Preview of Tomorrow’s Monroe County Council Meeting (2014-08-12)

Monroe County Courthouse at Night
Monroe County Courthouse at Night

The agenda and packet for tomorrow’s regular meeting of the Monroe County Council is available here:

Following are the highlights of the agenda:

  • The Assessor is requesting to refill a vacant position (Third Deputy/Administrative Assistant to the Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals)
  • The Monroe County CARES Board is requesting an appropriation of the annual grant allocation of $81,484. Monroe County CARES  (CARES is not an acronym, by the way) is the local coordinating council of the Governor’s Commission for a Drug Free Indiana. The purpose is to coordinate, support, and promote local efforts to prevent and reduce harmful involvement with alcohol and other drugs. The funding comes from drug and alcohol-related court fees, and the grants are divided between prevention, treatment, and criminal justice services.
  • The Youth Services Bureau (YSB) is requesting the appropriation of $116,553 for the Runaway and Homeless Youth grant they received, which funds a full-time counselor and a full-time Safe Place Coordinator/YSB Shelter Outreach Coordinator. This is a very important grant for youth services in Monroe County.
  • The Health Department is requesting the appropriation of a $21,103 grant for bio terrorism prevention and response from the Indiana State Department Of Health, Preparedness Division.
  • The Probation/Community Corrections department is requesting the appropriation the remainder of an already-awarded $11,970 Juvenile Accountability Block Grant, provided by the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute (ICJI) to support training for staff to work in a “change based” supervision environment (as opposed to a “compliance based” environment).
  • The Probation/Community Corrections department is requesting an additional appropriation of $7700 from the County’s COIT fund to provide security during day-reporting time (7AM-9AM) at the Johnson Hardware/Community Corrections building. The large number of community corrections participants (day reporting, drug screens, road crew, drug court, home detention and juvenile probation appointments) during a short period of time have created significant safety concerns, including traffic jams on the alley, disorderly conduct, and even drug dealing. Community Corrections is requesting contract funding for an off-duty Bloomington police officer to provide security for Community Corrections during the two hours daily during weekdays.
  • The Public Defender is requesting both permission to refill two vacant positions and for an additional appropriation out of their supplemental fund (state funding) to accommodate the mid-year increases in salary for the Chief Public Defender and Chief Deputy Public Defender in order to match the mid-year increase provided by the state for the Prosecuting Attorney.
  • The Monroe Circuit Court is requesting an additional appropriation of $75,000 out of the County’s COIT fund for the pauper attorney line. This line is spent in two ways: (1) Pauper attorneys are private attorneys that are appointed to indigent defendants when there would be a conflict of interest with the Public Defender (i.e, an attorney in the Public Defender’s office may represent a co-defendant); and (2) Guardians ad Litem may be appointed in adoption, dissolution, guardianship, and juvenile delinquency cases. During the 2014 budget sessions last year, the Court originally requested $150,000; however, due to budgetary constraints that request was reduced by the Council to $75,000. That request was based on the anticipation of spending an excess of $160,000 for 2013 and no anticipated reduction for 2014. Actual expenditures for 2013 were $168,302. Projected expenditures for 2014 could exceed $180,000 to $200,000.
  • The Prosecutor has several requests:
    • To move two positions — a legal secretary and a paralegal, from the Pretrial Diversion fund into County General. These two positions perform general prosecutorial functions and are not related to the Pretrial Diversion program. The degree to which the Pretrial Diversion program should subsidize basic prosecutorial operations has been a significant source of debate over the last 8 years. Because the revenues for Pretrial Diversion have decreased so much in recent years, the Prosecutor is requesting that the positions be moved into County General retroactively to the beginning of the year, at an expense of $68,416 for 2014. We anticipate that these positions will also show up in the Prosecutor’s request for funding from the 2015 County General budget.
    • To create the position and appropriate $36,869 of grant funding for the position of Sex Crimes Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Investigative Assistant from the Office of Violence Against Women via Indiana Criminal Justice Institute.
  • The County Council office is requesting an amendment to the salary ordinance, in order to raise their part-time maximum rate from $20/hour to $30/hour, in order to hire a short-term (two weeks) part-time assistant to prepare budget databases and spreadsheets for the upcoming budget hearings.
  • There may be several County Council appointments to boards and commissions, including the Parks Board, Bloomington Economic Development Commission, Monroe County Women’s Commission, and Property Tax Assessment Board of Appeals.

