The official advertisement (“Notice to Taxpayers”) provides a total budget and tax levy (the amount of property taxes to be collected) for each fund. Not all funds receive property taxes. Note that the tax levies are frequently advertised higher than the level at which the County Council will actually adopt them, in order to give the Council flexibility (after advertisement, budgets and levies can only be decreased, not increased).
While the Notice to Taxpayers includes a summary of the proposed budget by fund, the following report provides line-by-line detail of the budget to be considered:
The following is a summary of the major changes to the budget from 2018 to 2019:
Addition of 5 corrections officers to the Monroe County Jail, in order to alleviate understaffing concerns (paid out of the Public Safety Local Income Tax/PS-LIT). More staff means a more humane environment for everyone – the existing staff, those incarcerated, and the families of those incarcerated. We’ll have to look closely and see if that is enough. I suspect we’ll have to revisit the jail staffing levels over the next year.
Addition of 1 audit coordinator position in the Auditor’s Office, to improve internal compliance, along with a move of an employee in the financial division of the office from 35 hours to 40 hours.
Addition of 1 tech services (IT) technician who will focus on jail and justice-related applications.
Move of 2 probation officer positions in Community Corrections, along with some hourly staff and electronic monitoring fees out of unsustainable user fee funds into tax-supported funds. This was my number one priority for this budget. We need to support alternatives to incarceration, and base funding for Community Corrections is one of those ways that the Council can demonstrate our commitment. One of the reasons why the user fee funds are no longer sustainable is because of the partial elimination of the use of cash bail, which is a very positive development.
Similarly, move of 1/2 a position in the Prosecutor’s Office to the General Fund, out of Pretrial Diversion fees. This represents the conclusion of almost a decade-long effort to move essential positions in the Prosecutor’s Office out of unsustainable user fee funds.
Increase in the costs of providing employee health care from $9800 to $10,200 per full-time employee.
Cost of living increase for county employees (including elected officials) of 1.7%. This number represents the change in Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the midwest region from December to the previous December. This is the benchmark that the County Council uses for cost of living. We have spent a lot of effort over the past two years increasing employee salaries in various ways, and it is important that we don’t let county employees’ salaries erode due to inflation.
Addition of 3 shift supervisor positions and funding of capital equipment projects in the Unified City/County Dispatch Center. The positions will actually be City of Bloomington employees.
Funding of the 2019 municipal election. Each year, the budget of the Election Board is different, depending on the specifics of each election year. In municipal election years, a substantial portion of the costs of the election will be reimbursed by the City of Bloomington and potentially the Town of Ellettsville.
Addition of a second K-9 unit in the Sheriff’s Department, funded by the PS-LIT.
If there is anything that attracts your interest that I didn’t cover in this summary, please let me know, and I’ll be happy to explain!
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, a public hearing will be held on this proposed budget on Tuesday, October 2, 2018 at 5:30 PM in the Nat U Hill Room of the Monroe County Courthouse. The public is invited to read the above proposed budget, and make comment, either at the public hearing, or beforehand to any or all of their County Council representatives.
The Monroe County Council will be adopting the 2018 budget for Monroe County this week and next. First reading of the budget, along with property tax rates and levies, will be Tuesday, October 24th, 2017 at 5:30PM in the Nat U Hill Room of the Monroe County Courthouse. Second reading and final vote will be Monday, October 30th, 2017, also at 5:30PM in the Nat U Hill Room. Public comment will be taken at both readings!
The Council will be voting on a $70.5M budget, spread across 51 different funds. Each fund has its own set of revenue sources associated with it, including property tax, income tax, public safety income tax, gas tax, fees for service, stormwater fees, etc.
The following table summarizes the total proposed budget to be voted on by fund. Note that for property tax funds, because of a quirk in the way that the state systems report on the property tax circuit breakers (“tax caps”), the revenue loss from the circuit breaker is actually represented as a budgetary expense.
If you have any questions or concerns about this budget, please contact me or any other member of the Monroe County Council. And again you can make public comment on this budget Tuesday evening (10/24) and Monday evening (10/30).
Earlier this week I attended the meeting of the Executive Committee of the Northern Monroe Fire Territory. I am a non-voting taxpayer member of the Executive Committee. At the meeting we heard concerns from some residents both that the tax rate increase in creating the territory was too high and that they could not understand where that high tax rate came from. While the former is a values question that each taxpayer has to come to answer to on their own, I thought I would take a bit of time here explaining where that tax rate actually comes from and where that money goes.
