At a Tuesday work session, Monroe County councilors took the necessary steps to ensure $55,000 in funding can be used to support programs that give youth some alternatives to detention.
The specific steps that were given a unanimous vote by the seven-member council involved the creation of some new account lines and additional appropriations. That’s the sort of thing that is the bread and butter of the council, which is the county’s fiscal body.
On Tuesday night, at separate meetings, Bloomington and Monroe County’s governments took their first step towards sorting through a spending plan for a local total of about $50 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding.
The ARPA is a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11, to help counter the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Historically, April’s annual “budget advance” for Bloomington’s city council has been an occasion when councilmembers sketch out their aspirations for the next budget year.
The idea is to try to influence the mayor’s budget proposal, which is presented in August.
This year’s budget advance was set for April 27 at 6 p.m., when the city council adopted its calendar for the year.
Now, instead of using that slot on the next week’s calendar for the budget advance, Bloomington’s city council will use the time to get an initial briefing from mayor Hamilton’s administration on the city’s estimated $22-million share of funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) .
Also on Tuesday (April 27), the county council and the county commissioners are convening a joint work session about ARPA funding. The county’s meeting starts at 5:30 p.m.
The estimated Monroe County share of the total $1.9-trillion federal package is about $29 million.
At its regular Tuesday meeting, Monroe County councilors approved a $300,000 appropriation of food and beverage tax revenue to help make debt payments in connection with the county’s convention center.
The debt covers renovations and land acquisition that have already been made. It’s not related to the planned future expansion of the center, which is still part of city and county plans—even if it has been on hold during the pandemic year.
Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s state of the city address, given on Feb. 25, mentioned the convention center expansion as a question: “What is the future for the convention center and its planned expansion?”
The money approved by the county council on Tuesday will cover a bit under two of the $159,000 quarterly debt payments. The county’s food and beverage fund balance, as of the first of the year, was more than $600,000.
The decision to raise the fee came after a hearing held by the county’s stormwater management board in December, and after approval by the county council on Monday, two days before the commissioners met.
The county’s stormwater infrastructure includes 800 culverts and 1,500 miles of roadside ditches, according to Kelsey Thetonia, who’s the MS4 coordinator for the county. (MS4 stands for municipal separate storm sewer systems.)
When Thetonia briefed county councilors on the proposed increase in late February, she described the range of programs that the county is required to operate under state and federal regulations like the Clean Water Act. They include: public education, outreach, and involvement; detection and elimination of illicit discharge; control of construction site runoff; and prevention of pollution from municipal operations.
A study of possible racial justice disparities in Monroe County with “special attention given to racial disparities within the prosecutor’s office” was pitched to county councilors on Tuesday, by county prosecutor Erika Oliphant.
At its work session on Tuesday, Monroe County’s councilors were presented with a request from Oliphant for funding.
On Tuesday, county councilors did not take a vote on the requested $68,000 appropriation, which would cover the contract with Indiana University’s Public Policy Institute Center for Health and Justice Research.
That approval could come at the county council’s next regular meeting, which is set for Feb. 9.
Responding to a question from councilor Kate Wiltz, Oliphant said the study of decision making in her office is separate from a comprehensive criminal justice system review that the county commissioned. Wiltz described the final report from the comprehensive review as expected “at some point, hopefully, in the very near future.”
Oliphant described the comprehensive review as having “a very different purpose and scope” from the study of her office. According to Oliphant, the question to be answered by the comprehensive review is: “How we can impact the jail population—who’s being held in jail for how long?” She added another question, “And how can we improve court processes to get those folks out of jail?”
The study that Oliphant now wants the county council to consider is focused “specifically on prosecutorial decision making,” she said. The study of her office won’t focus just on the jail population, but will include everyone impacted by prosecutorial decision making, even those people who might not see a day in jail, she said.
On Thursday, Monroe County commissioners cleared a key hurdle for using part of the county government’s share of the 1-percent food and beverage tax, to pay for debt on the convention center and the center’s management expenses.
By the end of its hour-long meeting, the seven-member food and beverage tax advisory commission (FABTAC) had recommended that up to $300,000 of the county’s food and beverage fund balance could be spent on convention center debt and management.
Historically, it has been innkeeper’s tax revenues that have been used to pay the convention center debt service. The innkeeper’s tax is 5-percent charge on lodging in the county.
But innkeeper’s tax revenues have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Food and beverage revenues are also a bit down due to the pandemic, but not by as much. That’s why commissioners wanted the flexibility to use some of the more than $600,000 in the food and beverage fund balance to pay towards the annual debt service on the convention center. The annual debt service is $636,000.
The meeting was not accessible to the public as required under Indiana’s Open Door Law. That’s because the Zoom video conferencing link that was used to conduct the meeting had not been posted on Monroe County’s website, or anywhere else The Square Beacon could see.
According to Monroe County attorney Margie Rice, the approach will be next week to hold a properly noticed, publicly accessible meeting of the CVC to ratify the actions taken at the Wednesday meeting, as well as four other meetings held earlier this year.
The tentative date for the meeting to re-enact the CVC’s work for previous meetings is Dec. 18.
The purpose of the CVC as a public body under state statute is to promote the development and growth of the convention and visitor industry in the county using funds generated by the county’s 5-percent innkeeper’s tax.
At a work session held on Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, Monroe County councilors took care of some year-end appropriations, and talked with county commissioners about next year’s priorities.
A vote on extra appropriation to cover legal fees, amended by councilors from $30,000 to $18,126, was split 6–1
Some positive news was relayed from the commissioners office about the $4.7 million in CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) reimbursement funding that’s been awarded to the county. The state of Indiana has told the county to submit public safety personnel expenses as claims against the $4.7 million award.
That means the county will max out the reimbursement, according to Angie Purdie, administrator for the commissioners office.
Once the money is reimbursed to the county, it goes into the county general fund, according to Purdie, which means county councilors have flexibility to spend the money as they judge to be appropriate.
Less flexible in the way it can be spent is revenue from the countywide food and beverage tax, which is split about 90-10 between Bloomington and Monroe County government. The county’s current fund balance for the food and beverage tax is $554,194, even after distributing nearly $400,000 worth of grants for COVID-19 relief to businesses and nonprofits earlier this year.
Councilors will be weighing whether to put some of that fund balance towards additional business relief, or using it to backstop shortfalls in the revenue from the innkeeper’s tax, due to the COVID-pandemic. The innkeeper’s tax is a key source of revenue for payment of $636,000 in debt service on the land surrounding the convention center and the most recent renovation to the center.
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.