As with all County Council meetings, this meeting is open to the public. Public comment will be taken at the beginning of the meeting, as well as in conjunction with all items on the agenda. The meeting will also be broadcast live on CATS. Hope to see you there!

Criminal Case Filings in Monroe County, 1993-2011

The Monroe County Prosecutor’s Office had a 2012 budget of around $2.17M, not counting the child support collection-related activities or grant-funded programs like adult protective services. This $2.17M was paid for both out of the General Fund ($1.43M) and the Pretrial and Infraction Diversion Fund (fees paid by participants in the Pretrial Diversion Program and Infraction Diversion Programs, $732K).

A substantial portion of the $732K from pretrial and infraction diversion fees goes towards basic operations of the Prosecutor’s Office. This is a practice that goes back to the 2008 budget, and has a long and complicated history that I won’t go into detail on right now. However, the upshot is that the Pretrial and Infraction Diversion Fund is not only currently unsustainable given current revenues and expenditures, but is projected to run out of money this year. Beyond the fiscal unsustainability of the current funding arrangement, some philosophical/policy objections have also been raised (i.e., that funding basic operations of the prosecutor’s office from user fees and fines creates an incentive for the prosecutor to “shake down” students for pretrial diversion revenues).

In any case, for the 2013 budget, the Prosecutor’s Office is requesting that the Council move 5 legal secretary positions (as well as some additional expenses, for a total of almost $270K) from the Pretrial and Infraction Diversion Fund to the General Fund, in order to make the pretrial diversion fund sustainable. This essentially would result in a General Fund budget increase of $270K, and is part of the almost $1.4M of departmental budget requests that exceed projected revenue. The Council is obviously going to make some tough choices here.

All of this is a long preamble for the chart I wanted to provide here. In considering whether or not to accept some (or all?) of the positions that the Prosecutor’s Office is requested be moved back into County General, we have to consider the appropriateness of the overall staffing level of the office with respect to the needs of the community. One component of that analysis is the criminal case filings, which of course is a measure both of the crime that occurs in the community (which the Prosecutor generally has very little control over, although our current Prosecutor has been a model of proactive crime prevention) and of the specific policies of the Prosecutor. One of the policy questions faced by fiscal bodies like the County Council is: to what degree is the county required to pay for policy decisions by individual elected officials?

I put together the following chart, courtesy of data from the Monroe County Circuit Courts, on criminal case filings in Monroe County from 1993-2011 (1993 is the earliest I could get good data from). The cases are separated into misdemeanors and felonies, and I have labeled those cases that occurred under prosecutor Carl Salzmann and those that occurred under (current) prosecutor Chris Gaal.

Monroe County Criminal Case Filing Statistics 1993-2011

 

Overall it does not appear that there has been a substantial increase in overall criminal case filings over the past 10 years (beyond a small among that is probably accounted for by overall population growth — more people generally is going to mean more crime). It is interesting to note that criminal case filings had dipped quite low in the last two years of the Salzmann administration. Was this simply a result of less crime in the community, or was there a policy decision to pursue criminal filings less aggressively? As you can also see, when prosecutor Chris Gaal took over in 2007, there was a large spike in filings, leading to 2007 being the high-water mark for criminal case filings. However, the filing rate appears to have stabilized in the ensuing years, and is probably a better indication of the “normal” rate of criminal filings, rather than the “prosecution-lite” last two years of the previous prosecutor’s administration.