Again, the purpose of this post is not to persuade anyone; it is just to educate the public about how their tax rates are determined. Hopefully with a little bit of shared knowledge and shared understanding, we can all engage in productive dialog about the services needed by our community and their costs.
Governance of the Territory
First, though, let me take a moment to explain the governance of the territory. The territory was established through specific processes set out by state law. The authority to create the territory is held by the township boards coming together to form the territory. The Bloomington Township Board and the Washington Township Board passed identical resolutions that established the territory, and both boards also passed the Northern Monroe County Fire Protection Territory Agreement, which is essentially the by-laws that govern the territory.
Note that in a fire territory, by law one of the units (townships) has to be designated the “provider unit”. The budget for the territory then sits in the provider unit, and the provider unit’s board has annual budget authority over the territory. So in the case of Northern Monroe, because Bloomington Township is designated as the “provider unit”, the Bloomington Township Board ultimately has authority over the territory budget.
That agreement established the 6-member Executive Committee, which consists of: both township trustees and one township board member from each township (4 voting members total) and one non-voting citizen representative from each township (I am the non-voting citizen representative from Bloomington Township and Mike Baker is the representative from Washington Township). The Executive Committee’s duties are as follows:
Recommend annual budget;
Recommend major purchases in excess of $50,000;
Contribute to the planning and development of possible future capital
Receive and review annual reports from the Provider Unit and Fire Chief;
Recommend staffing and equipment allocations;
Appoint the Fire Chief;
Act as liaison with the township s/he represents, enhancing communication between the township board, the community, and the Executive Committee.
So now onto the discussion of how to get from the budget to the tax rates. The best source for budgets for ALL taxing units in the state of Indiana is the state’s web site Gateway Report Builder. From there, you can download budgets, tax rate information, and just about any other financial information you want about any local unit in the state. To get the budgets for the territory, go to Budgets -> Line Item Budget Estimate, and choose Monroe County and Bloomington Township. There are two separate funds that make up the fire territory: Special Fire Protection Territory General and Special Fire Protection Territory Equipment Replacement. General is the annual budget for operating the fire territory and Equipment Replacement is for accumulating funds to replace apparatus (fire trucks, etc.).
I’ve included copies of the 2017 budget reports here:
So from the perspective of calculating the tax rates, the most important thing about the budget is the bottom line. Here is the bottom line from the General Fund budget:
The annual budget, as passed by the Bloomington Township (provider unit) Board for 2017 for the general fund (which, again, funds the operations of the fire department, including salaries, lease payments on a fire station, and pretty much any other expenses of the fire department except equipment replacement) is $2,776,423.
I will write another posting that will discuss this budget further — while the above budget reports give you some detail, the categories are sometimes broader than would be useful. For example, under administration salaries and firefighter salaries, most people would like to see how that actually breaks down in terms of the number of firefighters at what ranks, and how much they are paid. I’ll provide that information, but in a separate posting.
Financial Statement and Property Tax Levy
Now that we have the budget, though, how does this translate into a tax levy? That involves another state form known as the 4B (also known as the “16-line statement”) that each unit files during the annual budgeting process for each fund (i.e., for the Fire Territory, the general fund and the equipment replacement fund). The 4B is essentially an 18-month financial statement, covering from July 1 of the current year to December 31 of the year being budgeted for. It basically allows the unit to identify all of its planned expenditures, its available revenues from existing sources, and any property taxes it needs to levy for the budget year to be able to fund the expenditures.
Because the Fire Territory was only created in 2017, the 4B statements for the two fire funds are simpler than they usually are. To generate the 4B reports, go to Gateway Report Builder and run a Budgets -> Budget Estimate – Financial Statement – Tax Rate report for Bloomington Township for 2017. You’ll have to page down until you find the report for the fund we are looking at — Special Fire Protection Territory General. I’m including a copy of this report below. While we could spend all day discussing this form, I just want to focus on the reason I’ve written this posting — going from the budget to the tax rates. You only want to pay attention to the right-most column, labeled “Certified Amount” — these are the numbers that are actually used to calculate the final tax rate.
