Chamber of Commerce Questionnaire: Lee Jones

What is your position on the expansion of the convention center? If you are supportive, how do think it should be structured and funded? 

I believe the convention center has served our community well, especially the city.  I am appreciative of the way it has made space available for community events, some of which have outgrown the facility.  I would like to see it expanded in a scale appropriate to the community and the area it is in.  Because the city benefits disproportionately from the convention center I would be comfortable with the city having ownership.  If the county continues to own the convention center I would prefer an increase in the Innkeepers tax to provide for the expansion.  There may also be some City TIFF or CREED funding available. I would not support a county wide Food and Beverage tax.

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 of Indiana gives Counties few options for raising revenue.  We have raised the Juvenile COIT tax which helped with the budget.  Another possibility is a Local Option Income tax.  I would be supportive of that, but the County Council doesn’t have any authority to pass it.  The State is returning tax revenue to the counties that has been held in escrow.  This money will be targeted for roads and bridges, onetime expenses.  The biggest fiscal problem are the recurring expenses which must be budgeted for each year.

The Council has also funded a plan for the urbanizing area surrounding Bloomington.This will allow for development to be concentrated where infrastructure is more readily available, thereby making delivery of services more efficient and cheaper. 

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? 

There are many critical issues facing Monroe County.  I am focusing on the serious need for a community corrections center.  To save money the state no longer accepts level 6 felons, and is sending those currently incarcerated back to their counties.  They cannot be sent back to the state prison unless they commit a felony.  Most are non-violent felons, many sent to prison because of repeated probation violations, a misdemeanor.  Right now the only option is to put them in the county jail, which has a cap on it. Frequently someone is released to make room for another.  A corrections center allows for an intermediate level of supervision. 

If a public safety tax is enacted it could help pay for the staffing of the center.

In recent years, the county has been under scrutiny about financial records. How will you ensure transparency and fiscal responsibility within county operations?

All County meetings are publicly announced and the FIFA act requires that most government records, including financial records, be made publicly available.  I don’t think there was a lack of transparency of the financial records. It just wasn’t interesting until it became known there was something wrong.  The best way to increase transparency is for the public to become more involved in and have a better understanding of local government.  This is particularly difficult because of the myriad of rules and regulations effecting local governments.  All of the Council meetings are broadcast on CATS and council members frequently pause in proceedings to explain to the public what is happening and why. 

It seems the main culprit concerning fiscal responsibility is a lack of communication.

How do you think the County can work with the City to better serve business and residents? 

An example of County/City cooperation is the new dispatch center which happened because of a willingness on both sides to enter into a partnership! 

Another example is the involvement the City has had in the plan for the urbanizing area of the County.This is an important plan for both businesses and residents.One of the objectives of the plan is to radically simplify the zoning to make it easier for anyone to tell what can and cannot be done with any particular piece of property.This will help residents determine what the future is likely to hold for property they are considering buying.Businesses will find it much easier and less expensive to determine where they should locate and to receive the relevant permits.

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