What is your position on the expansion of the convention center? If you are supportive, how do think it should be structured and funded?
The Convention Center is both a widely used “community center” for local and regional businesses, not-for-profits, and IU programs, and a facility that hosts out-of-town organizations and groups. In both capacities, it has become too small. The economic impact of visitors to our community has been well documented.
I favor a mix of funding –increased Innkeepers’ tax, city TIF and economic development funds, and if needed a modest food and beverage tax for the city (not the county)– to accomplish an expansion that is appropriate for Bloomington. With cooperation between the county and city, the city can take charge of funding and management. An expanded facility must be right-sized, keeping our “college-town” character and not competing with much larger facilities in Indianapolis or French Lick.
Looking ahead, the county may experience ongoing fiscal pressures due to limited revenue sources. What plans do you have to raise revenues and for addressing the demand of service delivery?
The state tells county government how they can raise funds, and how collected funds can be spent, so we have few options available for raising revenue. But improving local roads and bridges is a common public cry. The state legislature agreed to return to the county collected income taxes that have been held in a state account to even out fluctuations in local government revenue. The state mandated that our returned funds be primarily spent on transportation projects. I believe that restoring connectivity that was cut off by I-69 construction is the highest priority (e.g., Sample Road, Industrial Drive).
Another option for funding local needs is a LOIT – a local, targeted income tax– which the Council recently passed to provide secure funding for juvenile services.
What is the single most significant issue you see facing Monroe County in the coming term and what is your specific plan to address that issue, both in terms of budget and policy proposals?
Public safety is the principal issue, and it has two parts:
The operating costs of the county-wide emergency services Dispatch Center have far exceeded our share of the revenue from the state-collected 911 funds.
Community Corrections program needs have expanded as a result of D-felony state inmates being returned to local jails. Our jail operates at or just below the court-imposed cap on the number of inmates, but without a work-release program that prepares inmates to return to the community.
There is wide interest in the county and city in exploring a local, dedicated Public Safety income tax (a LOIT, maximum 0.25%) to fund operations of the Dispatch Center and for expanded Corrections programs. This small tax may be the best solution.
In recent years, the county has been under scrutiny about financial records. How will you ensure transparency and fiscal responsibility within county operations?
The county’s “issue” with financial records is not about missing funds but bank account balancing, as has been widely reported at public meetings. Thanks to the county’s investment in CATS, these meetings are televised and archived, plus minutes are taken and made available on the county’s website. These steps ensure transparency. Balancing financial accounts requires good communication between the Treasurer’s and Auditor’s staff, which the Council cannot mandate but encourage.
The county is exploring changing to a modern software system for both the Auditor’s and Treasurer’s departments that is suited to the size of the county’s fiscal operations. I support this investment. Additionally, the county is developing an internal controls committee to review audit reports from the State Board of Accounts and evaluate procedures.
How do you think the County can work with the City to better serve business and residents?
Shared values and mutual needs can lead to cooperation, which must be truly two-sided, focused on specific services or outcomes, and well-documented in written agreements. One recent example was the city-county partnership to construct and furnish the emergency services Dispatch Center. Looking ahead, in addition to cooperatively funding the Dispatch Center operations and expanding the Convention Center (noted above), I hope to explore:
(1) a city-county Health Clinic, like the one presently operated by the county, to serve all local government employees and to reduce expenses for employee benefits; and
(2) increased recycling through the local Solid Waste District, with the city’s collected recyclables being combined with the county’s to generate greater revenue and reduce costs.
Regular city-county meetings would improve communication.