The top part of the statement relates to planned expenses of the territory. Note the line #1 — total budget estimate for incoming year. This is the $2,776,423 that I referred to above — the estimated amount required to run the fire territory for the year. The second section refers to revenue, including cash on hand. Because the territory is new for 2017, there isn’t any cash on hand. Line 8b states that the Fire Territory expects to receive $575,484 in miscellaneous revenue. Miscellaneous revenue is basically all revenue except property tax. You can actually see a breakdown of this number again through Gateway Report Builder and run a Budgets -> Miscellaneous Revenue Report for 2017 for Bloomington Township, Special Fire Protection Territory General.
I’ll include that report here, since it is short:
As you can see, there are only a few sources of miscellaneous revenue for the fire territory. Vehicle and Commercial Vehicle excise taxes are distributed to every fund that receives property tax. Bloomington Township is also budgeting $363,837 of its share of local income tax (LIT) towards the territory. Because of the increased property taxes, the township will receive a significant increase in its share of income taxes as well, and the Township is able to use that additional income tax to lower the property tax rate. The other miscellaneous revenue line of interest is $130,000 for Fire Protection Contracts and Service Fees, which comes from providing fire protection to Benton Township.
Let’s go back to the 4B above. So we know the territory needs $2,776,423 in budget to run the territory (general fund), and expects $575,484 in miscellaneous revenues. Therefore, it needs at least $2,776,423 – $575,484 in property taxes to fund that budget. That number, $2,200,939 is found on line #10.
Finally, the fund needs what is known as an operating balance, which is essentially a cash balance that is needed in the fund to be able to make payroll each year before the first property tax settlement of the year comes in June. I won’t get into details on what that number should be, but in this case, it is set to be $366,818, and is included on line #11. Another way of interpreting the operating balance is that it is what the fund will have at the end of 2017, to begin 2018 (and make payroll, etc. before the first 2018 property tax settlement comes in June).
So to recap:
Territory needs $2,776,423 in 2017 for operations
Territory will get $575,484 in miscellaneous revenue
Territory needs to end 2017 with $366,818 left
So working backwards from these numbers, you can tell how much needs to be raised in property taxes:
The total amount of property tax required to fund the budget for the General fund of the territory is $2,567,755. This number is also provided in line #14 on the 4B statement, and is known as the levy. This is the amount of property taxes that will be raised from taxpayers.
Calculating the Tax Rate
Finally, we need to divvy that levy ($2,567,755) among all of the taxpayers in the Fire Territory. To do that, we calculate a tax rate by dividing that levy by the total net assessed value (net means after deductions and exemptions) of all property in the territory — both Washington Township and the unincorporated Bloomington township.
To get that total net assessed value, I’m going to send you to yet another report. Unfortunately the 4B statement above is created in the budget process before the total net assessed value is known — so the assessed value on that form is always an underestimate of the actual assessed value.
To get the assessed values, again go to Gateway Report Builder and run an Assessed Value -> Certification of Net Assessed Values by District for Monroe County for 2017. Here is what you will see:
Because this report is very busy, I highlighted the two relevant numbers here — the net assessed value for Bloomington Township (the unincorporated part) and Washington Township. Those numbers are:
So now that we have the levy (the property tax that needs to be raised) and the assessed value (the assessed value over which the levy is distributed), we can calculate the tax rate:
So for the Northern Monroe Fire Territory General Fund, the tax rate for 2017 is $0.5972 per $100 of net assessed value. Note that this rate for the General Fund is spread across both Washington Township and Bloomington Township, and, crucially, is uniform across both townships.
Note that this rate is particularly high for the first year of the territory, for several reasons: first, the additional income tax that Bloomington Township receives because of the territory doesn’t come in until the second year of the territory; this additional income tax can be used to reduce the property tax rate in 2018 and subsequent years; and second, as you can see in the above calculations, the territory had to request property tax levy above what was actually required for the first year in order to create an operating balance. This will only need to be done for the first year.
Equipment Replacement Fund
So we’ve talked about the General Fund for the Fire Territory, and how its tax rate was calculated. The Equipment Replacement Fund is much easier. The General Fund is what’s known as a levy-controlled fund; as you could see through these calculations, you start with the levy, and then calculate the rate by dividing the levy by the assessed value. The Equipment Replacement Fund is called a rate-controlled fund; the unit of government simply sets a fixed tax rate, which is limited by statute. In the case of the Fire Territory Equipment Replacement Fund, it is $0.0333 per $100 of assessed value.
