New mayoral letter sets backdrop for county council’s Tuesday briefing on governance of convention center expansion

County Commissioners Letter_11.9.19
Excerpt from the Nov. 9, 2019 letter from Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, to Monroe County commissioners, which was sent three days after he appeared at the regular meeting of the commissioners on Nov. 6.

Monroe County councilors will be getting a presentation about capital improvement boards (CIBs) at their meeting scheduled for Tuesday night.

The goal is for the fiscal body of the county to get a clearer understanding from the county’s legal staff about how a CIB might fit into the planned expansion of the county’s convention center.

County councilors will also get a presentation from the three county commissioners on the eastward expansion option for the convention center. It’s the option the commissioners favor. It’s different from the northward option recommended in the spring by a nine-member steering committee, and favored by Bloomington.

Part of the background for the Tuesday meeting of the county council will now include a letter sent on Saturday, by Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, to the county’s board of commissioners. The board is the executive branch of government for the county.

The letter summarizes the mayor’s position in writing, which he expressed orally last Wednesday, when he attended the regular meeting of the commissioners.

The main point of conflict between the mayor and the commissioners is what entity should move the convention center expansion forward from a preliminary design phase that concluded this spring. The project has made no visible progress since the preliminary site plan recommendation was made by a nine-member steering committee in late May.

Hamilton wants to revise the memorandum of understanding (MOU) that established the steering committee, so that the same committee can continue with the final design and construction. The three county commissioners, led by president Julie Thomas, want to form a capital improvement board that will handle the next phases of the project.

Hamilton is not in principle opposed to forming a CIB, and has suggested it in the past, but also thinks the option of a government-sponsored 501(c)(3) needs to be considered. Hamilton sees the governance question as coming later, because he thinks establishing a CIB will take several months. In the meantime, he wants the steering committee to get the project re-started.

The county commissioners have the statutory authority to create a CIB. But forming a CIB that plays any role in the convention center expansion will be impossible unless the two sides can agree on some basics, like which units of government get to make appointments to the seven-member CIB.

While parallels to Monroe County and Bloomington’s situation are not perfect, Vigo County and Allen County have already formed capital improvement boards. In those counties, the CIBs handle convention-center-related expenditures of food and beverage tax revenue. Monroe County’s convention center expansion is planned to be financed through the food and beverage tax that’s been collected since February 2018. The tax had to be approved by Monroe County councilors. It passed on a 4–3 vote.

In Vigo County, the city of Terre Haute has three appointments to the CIB and the county government has four.  In Allen County, the split on CIB appointments is three for the mayor of Fort Wayne and three for Allen County’s commissioners, with a seventh selected by those six.

Monroe County’s commissioners envision either a 4–3 or a 3–4 split between Bloomington and Monroe County. Hamilton’s Saturday letter reiterates the city’s position expressed last Wednesday: “The city would urge that such appointments be more reflective of the relative value of assets—land, buildings and financing—that would be provided to the ultimate project, which would suggest a ratio of 6 to 1 or 5 to 2 in appointments, in light of the city’s majority contributions of those assets.”

As part of the ledger of assets contributed, county commissioners count a couple million dollars worth of innkeeper’s tax annually that goes to pay the debt and maintenance of the existing convention center. They also count the existing convention center, land for the expansion, as well as the county’s “political capital” that went into the approval of the food and beverage tax.

Prominent in the city’s perspective is the 90-10 split between the city and the county for the shares of the food and beverage tax, which is based on the location of businesses that collect the tax. The county government is not contributing any of its 10-percent share to the convention center expansion. It’s pursing another tourism-related project, related to limestone heritage.

Neither side has laid out publicly the arithmetic for their respective financial contributions to the project. The convention center expansion piece is estimated to cost around $44 million, for which the city’s share of the food and beverage tax is adequate, according to the city’s financial consultant. A planned $15-million, 550-space parking garage to support the expanded convention center is to be financed from the city’s TIF revenues.

annotated R Map Countywide offices County Council DistrictsxxxxTuesday’s presentation to county councilors about CIBs is the 15th item on a substantial meeting agenda. The meeting’s information packet includes the slide deck for the CIB presentation as well as a slide for the eastern expansion option for the convention center.

Another food-and-beverage tax related item on the county council’s Tuesday’s agenda is the appointment of a different county councilor to the food and beverage tax advisory commission. Shelli Yoder previously served as the county council’s appointment. But Yoder recently resigned from the county council because she moved her residence outside District 1, which she represented.

Yoder’s replacement on the county council will be chosen by a caucus of the Democratic Party, which is currently scheduled for Thursday, November 14, at 6 p.m. in the Nat U. Hill Room of the Monroe County Courthouse.

At the second meeting of county and city officials about the convention center expansion, which took place on Oct. 29, a tentative next meeting date of Nov. 21 was set. The Tuesday meeting of the county council indicates there’ll be some discussion of that meeting date.