At its meeting last Tuesday, the Monroe County council handled two $3-million items.
One was a transfer of $3 million to its rainy day fund. The other was a final approval on issuance of $3.1 million in general obligation bonds. The amount includes $3 million worth of capital projects and another $100,000 to cover transaction costs.
The rainy day fund transfers came in the context of a negative impact to local income tax revenue that’s expected in 2022. In that year, revenue will be based on individual earnings in 2020, the year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At last Tuesday’s meeting of Monroe County’s council, county board of commissioners president Julie Thomas presented a list of projects that could be funded using proceeds from a $3-million general obligation (GO) bond.
It’s a routine strategy for the county, each year to set property taxes at a high enough rate to generate enough revenue to cover the repayment of short-term general obligation bonds.
The list presented by Thomas for this year included: trucks and heavy equipment for the highway department; support vehicles for the highway department; parks ADA projects; replacement of core switches in the justice building; radios for sheriff’s office; handheld narcotics analyzer; county vehicle refresh; renovations related to office move by highway and surveyor; and trail connections.
On Tuesday, the list did not appear to generate any red flags for county councilors. Last year, commissioners proposed a $5-million bond that drew sharp enough scrutiny from councilor Marty Hawk that the list of projects was trimmed down to about $3.3 million. This year’s proposal will get more consideration in the next few weeks before a vote is taken.
General location map for the property under consideration for purchase by Monroe County for a limestone heritage center.
Close-up location map for the property under consideration for purchase by Monroe County for a limestone heritage center.
At its work session on Tuesday night, Monroe County’s council voted 5–1 to approve issuance of general obligation bonds worth $3.3 million. Dissent came from Marty Hawk, who had expressed concern to the bond issuance from the time it was first proposed at $5.17 million in early September.
Hawk’s objection was based on the fact that the bond proceeds are supposed be used in part to pay for land to construct a limestone quarry heritage project—northwest of the I-69/SR-46 interchange.
Hawk has concerns about the land’s history, which is located next to a site that was contaminated with PCBs. At its Oct. 16 meeting, the board of commissioners approved a $2,500 contract with Vet Environmental for a review of environmental documents associated with the property.
Monroe County councilor, Trent Deckard, at the council’s Oct. 22, 2019 work session. (Dave Askins/Beacon)
Monroe County attorney, Jeff Cockerill, opens RFP submissions for election equipment at the county board of commissioners meeting on Oct. 23, 2019 (Dave Askins/Beacon)
At Monroe County council’s meeting on Tuesday night, councilors approved issuance of general obligation bonds for $3.3 million. Not on a revised bond project list was new election equipment that is estimated to cost around $1 million. [Note: The Beacon intends to provide separate coverage of Tuesday’s decision on bond issuance.]
The bond had originally been proposed for $5.17 million. Even though it had been crossed off the bond project list, the county still intends to get the equipment, and pay for it out of cash reserves.
Councilors included some commentary on the election equipment, when they deliberated on the bond issuance. Eric Spoonmore looked for some assurance that the $1 million that had been estimated was realistic.
Spoonmore’s question came as the county was concluding an RFP process to purchase or lease new election equipment, ahead of the May 5, 2020 primaries. By the Oct. 22 deadline, two proposals were received, from Hart Intercivic, out of Austin, Texas; Election Systems & Software (ES&S), out of Omaha, Nebraska.
County attorney Jeff Cockerill told Spoonmore that some research by the clerk’s office and the fact that they had at least two competing proposals led him to think it was unlikely the $1 million estimate would be exceeded.
Monroe County now has what county councilor Geoff McKim on Tuesday night called a “maintenance budget” for 2020, which includes $83.1 million worth of expenditures. That’s about 4.8 percent more than the $79.3 million budgeted last year.
McKim said at Tuesday’s county council meeting that there are two issues not addressed in the 2020 budget, but would need attention in 2021—employee compensation and justice reform issues.
If employee compensation is not competitive in the labor market, the county needs to fund more in compensation, he said. Once the results of an in-progress criminal justice reform study come back, it would be possible to make systematic, prioritized investments for facilities and services alike, McKim said. That could require more investments in everything from mental health to the jail.
The vote on the seven-member council at Tuesday night’s meeting was 6–1, with the lone dissent coming from Marty Hawk. She said she supported almost everything in the budget, but did not support the $3.3 million general obligation (GO) bond.