Total Fire Territory Tax Rate
Finally we are in a position to calculate the entire tax rate of the Northern Monroe Fire Territory for 2017, simply by adding together the tax rates of the General Fund and the Equipment Replacement Funds:
So for 2017, taxpayers in the fire territory will pay $0.6305 per $100 of net assessed value of their property (i.e., assessed value after any deductions and exemptions) for the fire territory.
How Does This Compare to Previous Fire Rates?
There is no doubt that this tax rate is high, and represents a substantial increase over 2016 tax rates for fire service. Professional firefighting and EMT services are expensive! And neither Washington nor Bloomingon Township have been adequately able to fund their firefighting needs in the past, because of state limits dating back to the 1973 Otis “Doc” Bowen property tax restrictions.
But the statutes governing the creation of a fire territory unfortunately also create a particularly high first-year expense for the territory, for several reasons, including the need to establish an operating balance (cash reserves) for the first year, and the fact that the additional income tax doesn’t get allocated to the township until the second year of the territory.
The following table shows the 2016 fire rates vs. the 2017 fire rates for both townships:
How Does This Fit in to the Overall Tax Rates for a Taxpayer?
Finally, these tax rates for the Northern Monroe Fire Territory need to be pub into context to see their overall effect on the taxpayer.
First, the fire territory tax rates are combined with other township-level tax rates. The following chart shows the overall change of township tax rates:
But of course the township tax rate is only part of the overall property tax rate that a taxpayer pays in a particular district (Washington Township is one taxing district and unincorporated Bloomington Township is another). Taxpayers also pay a tax rate associated with Monroe County, the Monroe County Community School Corporation, the Monroe County Public Library, and the Monroe County Solid Waste Management District.
The following chart shows the overall change in property tax rates for residents in Bloomington and Washington Townships from 2016-2017:
As you can see, the overall tax rates went up 48.5% in Washington Township and 23.7% in Bloomington Township. You can also see that this increase is almost entirely due to the increased costs of the fire territory; rates for other taxing units went up minimally (or even decreased).
What this means is that, all other things being equal, a taxpayer in Washington Township could expect to see a 48.5% increase in their tax bill over 2016, and a taxpayer in Bloomington Township could expect a 23.7% increase. Of course, all things aren’t always equal — the assessment of the property could have changed, the use of the land could have changed (making it, for example, no longer eligible for the homestead deduction), and assessment methods may have changed (for example, acreage that is not being farmed may no longer be assessed as agricultural land).
I hope this was at least slightly informative. Again, my intent here was not to persuade anyone about the territory — it was purely to inform taxpayers where the tax rates that they just saw on their new tax bills came from. It may be more detail than most of you want, but I wanted to make sure I went through the math in enough detail that you can see how your rates are calculated. I plan to make a few more postings providing more explanation in several areas; the next posting will focus on the budget, and how staffing levels for firefighters drive the budget numbers.
The Monroe County Council is in the middle of budget hearings for 2017, so it seems an ideal time to talk about what the county spends money on. It is almost a truism that budgets reflect priorities, and to some degree that is accurate. I’ve always struggled with representing the county budget, though, in a manner that actually does reflect county spending priorities, rather than the statutory requirements of various funding sources, grant availability, and so on. A better picture of spending priorities, in my mind, consists of those expenditures among which tradeoffs can be made, and I’ve included a chart of these expenditures by department below.
In order to do that, I included all of the budgets under the so-called “frozen levy“. In essence, these are the budgets that the County Council can make priority decisions. As an example, Monroe County’s total adopted budget was $63,165,714 in 2016. However, a substantial portion of this includes highway funds, which can’t be spent for any purpose other than roads. So although roads are a critical priority for county government, I didn’t include them in this table, because road funding can’t be traded off against any other funding. I also included voter registration and election costs because, although not actually part of the General Fund or the frozen levy, these functions are entirely dependent on cash that would otherwise go to the General Fund (or other funds in the frozen levy).
There is another very important caveat to these numbers: they reflect the operational costs of running county government. Capital items, with the one exception of the Cumulative Bridge Fund, which is included in this data, are almost entirely funded through other means, including the Cumulative Capital Development fund or bonds, both of which are supported by additional property tax levies.
So here is how Monroe County prioritizes tax revenues, based on the 2017 budget so far. Budget hearings are still ongoing, however, so these numbers can and will change as budgeting decisions are made.
