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!

Highlights From Monroe County Council Meeting 2014-02-11

Just wanted to provide a quick summary of yesterday’s Monroe County Council meeting (I had previously posted the agenda along with a summary of the agenda items).

The following were the agenda items discussed:

  • Lindsay Shipps was appointed to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA). Shipps had previously served as a Commissioners’ appointee to the BZA since 2009. The appointment passed 5-2, with the two Republican councilors Langley and Hawk supporting another candidate.
  • An additional appropriation of $15,000 for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) from the Juvenile Services Nonreverting Fund (a fund created several years ago from the leftover child welfare money when funding for child welfare was taken over by the state) was passed unanimously.
  • The Health Department had several requests, including one for appropriation of a grant from the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) to support staff training for leadership of the Medical Reserve Corps, and a transfer of funds in another grant from one category to another. Both passed unanimously.  The transfer request was for a total of $57, leading to some discussion that it would make sense, if legal, to come up with some policies where department heads would not have to come to the County Council meeting for de minimis transfer requests like this one.
  • The Legal Department had a housekeeping resolution, which updated Monroe County Code Chapter 255 Surety Bonds to match new state legislation that increases the bond amounts required for certain elected officials. The resolution passed unanimously.
  • A request from the County Commissioners to retain (rather than revert to the General Fund) the balance from the Showers Building/Johnson Hardware fund for 2013. The Showers Building/Johnson Hardware fund receives the rental income from tenants in the Showers Building and the Johnson Hardware Building was passed unanimously. This request was a consequence of decisions made during 2014 budget hearings, in which the Commissioners transferred a maintenance position from the County General fund to the Showers Building fund which freed up general funds, but conversely spent Showers Building revenues. The request passed unanimously, although Councilor Hawk did not support the initial decision to move the maintenance personnel out of the general fund. Several councilors still expressed concern that rental revenues from Showers were not to the level that was initially used to support the purchase of the building.
  • An additional appropriation of $15,910 from the Cable Franchise Fees fund to support CATS (Community Access Television Service) was passed unanimously; $10,000 of this is a correction of an error in the CATS appropriation during budget hearings, and the remaining $5,910 was CATS’ requested 2.6% increase for their 2014 budget. During the discussion, I expressed concern that cable franchise fees revenue might not be available long-term, endangering the CATS program. Last year there was a bill heard in the General Assembly to eliminate cable franchise fees revenue; it was sent to summer study committee. There weren’t any cable franchise fees-related bills this year; however, one is likely to reappear next year. Councilor Hawk also asked whether CATS employees received any raise this year (as County employees did not). Michael White, CATS director, responded that employees received a “1% increment and a 1% COLA”.
  • Deappropriation of almost $830,000 from the Cumulative Capital Development Fund; this fund has been over-budgeted compared to available revenue, and so the budget must be pared down. The Commissioners reduced the budget both in personnel (some tech services AKA IT staff are paid out of this fund) and in long-term capital projects.  As there are several vacancies in the technical services department, the Commissioners are leaving those lines vacant for the time being until the final structure of the department can be determined, in order to reduce the budget. There was some debate between Councilor Hawk and Commissioners Administrator Angie Chalfant. Councilor Hawk maintains that the needed budget reduction was simply because of an error on the form 4B sent to the Department of Local Government Finance, and that if the Commissioners are leaving the technical services positions empty, the Council should move the technical services positions remaining in the General Fund and pay them out of the Cumulative Capital Development fund. Ms. Chalfant maintains that the Commissioners have determined that the available cash and predicted revenues would not support that. After a lengthy exchange on this issue, however, the deappropriation request passed 6-1 (with Hawk voting against).
  • Approval of a 5-year lease from the county to the Convention and Visitors Bureau (Visit Bloomington) for the Visitors’ Center on North Walnut. Previous leases have been 2-year leases. Clauses that allowed either party to terminate the agreement for any reason with a year’s notice alleviated concerns that the longer lease would prohibit the county from potential higher and better use of the property. The lease was passed unanimously.
  • An additional appropriation out of the Motor Vehicle and Highway (MHV) fund for a supplement to be paid to snow and ice removal employees to compensate them for not being allowed to take any vacation time between December and March was approved unanimously and enthusiastically. Councilors Munson and Hawk worked on this effort during the negotiation between the Commissioners and the AFSCME union on the highway employees contract. One employee and union member spoke in favor of the supplement as well.
  • There was an extensive discussion of the compensation for members of the Plan Commission, continuing discussion that began at the last council work session. Currently, members of the Monroe County Plan Commission are paid $55 for each of the monthly meetings they attend. However, participation on the Plan Commission also generally requires 2-3 additional committee meetings per month, along with multiple hours of preparation for each meeting and site visits throughout the county.  One proposal discussed was to compensate members $55 for the main meeting, and up to two committee meetings per month at $50 per meeting.  Two members of the Plan Commission, Scott Wells and Richard Martin, spoke generally in favor of increasing the compensation. Both noted the large amount of work involved and the importance to the public of the work done by the Plan Commission. Mr. Martin also noted that one of the reasons why the demands on Plan Commission members were so great is the failure of Monroe County thus far to adequately update and consolidate its zoning codes for all of the property under its jurisdiction. During the discussion, Councilor Hawk asked if it was fair to increase the compensation for this commission, and not the others. The general consensus was that the work burden on Plan Commissioners was substantially greater than that of other commission members. Since the actual proposal to amend the salary ordinance for Plan Commission members wasn’t on the agenda, and no councilor moved to amend the agenda, the salary ordinance amendment will be added to the agenda of the next meeting for discussion and possible vote.

In addition to the regular agenda items, there were several items of interest presented in public comment and councilor comments:

  • 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). Mr. Wells also showed some pictures of heavy sedimentation in several creeks after rain events. Tom Tokarski and Sandra Tokarski also spoke in support of the letter of complaint. No council action was being requested; however, the Plan Commission and Mr. Wells are requesting that any interested officials individually sign the letter. The full letter is available here: 02-07-14 I-69 FINAL Plan Commission Complaint Letter with Signatures.A3.D3.
  • Councilor Hawk brought up the issue of compensation of the Chief Public Defender and the Chief Deputy Public Defender. As was widely reported in the media, this past year the State Public Defender Commission issued a mandate that to continue to participate in the state’s public defender program (which funds about a third of the expenses of the public defender’s office), the Chief Public Defender and the Chief Deputy Public Defender would have to be paid the same compensation as their counterparts in the Prosecutor’s Office. Prior to last month, Monroe County Government paid the Chief Public Defender 90% of the salary of the Prosecutor, reflecting, in the eyes of the County Council, the difference in the scope of responsibilities of their respective departments. The County Council had to raise the salaries of both officials. Councilor Hawk noted, though, that the State Public Defender Commission mandate did not address the issue of benefits, and that while the county voluntarily pays the 3% employee contribution to the PERF retirement plan (as it does to all PERF-eligible employees), it is not required to. The council could choose to eliminate the 3% employee contribution to PERF for the Chief Public Defender and Chief Deputy Public Defender, in order to reduce the burden of the underfunded mandate from the State Public Defender Commission.