the Monroe County Economic Development Commission (EDC) for review, analysis, and recommendation to the County Council. The EDC met last Thursday, 2015-12-17, and voted 3-0 to recommend in favor of the 10-year abatement (the abatement request has subsequently been reduced to 5 years).

All tax abatement applications require two votes by the County Council: what is called a “declaratory resolution” and a “confirmatory resolution”. Tonight will be the declaratory resolution. If the vote is in favor of the abatement tonight, then the Council will schedule the confirmatory review and vote at their 2016-01-12 regular meeting.

In addition, however, because this abatement request is in a TIF district, the Monroe County Redevelopment Commission and the Board of Commissioners (as the legislative body that created the Redevelopment Commission) also are required to approve the abatement request. The RDC’s review of the tax abatement application is restricted to consideration of whether the granting of the tax abatement would jeopardize the Westside TIF’s ability to meet its bond obligations. Since the investment that is associated with this tax abatement will increase the revenue to the TIF district and the overall value of the investment is very small in proportion to the overall value of the TIF district, it would be very difficult for the RDC to find that the abatement would jeopardize the ability to make bond payments. In any case, the RDC met on 2015-12-17 and found that the abatement would not jeopardize the Westside TIF’s ability to meet its bond obligations.

The County Commissioners’ review will be scheduled for their  regular meeting on Friday, 2016-01-08 (assuming the Council approves  the declaratory resolution tonight).

Finally, as a matter of practice, the County Council always requires a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the recipient of the abatement. This MOU constitutes a binding contract between Monroe County and the recipient of a tax abatement, and specifies in detail the terms of the abatement, including the timeline for the creation of any proposed jobs, criteria for substantial compliance with the terms of the abatement, and any remedies (“clawbacks”) for noncompliance. This MOU would be considered at the same time as the confirmatory resolution.

In summary, here are the relevant dates:

  • Review by Economic Development Commission: 2015-12-17 (Completed)
  • Review by Redevelopment Commission: 2015-12-17 (Completed)
  • First Review by County Council: 2015-12-22
  • Review by County Commissioners: 2016-01-08 (tentative, if  first review by the County Council is successful)
  • Second Review by County Council: 2016-01-12 (tentative, if  first review by the County Council is successful)

Analysis

The property is currently assessed at $62,300 and pays approximately $1080 in property tax per year. The following table summarizes the value of the investment and the 5-year abatement, over a 10 year period. I used estimated tax rates provided by the Assessor’s Office — and made the assumption that neither the property value nor the tax rates would change during the 10-year period.

Screenshot 2015-12-22 07.27.20

There are two numbers that matter most in the analysis of the abatement. The first is the total of the column “Estimated Revenue Not Received”, $21,412. This is essentially the value of the abatement to the property owner over a 10-year period, and is also the revenue forgone as a result of the abatement, assuming the investment went on as planned, without the abatement.

The second number is the total of the Additional Taxes Paid from Investment column, $49,962, which is the estimate of the additional amount of taxes over the status quo that would be brought in as a result of the investment.

These two numbers really can be seen as reflecting the  two different sides of the abatement: the tax revenue forgone (assuming the investment goes ahead) and the additional tax revenue generated by the investment.

In addition, it is useful to look at the two columns labeled Cumulative Without Improvements and Cumulative With Improvements. In particular, these numbers show that even WITH the abatement, the property will be generating more revenue by the second year of the abatement than it would have without the investment.

Tax Abatement within a TIF District Critique

So besides the usual criticisms of tax abatements in general (in my opinion the most salient being that the literature shows that tax abatements have a minimal impact on a business’s decision to make an investment), this abatement is subject to another critique — that it is a tax abatement within a TIF district. Indiana is one of the few (not the only — at least Iowa and Missouri also permit them) state that permits tax abatements within TIF districts, so overall this is a relatively rare and not-well-studied situation.

I’ve heard  this critique take 2 different forms, which can actually be seen as diametrically opposed:

  • A tax abatement in a TIF district is “double-dipping”, as it combines two economic development incentives
  • A tax abatement in a TIF creates two economic development incentives working against each other, because the purpose of the TIF district is to capture revenue from development in the district, and a tax abatement diminishes the amount of revenue for capture

I  reject double-dipping argument, at least  in the general case. Tax abatements and TIF districts are often lumped  together in public discourse as similar economic development incentives. However, they are really very different. While a tax abatement is clearly an economic development incentive that works to the benefit of an individual business/investor by reducing the amount of new taxes paid by the business, the TIF district  serves to provide infrastructure that makes particular parcels of land broadly develop-able. Any business that is going to expand or site at a particular location will generally only do so if there  is existing infrastructure.