As I mentioned earlier today, Monroe County begins its annual hearings for the 2017 budget tonight at 5PM. Below are the proposed budgets and tax levies that have been advertised for consideration. (*)
Each fund is listed separately. Money from each fund generally can’t be intermingled (with a few exceptions). The Budget Estimate column is the total estimated budget for that fund for 2017. The Maximum Levy column is the maximum amount of property taxes that can be collected from this fund. Current Tax Levy is the 2016 property tax levy for the fund. Funds that have a 0 in the levy columns are supported by sources of funds other than property tax, including income taxes, fees for service, fines, hotel bed taxes, etc.
The only exceptions are the three Economic Development funds — Westside, 46 Corridor, and Fullerton Pike. These are the three county tax increment finance (TIF) districts, and so the revenues collected are property taxes — however the money that goes into the TIF districts are property taxes that otherwise would go into other units and funds — the county general, townships, etc.
The other thing to note is that the actual budgets and property tax levies that get adopted will be at or below these advertised budgets and levies. The Council is only allowed to reduce budgets during budget hearings, not increase them — hence the standard practice of “advertising high” to give the Council some flexibility during budget hearings.
The total budget advertised across all funds is $73,716,871. By comparison, the actual budget adopted in 2016 was $63,165,714. I would anticipate that the advertised $73M will be brought down during budget hearings.
The largest change in this budget from previous years is the inclusion of the budget for the Public Safety Local Option Income Tax (PS-LOIT), which is advertised at $3,751,926, well over the revenue that the PS-LOIT would actually generate. In addition, because of procedural issues that I don’t have time right now to get into detail on, the PS-LOIT for 2017 has not actually been adopted or approved by the state. The Council will have to be very cautious about budgeting for this fund, and any decisions made will be contingent upon final approval by the state of the PS-LOIT.
The County Commissioners are requesting an additional appropriation of $15,000 for emergency shelter support.
The intent of this request is to be able to provide temporary funding to keep the Martha’s House emergency shelter operational until the end of the year, in order to provide enough “breathing room” to find a sustainable organization to operate the shelter.
The nonprofit organization that ran Martha’s House dissolved as of June 30, 2015, leaving the shelter’s future in doubt. Perry Township, which owns the property, has pledged 90 days’ worth of additional operational funding (around $45K).
The County is hoping to be able to partner with the City of Bloomington, Bloomington Township, and potentially other organizations to come up with another 90 days’ operational funding, with the idea that this would be enough time to identify a stable organization that could operate the shelter.
In the interim, Monroe County United Way has agreed to be the fiscal agent for the shelter.
This is really a joint request from the County Commissioners and several members of the County Council (Shelli Yoder, Cheryl Munson, and myself); however these types of social service appropriations outside of the Sophia Travis Community Service Grants program typically appear in the Commissioners’ budget.
The Emergency Management department is requesting the appropriation of a grant from the state for an off-road vehicle (a John Deer Gator) for use in remote incident situations, and will include medical transport equipment (“med-bed”).
The Auditor is requesting an appropriation of $25K out of the Ineligible Deduction fund (which comes from taxes and penalties recovered from those who have claimed multiple homestead deductions) to fund personnel training on the accounting system and rack space for servers.
The Prosecutor is requesting the appropriation of grant funding from the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute to fund one year’s salary and most benefits for a Sex Crimes Deputy Prosecutor’s Investigative Assistant.
The Legal Department will be presenting the proposed 2016 interlocal agreement with the City of Bloomington and the Town of Ellettsville for animal management.
This agreement allows Monroe County Government to enforce animal control ordinances in the Town of Ellettsville.
The formula used to determine payments is based on the overall operations budget for the animal shelter and the percentage of animals housed at the shelter (picked up by animal control officers, strays brought in by county residents, and animals relinquished by residents) from outside the city as a percentage of all animals handled by the shelter from the previous year.
For the budget year 2016, the County’s share will go down from $310,067 in 2015 to $254,011 in 2014.
The Legal Department will also be presenting an interlocal agreement with the City of Bloomington that specifies the distribution of the 2015 Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant. The County will receive $4,722 out of a total of the $23,860 grant (the split is determined by the percentage of violent crime that occurs in the city and outside the city).
The City of Bloomington intends to spend its grant on body-worn cameras for officers
The County intends to spend its grant on in-car video system for police vehicles
The Legal Department will present to the County Council the annual reports from the Monroe County Redevelopment Commission for its 3 TIF districts (west side, North Park, and Fullerton Pike).
