Preview of Monroe County Budget Adoption Tuesday and Wednesday

2014 Monroe County Council
2014 Monroe County Council

Budget Adoption Process

Last week I wrote about the results of the 2015 Monroe County budget hearings. This upcoming week, the Monroe County Council will formally adopt the 2015 budget, as well as the property tax rates and levies needed to raise the revenues for the budget (not all funds in the budget to be adopted are supported by property taxes). In addition, the Council will adopt the budget and property tax rates and levies for the two other units of government for which the County Council has binding authority: Perry-Clear Creek Fire Protection District and Monroe County Solid Waste Management District.

For all three units, budget adoption will happen over two evenings, Tuesday, October 14 and Wednesday, October 15. Tuesday will consist of what is called first reading: the budget total, tax rate, and tax levy will be read into the record for each fund for each unit. For the Monroe County budget adoption, the 2015 salary ordinance will also be introduced for first reading. The council will discuss, and public comment will be taken. No votes will be taken on first reading. The council will also be discussing our appeal for an excess levy to correct several past errors in assessed value.

On Wednesday, we will essentially repeat the procedure. Budgets, tax rates, and tax levies will be read into the record for the second time for all three units (Monroe County, Perry-Clear Creek, and Solid Waste), the council will discuss, and public comment will be taken. Votes on adopting the budget will be conducted at the end of each deliberation.

Note that the County Council can make changes to the proposed budgets as well, before voting on adoption.

The budget adoption on Tuesday will be conducted along with a regular County Council meeting, so the agenda will be somewhat complicated. The full agenda and packet are available here. Following is the summary of the agenda on Tuesday, though:

  • Regular County Council meeting is called to order at 5:30PM
  • At 6PM, the regular meeting will be recessed, and the hearing for the adoption of the budgets for Perry-Clear Creek Fire Protection District and Monroe County Solid Waste Management District.
  • The adoption hearing for the two units will be continued until Wednesday, after first reading
  • The regular County Council meeting will resume until its conclusion
  • After adjournment of the regular County Council meeting, the budget adoption hearing for Monroe County will be called to order
  • After first reading of the Monroe County budget, rates, and levies, the budget adoption will be continued until Wednesday

Budgets, Tax Rates, and Levies

So are the budgets, rates, and levies that will actually be adopted?

Monroe County

The proposed budget to be adopted for Monroe County is $60,602,338, spread across 47 different funds. 13 of these funds are what is called “Department of Local Government Finance (DLGF)-Reviewed Funds”, which means that the state reviews our budgets, rates, and levies after we adopt them. These DLGF-reviewed funds are:

  • General (this is supported by property taxes and miscellaneous revenue)
  • 2015 Reassessment (this is supported by property taxes)
  • Debt Payment (this is the mortgage on the Showers building, supported by property taxes)
  • Bond #2 (this is a $2M one-year general obligation bond that the County Commissioners are proposing to pay for some building improvement and maintenance projects — the council has not yet voted on this bond; the bond would be supported by property taxes)
  • Convention and Visitors Bureau (this is supported by the innkeepers’ tax)
  • Highway (supported by the state gas tax as well as the local wheel and excise surtax, sometimes called the local option highway user tax, or LOHUT)
  • Local Road & Street (also supported by state gas tax and local wheel and excise surtax)
  • Cumulative Bridge (this is supported by property taxes)
  • Health (this is supported by property taxes)
  • Park Non-reverting Capital fund (this is supported by park fees, such as shelter rentals)
  • County Fair (this is supported by property taxes)
  • Aviation/Airport (this is supported by property taxes as well as airport user fees)
  • Cumulative Capital Development (this is supported by property taxes)

The DLGF-reviewed funds have a total budget of $38,177,152, a proposed tax levy of $25,283,487, and a proposed tax rate of 0.4602 for every $100 of assessed value.

The remaining 44 funds are called home-ruled funds, and are not reviewed by the state. Several of the more significant of these funds include:

  • County Option Income Tax (COIT) fund that supports many critical county functions that used to be in the General Fund
  • Juvenile County Option Income Tax (JCOIT) fund that supports juvenile facilities
  • Monroe County E-911, which receives 911 fees from the state (paid by phone subscribers) and used to support the unified dispatch center
  • Stormwater Management, which receives the stormwater fees collected by the county from property owners outside of the incorporated areas of Bloomington and Ellettsville (which have their own stormwater fees)
  • Supplemental Public Defender Fee, which receives reimbursements from the state for felony cases defended by the public defender
  • The three Monroe County TIF districts, which receive property taxes from the allocation areas for each of the districts

The total budget for these home-ruled funds is $22,425,186.

The complete list of funds, tax rates, and tax levies that make up the Monroe County budget can be found in the 2015 Ordinance for Appropriations and Tax Rate for Monroe County.