The GO bond amount had been reduced by a vote of the council the night before, from $5.48 million, to the $3.3 million that appeared on Tuesday night’s proposal. Hawk made a motion Tuesday night to reduce it even more, to $2.6 million, and she had a list of the specific projects she wanted it to fund. The motion died for lack of a second.
The vote on the adoption of the budget is a separate question from the issuance of the bonds. A public hearing on the bond was held Tuesday night, but the vote on issuance was postponed until Oct. 22.
At a joint work session held Friday afternoon by Monroe County commissioners and councilors, the elected officials got a rundown of itemized cost estimates for projects to be funded with a $5-million general obligation (GO) bond.
The gathering grew out of some frustration on the part of councilors, expressed on Sept. 10, when the three-member board of commissioners first presented the proposed $5.17 million bond issuance to the council. On that occasion, councilors wanted to see the kind of detail they eventually got, on Friday.
County attorney Margie Rice told the group on Friday that she sensed some dissatisfaction from councilors with the earlier presentation—that’s why the extra session on Friday was convened. Rice told the councilors she’d never before seen this level of detail given to a county council for a bond issuance.
The detailed breakdown allowed the council to identify several items, adding up to $559,080, that they wanted to pull out of the bond proposal, and pay instead out of cash reserves or other funds. To be pulled off the list of bond projects were: renovating the Alexander Monument ($153,000); running fiber to the data center ($100,000); paving of a seating area on the courthouse grounds ($60,000); installing HVAC fans for the justice center ($50,000); and sealing the parking garage deck ($50,000), among other items.
Not a surprise was the idea of paying for the Alexander Monument using a source other than the bonds. Councilor Marty Hawk had advocated for that on Sept. 10, when she said that the county had enough cash to pay for the restoration of the veterans memorial. Hawk also objected at that time to the amount of the bond, which was $5.17 million. It was a change to state law that allows the county to bond for $5 million, plus a growth quotient, instead of just the $2 million worth of GO bonds the county has issued in years past.
Based on the discussion on Friday, the county council will be weighing whether to go ahead and bond for the roughly $5 million, or to ratchet the amount down to $3 million. Bonding for $3 million, according to the board of commissioners administrator Angie Purdie, would not increase tax rates. Bonding for $5 million would mean an extra $27.66 in property taxes paid by the owner of a house with a value of $200,000.
Among the items that’s still proposed to be paid out of the GO bond is election equipment costing around $1 million. County attorney Jeff Cockerill announced to the group on Friday that an RFP (request for proposals) would be made for the election equipment. Prospective vendors will be asked to appear in Monroe County on Oct. 14 at 2 p.m. to demonstrate their wares, Cockerill said. That comes after Monroe County’s election board appeared to have already recommended a choice of vendor, Hart Intercivic.
Alexander Memorial, Monroe County Courthouse Sept. 10, 2019
Councilor Marty Hawk
Councilor Geoff McKim
Councilor Kate Wiltz
Commissioner Julie Thomas
A presentation from Monroe County’s three commissioners to the seven-member county council on Tuesday night listed out a dozen and a half projects they want to pay for with one-year general obligation (GO) bonds. The not-to-exceed amount that the commissioners want the county council to authorize is $5.17 million.
Adding up the cost of the individual projects might come to that total, but councilors weren’t provided that information by commissioners on Tuesday. And they expressed their wish to have that information before voting on the bonds.
The list of items includes: propane conversions for vehicles in the county fleet; sealing of a parking garage top deck; purchase of some land that was declared a Superfund site by the EPA in the 1980s; refurbishment of the Alexander Memorial; voting equipment that will be deployed in the 2020 spring primaries; and a raft of other items.
One way to arrive at the $5.17 million figure is to check the statutory limit for the maximum allowable bond issuance, above which the proposal becomes what the state legislature calls a “controlled project.” This year that limit matches the amount the commissioners want the county to bond for: $5.17 million—any higher and the bond issuance would be subject to remonstrance and potential referendum.
The GO bonds were just up for a first reading Tuesday night. The vote will come at the county council’s next regular meeting, which is set for Oct. 8. That gives the councilors some time get the kind of cost details they are looking for.
During the meeting, the council’s president, Shelli Yoder, put together an ad hoc committee to look at paying cash for a few items instead of bonding for them.
Marty Hawk summed up her lack up of support for the bond by pointing to the amount, which is more than twice as much as the amount for which the county has bonded in past years: “I just think it’s over the top.”
Besides the ad hoc committee, another outcome of the back-and-forth between the council and commissioners was scheduling a special work session, before the Sept. 24 session already on the council’s schedule, for the 10 elected officials to talk about the projects on the list.