The County Council will confirm its dates for budget hearings. The proposed dates are:
Tuesday, September 1 5:00 – 9:00 pm
Thursday, September 3 5:00 – 9:00 pm
Tuesday, September 8 5:00 – 9:00 pm (Regular Session Council Meeting Date)
Wednesday, September 9 5:00 – 9:00 pm
Friday, September 11 9:00 am – 1:00 pm
Tuesday, September 15 9:00 am – 1:00 pm
Budget Adoption Date:
Tuesday, September 22 5:30 pm
The County Council will consider an amendment to the wheel tax/excise surtax (also known as a local option highway user tax) ordinance. This is an administrative correction to an error that the council made in a previous amendment.
The County Council will consider an appointment to fill a vacancy on the Monroe County Environmental Quality and Sustainability Commission, and the Council President will make 2 citizen appointments to the Sophia Travis Community Service Grant Committee.
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. Public comment will be taken. Hope to see you there!
3:30PM Update: I just received a new agenda at 2PM that has one addition. The Council will be considering two resolutions related to non-discrimination. The new agenda is here: Council_Agenda_Amended_2015_04_14. The packet (above) hasn’t changed, and we have not yet received the text of either of these resolutions.
Original Posting: The packet and agenda for this Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Monroe County Council is now available: Council_Packet_2015_04_14. By the way — hopefully by next month we will have an updated photo of the Council that will include our newest member, Ryan Cobine!
This meeting looks like a long one! Here are some of the highlights:
The Prosecutor’s Office is requesting funding and approval to turn a part-time child support investigator into a full-time position. The costs of the position would be paid out of the General Fund and reimbursed around 2/3 by the federal Title IV-D program
The Highway Department is requesting an appropriation of $1,248,000 for the County’s Cumulative Bridge program for 2015. The Cumulative Bridge program, which supports all construction, maintenance, and repair of bridges not on state roads in the county, is funded by a property tax levy. By convention, the Cumulative Bridge appropriation for bridge projects for each year is not done during budget hearings, but instead is done through a separate request for an additional appropriation. The 2015 Cumulative Bridge detailed request, including specifics on the condition of Monroe County’s bridges, can be found here: 2015 Cumulative Bridge Program.
The Commissioners are requesting an appropriation of $968,000 (it was intentionally advertised high at $995K) for the prepayment of 10 years of software maintenance for the Spillman Computer-Aided Dispatch/Records Management System (CAD-RMS) software used by the 911 Dispatch Center.
The County Commissioners have already signed a contract for the 10-year agreement.
The appropriation requests have been advertised so that the council can take the funds out of either the General Fund, the Rainy Day fund, or some combination of the two.
This item has been somewhat controversial primarily because a 10-year agreement is unusual in local government in Indiana, and will probably engender heightened scrutiny by the State Board of Accounts. On the other hand, the agreement is highly fiscally favorable. The vendor (Spillman) has agreed to freeze the annual maintenance payment for the entire period of the 10 year agreement (as opposed to their usual 7% annual escalation), and provide 2 of the 10 years free. In addition, the payments start after 10 years at what they would have been in 2013. This results in an inflation-adjusted savings of around $475K over the 10 year period, and around $1.5M over a 20 year period.
The costs will be split 50-50 between the City of Bloomington and Monroe County, based on the current interlocal agreement between the two parties, which is just now being renegotiated. It is likely that the County will seek some additional compensation (in the form of interest) from the City for funding the prepaying up front (essentially loaning money to the City).
The Commissioners are also requesting an additional appropriation of $75,000 for the contract that they signed with the accounting firm Hartman and Williams to sort out the reconciling problems in the Treasurer’s Office. This is in addition to $75,000 that has already been spent on this effort.
In addition, the Council will be appropriating funds received from several grants, including: Homeland Security training grant, light tower trailer for emergency management, and Title X family planning funds to operate our Futures Family Planning Clinic for an additional year.
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. Public comment will be taken. Hope to see you there!
Tonight’s work session of the Monroe County Council will feature several substantive issues for discussion. The packet with narrative descriptions of each of the issues can be found here: 2015-01-27 Work Session Packet
Very briefly, the major issues to be discussed are:
The Health Department is asking to offer health insurance its public health nurse position, which is currently split by two people in a job share. Both positions are half-time on their own, and do not currently receive county benefits.
Human Resources and the County Commissioners are asking extend county retirement benefits (through the Public Employees Retirement Fund – PERF) to all elected officials. Currently the County Commissioners, County Council, and Coroner are excluded. The overall list of PERF-eligible positions is also out of date and must be updated.