So the benefit to an individual business owner  of being in a TIF district is simply having access to land with infrastructure. But this is not a particular benefit beyond any other land that has infrastructure that is outside a TIF  district. The benefit of a TIF district accrues more directly to the unit of government that created the TIF  district — the ability to raise revenue to put in infrastructure to support employment.

Incidentally, I’m not saying that double-dipping couldn’t occur in a specific case.  A redevelopment commission could choose to invest in or provide some other sort of direct assistance to a particular property (other than providing publicly-available infrastructure) and then also allow a tax abatement on the same property. However, this is not the case here, and in general.

The second argument — that a tax abatement in a TIF creates two economic development incentives working against each other, because the purpose of the TIF district is to capture revenue from development in the district, and a tax abatement diminishes the amount of revenue for capture — does have some merit — but this merit has to be evaluated on a case by case basis. First, we have to start  from the premise that the goal of the TIF district is not to accumulate as much revenue as possible, but to provide overall benefits to the community. These benefits can include redevelopment of blighted/brownfield land, amenities that improve the quality of life of residents of the community, and employment available to local residents (in urbanized areas, providing housing is an additional potential benefit of a TIF district).

The revenue captured by a TIF district is simply a means to the above purpose(s), in that the revenue allows for the investment in the infrastructure (in particular, pays the bond that created the infrastructure). So in the case of a tax abatement within a TIF, the abatement would only work at cross-purposes with the goals of the TIF district  if it impaired the ability of the TIF  district to invest in the infrastructure necessary to meet its goals. This could mean impairing its ability to make  debt service payments, but could also mean impairing its  abilities to make other infrastructural improvements that aren’t funded through debt.

So as long as the abatement does not impair the ability of the TIF district to make the necessary investments to meet its goals, it does not work at cross-purposes to the TIF district. Again, making this determination requires looking at the specific case. Is the abatement relatively large compared to the overall cash flow of the TIF district, such that it could materially affect that cash flow?  Is the TIF district putting in special infrastructure or other incentives specifically to serve this property? Does the project necessitate special services or greatly increased demands on government? If the answer to any of these questions is in the affirmative, then the abatement could be seen as working at cross-purposes with the TIF district; if not, though, the abatement can be seen as working in concert with the TIF district. If the abatement plays a role in incentivizing the investment (again, it is not a given that this happens), then the abatement can increase, not decrease, the revenue available to make investments in the TIF.

And finally, even if you take an entirely negative view of tax abatements  — in effect, see them as harming all of the other taxpayers — the taxpayers that are harmed  in the case of a tax abatement within a TIF district — are only the other property owners (businesses) in the TIF district. So even if  you take a categorical stance against tax abatements, having the tax abatement in a TIF district actually mitigates the harm done to the other taxpayers AND units of government.

Council Meeting Tonight

The Council will take the first  vote on this tax abatement application tonight. As always, the meeting is open to the public, and will be held this evening (December 22, 2015) at 5:30 in the Nat U Hill room of the Monroe County Courthouse, and it will be broadcast on CATS. Public comment will be taken on this tax abatement application. Hope to see you there!

Preview of Monroe County Council Work Session 2015-11-24

2015 Monroe County Council
2015 Monroe County Council

The packet and agenda for today’s work session of the Monroe County Council is now available: Council_Work_Session_Packet_20151124

The following are the major substantive items on the agenda. Several are continuations from previous meetings.