Perry-Clear Creek Fire Protection District

The total proposed 2015 budget for the Perry Clear Creek Fire Protection District is $2,322,200, split across two funds: Cumulative Fire, which is used to purchase equipment and pay for the construction of the new fire station, and Fire General, which is used for general operations of the fire department.

The proposed tax levy is $1,544,583 and the proposed tax rate is 0.1532 for every $100 of assessed value.

The amounts for each fund can be found in the 2015 Ordinance for Appropriations and Tax Rate for Perry-Clear Creek.

Monroe County Solid Waste Management District

The total proposed 2015 budget for the Monroe County Solid Waste Management District is $2,949,934, split across two funds: the Solid Waste Management fund, which is used for the operations of the district, and the Debt Service fund, which is used to pay the bond used for the landfill closure.

The proposed tax levy is $1,860,000 and the proposed tax rate is 0.0287 for every $100 of assessed value.

The amounts for each fund can be found in the 2015 Ordinance for Appropriations and Tax Rate for Solid Waste District.

Hope to see members of the public there on Tuesday and Wednesday!

Final I-69 Silt and Sedimentation Complaint Letter

In my posting Highlights From Monroe County Council Meeting 2014-02-11 I mentioned that during public comment:

“Scott Wells presented a letter of complaint to four federal agencies (EPA, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Federal Highway Administration, and the US Army Corps of Engineers) that was agreed upon by the Plan Commission asking these federal agencies to address the issues of ongoing siltation and sedimentation of Monroe County waterways during the I-69 corridor construction (Section 4).”

The final draft of this letter was signed by all members of the Monroe County Plan Commission, the Monroe County Commissioners, the Monroe County Drainage Board, the Monroe County Stormwater Management Board, the Monroe County Board of Health, the Monroe County Environmental Quality and Sustainability Commission, and 6 out of 7 members of the County Council.

The letter was sent in April to:

  • Indiana Governor Mike Pence
  • United States Environmental Protection Agency
  • Federal Highway Administration
  • INDOT: I-69 Section 4 Office
  • Indiana Department of Environmental Management
  • Indiana Department of Natural Resources – Division of Water
  • U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The full letter, with signatures and supporting documentation and pictures, can be found here:

Reactions to Stormwater Credits Proposal

I of course read the various press releases from candidates for County Council, and one of them that came out recently is about a topic that is near and dear to my heart: the new stormwater fee (link to the press release behind the HT paywall is here). That candidate endorsed the fee, which I definitely appreciated. The stormwater management program is an enormous leap forward for Monroe County in protecting the quality of our water supply and in providing a funding source for flood control.  I also agree that the program should support and encourage sound stormwater management practices by individual property owners.

But unfortunately the proposal would cost more in administration than would actually be collected in fees — and the whole purpose of this stormwater management program is to get work done in the field, not to have people sitting in desks at the office.

This press release called for credits on the individual homeowner’s $36/year stormwater fee based on sound land management practices like having a stone driveway rather than an asphalt driveway. And it further stated that the county assessor takes pictures of properties all the time, and their staff could be trained to identify and document stormwater features.

I think the proposal is a nice thought…but these issues have already been discussed and analyzed extensively, and there are better ways to encourage good land management practices.

  1. First, there is the issue of the stone driveway vs. asphalt.  Athough stone can be superior to asphalt or concrete, in order to allow stormwater to infiltrate, the stone driveway must both be specifically designed and very well-maintained to be permeable. In practice, once compacted by driving over them, most stone driveways perform very similarly to asphalt driveways – that is, they shed most of the water and allow it to run off to the surrounding property.The stone driveway would have to be very well-maintained to be worth crediting; and it would likely cost more than the $36/year to verify that the driveway was being maintained properly – certainly more than can be verified by a photograph.
  2. Second, the Assessor’s Office typically only takes pictures every 4-5 years normally (during a reassessment). And further, these pictures are not of the scope and level of detail that would be required to efficiently determine stormwater mitigation. They take pictures of the house, not necessarily of the grounds and the pavement. For example, see the Assessor’s new picture of my house: In the 2012 picture at the top, my driveway isn’t visible at all.   This proposal would put much larger demands on both the staff of the assessor’s office and their assessment contractor – and really just increase administrative costs with very little additional benefit.
  3. A large number of residential credits, particularly given for activities that don’t make much of an overall difference in water quality and flood control, would decrease the resources that the stormwater management program would have to do its work, or would increase the costs and rate on other property owners.It doesn’t make any sense to give incentives for things that are already done – and a $36/year credit is not going enough of an incentive to influence the driveway design choices of a homeowner.
  4. Very early on in the deliberations on the creation of the program, the decision was made to bill residential homeowners a flat rate, rather than base their rate on the impervious area of their properties, while billing commercial/industrial properties based on their actual impervious area. This was a balance between complete fairness (everyone billed for the amount of runoff their property actually generates) and administrative efficiency (everyone billed the same amount).It would not be any more fair than a flat residential rate to arbitrarily pick out one feature (stone driveways) out of many that would generate credits. Under this proposal, for example, a small compact house with very small impervious surface area and a small asphalt driveway would actually be billed more than a sprawling ranch house with a much larger impervious surface, but a crushed stone driveway.