The County Highway department is asking whether snow and ice supplementary pay should also be extended to non-union Highway employees who are also required to forgo vacations during the snow and ice season.
The County Commissioners will provide an update on possible funding mechanisms for the major energy upgrades being planned
Parks and Recreation is presenting their proposal for an additional appropriation (for 2015, and then again annually thereafter) to fund the maintenance of the Monroe County Active Transportation (Greenway) network. I’m very excited about this presentation, and about several of the trails initiatives that are on the horizon.
In addition, there will be several financial issues up for discussion, including the Auditor’s decision not to prorate the final payroll of the year that straddled 2014 and 2015, a financial update on 2014 from me (I’ll post my presentation as a separate blog entry) and the Council President’s discussion of the Council Office and general meeting procedures.
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.
I’m embarrassed to see that I haven’t made a blog post since August 12 — unfortunately there just hasn’t been enough time in the day. However, that doesn’t mean that nothing has been happening in Monroe County Government; in fact, just the opposite! On Tuesday night, the Monroe County Council completed its annual budget hearings for 2015, which took up a good portion of the month of September. Budget hearings are a required annual process in which each county department presents its budget request for the upcoming year, and the county council votes to approve it or make changes.
During budget hearings, the County Council appropriated over $62M for county government functions across 47 funds.
All in all, this was, in my view, a particularly successful budget hearing. The most significant and substantive accomplishments were:
The Council passed a balanced budget. For the first time in a number of years, the Council passed a budget in which planned expenditures for the primary operating expenses (in the General Fund and the County Option Income Tax Fund) are less than planned revenues. I’ll discuss more about the concept of a balanced budget in a future post.
County employees (other than those whose salaries are mandated by state law) will receive a 2.8% cost of living increase. 2.8% represents two years of increase in the actual cost of living (as measured by changes in the Midwest Consumer Price Index from the previous December to December). This is the standard methodology that has been used by the Council in recent years. County employees did not receive any cost of living increase in 2014.
The Human Resources department was increased from one full-time employee to two (moving a half-time position to full-time). Many councilors, including myself, indicated early in budget hearings that this increase was our number one priority if the resources were available. The county has over 525 full-time employees, and over 700 employees including part-time, and 1 full-time HR professional is well below the level needed to properly serve an organization of this size. With the increased resources, the HR department has plans to enhance employee training, increase desk audits, and introduce performance management techniques, along with other initiatives.
Two employees in the Recorder’s Office were moved from the Recorder’s Perpetuation Fund to the General Fund. The Recorder’s Perpetuation Fund is funded by certain fees on recorded mortgages and deeds, along with copies made of these documents, and is statutorily earmarked specifically for the preservation of records and the improvement of record keeping systems and equipment in the Recorder’s Office (in fact, the council doesn’t even appropriate the fund; it is entirely under the control of the Recorder). However, whenever balances in the Recorder’s Perpetuation Fund grow large, county councils are always temped to try to use the Recorder’s Perpetuation Fund to support the general operations of the Recorder’s Office, despite the murky legality of such arrangements. Back in 2008, when the Monroe County Recorder’s Perpetuation Fund’s balance was over half a million $, the Recorder worked with the County Council to move the entire salary of 1 employee, half the salaries of 2 employees, and three quarters of the salaries of 2 employees out of the General Fund into the Recorder’s Perpetuation Fund. This was enormously helpful to the County Council in funding county government through some difficult times; however, by 2013, the balance of the Recorder’s Perpetuation Fund had almost entirely been spent down.In an attempt to stabilize the fund, for the 2014 budget, the Council rearranged the funding of the Recorder’s Office staff, paying for 3 employees out of the Recorder’s Perpetuation Fund and 3 employees out of the General Fund. Unfortunately, due to diminishing revenues from recorded documents, this restructuring wasn’t adequate, and the Recorder’s Perpetuation Fund is now in a position where it can mostly likely not even meet payroll for 2014.In addition, some new legislation in 2014 clarified the use of the Recorder’s Perpetuation Fund for general operations, stating that the fund could be used to fund salaries and other general operational expenses, but only if the Recorder attested each year that the records perpetuation efforts and technology of the department were fully funded. For these reasons, the Council moved two of the three positions funded out of the Perpetuation Fund into the General Fund, leaving only one position in the Perpetuation Fund — the Microfilm Deputy, whose work is clearly related to the purpose of the Perpetuation Fund. Although this may seem somewhat “inside baseball”, this move was a huge step in ensuring the sustainability of the Perpetuation Fund, and weaning the Council off of the use of the very limited Perpetuation Fund to subsidize basic county government operations.