  • A request from the Recorder to freeze the 2016 salary as a high outlier for one of the Deputy Recorders will receive a second reading tonight. This item was heard at the 2015-11-10 meeting (and more details available here). The only reason it requires a second reading was that the vote on first reading was not unanimous — new Councilor Eric Spoonmore passed, since he was not familiar with the issue.
  • County legal will brief the council on the effects of Senate Enrolled Act 393, which puts some additional surety bonding (i.e., insurance to guarantee faithful performance of duty) requirements on local units of government. In particular, the new statute requires surety bonds on employees and contractors of the local unit of government who have access to public funds, in addition to the elected officials who have previously been required to file surety bonds. Alternately, the statute allows the fiscal body (i.e., the county council, for a county) to authorize the purchase of a crime insurance policy that covers criminal acts or omissions committed by elected officials, employees, and contractors.
  • The Sheriff is requesting that the Council approve an amendment to theMonroe County Police Retirement Plan. The two primary changes are (1) to change the vesting schedule from 8 years to 10 years (i.e., a deputy will not be eligible for any pension benefits upon retirement unless they have at least 10 years of service with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department) and (2) to eliminate the loophole that allowed employees to be 100% vested in their pension when they turned 55 regardless of number of years of service. Discussion on this request started at the meeting on 2015-11-10.
  • The County Council will discuss a resolution used to document the methodology that we use to determine health insurance benefit rates to be charged to departmental budgets. The purpose of this request is to address a comment on a previous State Board of Accounts audit that noted we did not have a written policy for this.
  • The County Council will discuss a proposed policy that will allow department heads, in some circumstances, to hire new employees at above the entry level salary for a particular classification. Normally, employees move up through several points in the salary range based on the number of years experience with Monroe County Government. This proposed policy would allow department heads to take into account years of experience at substantially similar other organizations.
  • The County Council will discuss the procedures necessary to:
    • Pay off the 10 year loan for energy-efficiency upgrades immediately, out of the Rainy Day Fund.
    • Create and fund a dedicated, from which all future election and voter registration expenses will be paid. The purpose of this fund is to help smooth out the variations in election expenses over a 4-year election cycle.

As always, the meeting is open to the public, and will be held this evening (November 24, 2015) 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!

Preview of Monroe County Council Meeting 2015-11-10

2015 Monroe County Council
2015 Monroe County Council

The packet and agenda for today’s regular meeting of the Monroe County Council is now available: Council_Packet_20151110.

The following are the major substantive items on the agenda:

  • The Recorder has two requests:
    • To freeze the 2016 salary as a high outlier for one of the Deputy Recorders. This issue has a complicated history. The Monroe County compensation system defines a salary range for each job classification. Employees start at the minimum of the range, and move up to the midpoint of the range after 3 years of service. However, employees who supervise others in their own classification receive salaries equivalent to the maximum of the range (in order to create a pay differential between the supervisor and their supervisees). These employees who supervise others in their classification and receive the maximum of the salary range are called in-grade supervisors. This policy has proved problematic for a number of reasons, and received a lot of scrutiny over the past couple of years.
    • The Recorder’s office had 4 staff, including one who was being paid as an in-grade supervisor (as well as elected Recorder and his chief deputy). When the new Recorder took office this year, as part of his reorganization plan for the office, he requested a series of desk audits for all positions. As a result, he eliminated one of the 4 staff positions, and requested job description changes for the others, to essentially eliminate any specialization and make them all Deputy Recorders. The management in the office would be provided by the Recorder and Chief Deputy Recorder. The purpose of this reorganization was to have all staff cross-trained in all functions of the office.
    • However, since one employee had been classified as an in-grade supervisor, that employee’s salary would actually be reduced once all employees’ job descriptions were unified. In order to avoid reducing an employee’s salary resulting from a classification decision, the Recorder is requesting that that employee be made a high-outlier. If the Council approves this, it means that the employee’s salary would be frozen and he will not receive any annual cost of living adjustments until the pay for the classification “catches up” to the employee’s actual pay. This has been done in the past by the Council, as an alternative to actually reducing an employee’s pay resulting from reclassification decisions.
    • The Recorder is proposing to pay for the difference between the employee’s actual (frozen) salary and what the salary would be if it were reduced to the midpoint of the classification out of the Recorder’s Perpetuation Fund, so this decision would have no impact on the General Fund.
    • The Recorder is also requesting amend the salary ordinance to include a salary for part-time/hourly employees. A salary ordinance is required to pay any employee, full or part-time. For some reason, the Recorder’s Office has never had a salary ordinance for hourly part-time employees (going back, presumably for many years). This request is to correct this omission.
  • Veterans Affairs is requesting approval of a new job description for the County Veterans Service Officer (CVSO) and upgrading of the position from a PAT (Professional, Administrative, Technological series) II to a PAT III. Our current CVSO (Larry Catt) is retiring, and the County is working with him on reclassifying the position upward, based on the increased demands of the position. During 2016 budget hearings, the Council already moved this position from part-time to full-time (40 hours), and recommended that the position description be modified and that the new description be sent to our classification consultant for reclassification. The recommendation was to classify the position upward one grade, based on new requirements, many of them highly technical and specialized. The Veterans Affairs department has seen many new and different needs for its services (including many new veterans from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan), and these position upgrades represent a major increase in the services that we are able to provide our veterans.
  • The Auditor is requesting that an increase in the maximum hourly wage passed at the last work session be made retroactive, as the request was to increase the wage was delayed for the convenience of the Council
  • The Sheriff is requesting that the Council approve an amendment to the Monroe County Police Retirement Plan. The two primary changes are (1) to change the vesting schedule from 8 years to 10 years (i.e., a deputy will not be eligible for any pension benefits upon retirement unless they have at least 10 years of service with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department) and (2) to eliminate the loophole that allowed employees to be 100% vested in their pension when they turned 55 regardless of number of years of service. My council colleague Ryan Cobine made the following comments on the Herald Times Online comments section the other day, which is a better summary of the issue than I could provide, so I’ll just quote him here:
    • My understanding of why Sheriff Swain brought these proposed changes to both the merit board and the county council, along with correcting some general issues of equity, was to reign in the potential for runaway costs in the future while simultaneously concentrating the benefit to career deputies. As was noted in the HT article, pension plans with overly lax eligibility requirements can put financial stress on a county budget, and therefore onto the services provided to a county.One concern discussed by the county council with the ten-year vestment, specifically for the elected office of sheriff, is that it will make the office of Sheriff differ from all other county elected offices restricted to two terms regarding when an office holder becomes eligible for full retirement benefits. Currently, that is after eight years for all county elected officials restricted to two terms. The concern here is one of fairness—why effectively exclude a two-term office holder for sheriff from a pension benefit when all other term limited office holders will receive one?