    The alternative is to start measuring the actual impervious area of residential properties – and this means measuring patios, barns, sheds, sidewalks, etc. – not just driveways. And once again, the administrative costs shoot up.

The County has set up a Stormwater Advisory Committee as part of the ordinance that created the stormwater management program that is tasked specifically with coming up with a credit system, and they are certainly looking at the issue of credits for individual homeowners.  But to be honest, the individual credit has been tried in a few other jurisdictions (Newberg, Oregon, for example), and there is not one single example of success anywhere. The cost of compliance and of verifying compliance is inevitably much higher than the relatively low monthly fee.

The underlying point – that the stormwater management program should encourage sound stormwater management practices – is of course well-taken, though. While costly and inefficient credits on a $36/year fee are not an effective way to encourage those practices, there are things that can be done; in fact, encouraging sound land management practices is one of the primary reasons I have advocated for the stormwater management program since the beginning.

A much more effective and efficient way approach is to use the resources of the stormwater management program to provide technical advice, education, and support to the homeowner. The program could provide literature and consultation on creating a rain garden, a green roof, or a permeable driveway, for example. The program can partner with other organizations like the Solid Waste Management District and the Soil and Water Conservation District to coordinate education and outreach to all sectors of the community. The program can even negotiate discounts and/or grants on project supplies, like rain barrels, native plantings, pavers, etc.

Personally, we have some drainage issues in our own front yard. I have often thought that a rain garden might be a good approach to dealing with them. But a visit from an expert along with some advice on how to create it would be much more of an incentive for me to actually take the plunge and install the rain garden than a credit on a $36/year bill.

New Illicit Discharge Ordinance for Monroe County

Buried after the contentious discussion about the Monroe County Comprehensive Land Use Plan at this last Friday’s meeting of the Monroe County Commissioners was a bit of progress for our water quality initiatives. The Commissioners passed an ordinance that finally makes illicit discharges into the storm water system (which drains directly and unfiltered to our creeks and lakes) illegal.

Illicit discharges are defined in the ordinance as: “Any discharge, deposit, injection, spilling, leaking or placing into the Stormwater System by direct connection or otherwise that is not composed entirely of storm water, except naturally occurring floatables, such as leaves or tree limbs. Sources of illicit discharges include (but are not limited to) sanitary wastewater, septic tank effluent, car wash wastewater, oil disposal, radiator flushing disposal, laundry wastewater, roadway accident spillage, yard waste, animal waste and bedding, and household hazardous wastes.”

You can find a complete copy of the Illicit Discharge Detection Ordinance here.

Illicit discharge detection and elimination have long been the weakest link in our water quality efforts in Monroe County. This ordinance is a first step forward. The next step is enforcement — we need to make sure that we have the resources available to actually detect and address these illicit discharges.

Progress on Stormwater Program

Wanted to update everyone on some forward motion in the county’s new Stormwater Management Program (establishing this program was one of the pillars of my platform when I ran for Council in the 2008).  The Council approved the program (and the stormwater fee to fund it) back in July of 2011.

On Tuesday (2/7/2012), the County Council’s Personnel Administration Committee (PAC) approved the creation of several new positions essential to the program:

Drainage Engineer/MS4 Operator: This position will coordinate the entire stormwater management program, as well as being in charge of compliance, engineering, and reporting on stormwater management activities. Perhaps most importantly, this position will be responsible for responding to complaints by the public on drainage and flooding-related issues.

Stormwater Inspector: Perhaps the most important position in the entire program, the inspector will be out in the field verifying construction practices, documenting problems (including running out after big storms to photograph the evidence), and making sure that the construction firms comply with all of the applicable drainage requirements. The inspector will also be in charge of detecting and reporting illicit discharges, one of the areas that Monroe County was weakest at in our last IDEM stormwater audit.

Stormwater Equipment Operator: This position will work out of the Highway Garage, and will work on a crew that will be in charge of cleaning, replacing, and repairing culverts and road and ditch pipes, both to prevent and address flooding problems. The operator will also be able to assist in snow and ice removal during bad weather, when ditch maintenance isn’t possible.

PAC approved these position descriptions 3-0 (Kelson, Langley, McKim voting in favor). Now that these position descriptions have been approved by PAC, they will still need to be classified and voted on by the full County Council (PAC is an advisory committee only), likely in the March Council meeting. The Council will need to approve the position descriptions, classifications, and salaries of the positions (a lot of people don’t realize that fixing position descriptions, classifications, and salaries of county positions is a statutory Council responsibility), amend the salary ordinance to include the new positions, create budget lines to pay the positions out of, and then appropriate funding from the stormwater fee into these budget lines. Expect to see further activity on creating these positions and appropriating the budget for these functions in the next couple of months.