Two employees were moved from the Prosecutor’s Pretrial Diversion Program fund into the General Fund. This situation is very similar to that of the Recorder’s Perpetuation Fund, which which a fee-driven fund (Pretrial Diversion) was used to subsidize basic county government operations that should have been paid for out of County General. In the case of Pretrial Diversion, though, the situation was much more adversarial than with the Recorder’s Office. For a number of years, the Prosecutor’s Office would deposit excess revenues from Pretrial Diversion into the General Fund — in essence, the Pretrial Diversion Program was subsidizing the General Fund.The last year this occurred was 2006, in which $170K was transferred from Pretrial Diversion to the General Fund. During the last year of the Carl Salzmann administration, 2007, this practice was discontinued, and no funds were transferred to the General Fund. In apparent retaliation, in 2008 the County Council transferred $170K of salaries for Prosecutor’s Office employees (legal secretaries and paralegals) from the General Fund into the Pretrial Diversion Program fund.As with the Recorder’s Perpetuation Fund, over the years, the revenue and cost curves went in the opposite direction — pretrial diversion revenue declined overall (though not every year), while personnel costs (salary and benefits) naturally increased, leading to an unsustainable situation. Again, as with the Recorder situation, the Pretrial Diversion Program fund expended all of its reserves, to the point where it faced a negative balance by the end of 2014. Again, the Council started to address the situation in 2013, moving one of the salaries back into the General Fund for 2014. However, again this wasn’t enough, and the Council had to move the two remaining general prosecutorial positions (i.e., positions not there to support the Pretrial Diversion Program) into the General Fund several months ago in 2014.
The 2015 budget included all of the basic prosecutorial positions in the General Fund that had been moved into the Pretrial Diversion Fund by the Council in 2008 — thereby finally ending the unsustainable subsidy of the Prosecutor’s Office by the Pretrial Diversion Program fund. Incidentally, this is not only an important accomplishment because it ensures the sustainability of the Pretrial Diversion Program; more importantly, it ends a practice that could be perceived as a conflict of interest — i.e., the Prosecutor formerly could be perceived as having an incentive to ramp up the Pretrial Diversion Program in order to fund basic operations.
I’m very proud of all of my colleagues on the County Council and in other county departments this year for what they accomplished — a balanced budget, a cost of living raise of county employees, increased organizational capacity, and weaning the county off of unsustainable fee funds.
Of course, there is still some unfinished business. This year we raised the Juvenile County Option Income (Juvenile COIT) Tax from 0.05% to 0.095%. The 2015 budget moved some youth-related expenses from the General Fund into the Juvenile COIT fund; however, the Youth Services Bureau had a proposal to add two new positions and reclassify several others in order to provide more outreach and build organizational capacity. This proposal was removed from the 2015 budget proposal, however, and will be considered in the future by the County Council on its own. The Treasurer’s Office also requested 1-2 additional staff in order to address claimed chronic understaffing in the office. The Council ultimately declined to add additional positions during budget hearings, but agreed that they needed to address the staffing levels in the future. Finally, the planned revenue for 2015 also included around $250K in an appeal for a one-time excess levy in order to correct several past errors. The Council still needs to complete this appeal — and there is no guarantee we will receive all of what we are requesting.
The next step in the budget process is for the Council to formally adopt the proposed budget, as well as set the tax rates and levies that will be used to fund the property tax portion of these budgets. Budget adoption hearings will be held on Tuesday, 2014-10-14 and Wednesday, 2014-10-15, at 5:30PM each evening.
The council does not have any regular business to conduct tonight, so tonight will be for discussion only. The main topic will be preparation for the fall budget hearings. In particular, the council will discuss:
Dates for 2015 budget hearings (held in the fall of 2014)
State of County finances (the Auditor will present)
County employee compensation, including options for for increase (I will give a primer on the structure of the county employee compensation system, which I will post afterwards)
In addition, I will name the 3 Council members to serve on the Sophia Travis Community Service Grants committee. This year, $100,000 has been appropriated for community service grant awards.
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. Unfortunately due to CATS staffing issues, the meeting will not be broadcast on CATS. Hope to see you at the meeting!