      Another, related concern, which came up briefly in the council’s work session discussion of this, is explained well in this excerpt from a recent Association of Indiana Counties publication:

      Some of the parties expressed worry that this plan will deter individuals from running for sheriff unless they already have multiple years within the department. While the county does not want to discourage “non­ police” individuals from running, the long-run projected cost savings were significant enough to counter-balance those concerns. (“Fiscally Responsible Compromises on Sheriffs’ Pension Costs: A Case in Point”, by Adam Johnson, INDIANA NEWS 92 September/October 2015, http://goo.gl/9MlxLM)

      The concern in this case is one of treating potential external candidates for sheriff (a citizen candidate with no previous, professional law enforcement employment experience) equally to internal candidates (those who do have professional law enforcement experience with the county).

      My sense, based on the October 27 council work session where Sheriff Swain explained these proposals, is that the council will support the proposals, with the change of making the office of Sheriff vest in eight years to be in line with other term-limited county elected offices.

    • The only gloss on this explanation that I’d add is that I don’t think the Council is promoting candidates for Sheriff with no professional law enforcement experience — at least, I’m not. The issue is whether to create an even playing field for candidates who aren’t specifically internal to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department.
  • The Sheriff is also requesting several additional appropriations and a transfer from one category to another, on behalf of the Correctional Center. The transfer request is for $14K from General Maintenance Repair services to Operational Supplies. The additional appropriations total $145K ($75K from the General Fund and $70K from the Misdemeanant Fund), all to supplement increased overtime pay resulting from the new collective bargaining arrangement with the Corrections Officers. There will likely be some pushback against this request, and councilors have already expressed significant concern about the dramatic increases in jail overtime costs. Jail staff have already agreed, during budget hearings, to put in place some management practices to reduce overtime for the 2016 budget year.
  • The Treasurer’s request for a salary ordinance amendment to upgrade her Financial/Cash Book position from a PAT II to a PAT IV (increase in salary from $35,793 to $40,286) is receiving a second reading. This upgrade has been discussed extensively and has gone through many revisions. The request passed 6-1 at the work session in October. However, by statute if the decision at the first reading is not unanimous, there must be a second reading (actually the rule is a little more complicated than that, but it isn’t particularly relevant to this case).
  • The Prosecutor is requesting the appropriation of a $47,202 Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grant for 3 part-time victim assistance positions.
  • The County Council office is proposing a resolution that would officially document existing practices for funding benefits as a percentage of salaries. The purpose is to address a State Board of Accounts audit comment that we did not have such a policy in place. However, it is likely that this item will be pulled from the agenda and discussed at the next work session, as there are still several policy issues to be worked out.

Incidentally, this will be the first County Council meeting of new District 4 councilor Eric Spoonmore. Spoonmore was elected in a Democratic party caucus last night to replace councilor Rick Dietz, who moved out of the district. Welcome, Eric!

Eric Spoonmore Being Sworn In by City Clerk Regina Moore
Eric Spoonmore Being Sworn In by City Clerk Regina Moore

As always, the meeting is open to the public, and will be held this evening (November 10, 2015) at 5:30 in the Nat U Hill room of the Monroe County Courthouse, and it will be broadcast on CATS. Public comment will be taken. Hope to see you there!