This past Tuesday, the Monroe County council voted to adopt the budget for 2024 on a 5–1 tally. Dissenting was Marty Hawk. Geoff McKim was absent.
The total county budget for 2024 is $132,259,264, of which $59,251,842 is the general fund.
Hawk still voted in favor of the salary ordinance for non-elected county employees, which included an 8.5-percent raise, and a roughly 11-percent raise for those workers who are lowest on the salary grid.
Hawk was also the sole vote of dissent on the salary ordinance for elected officials, which included the same 8.5-percent increase as for other county employees.
After the meeting, Hawk clarified to The B Square that when faced with an up-or-down vote on the same percentage increase for all elected officials, she felt she had to vote it down—because she was not in favor of the same increase for all county elected officials. She put it like this: “I would just say that I’m not as inclined to approve of the jobs some of them do. Most do a great job. Most do.”
On Tuesday, county council president Kate Wiltz noted that the 2024 budget does not include funding for the planned new jail facility. No decision has yet been made on a site, even if the county is taking steps to consider the Thomson PUD as a location for the new jail.
Several comments from the public mic included criticism of the county’s plans to construct a new jail.
Sam Holdeman, with the group Care Not Cages, told the council that funding for the prosecutor’s office and for probation should be decreased. “I hear a lot of rhetoric about how we want to be progressive and divert people from the criminal legal system,” Holdeman said. He added, “Then we need to also adjust our funding—there has to be a shift away from prosecution and from probation, because that’s where it all starts.”
Some other commenters against the jail took a satirical approach.
The topic of Bloomington annexation came up in the context of the sustainability of the budget decisions that the county council made on Tuesday night. When unincorporated territory is annexed into the city, it means a reduction in revenue to the county government.
One way revenue is reduced to the county government is through local income tax (LIT) revenue, which is distributed to county and city governments based on population or property tax footprint, depending on the category of LIT. For either category, more territory in the city means less income tax revenue for the county government.
Hawk, a Republican, expressed her concern about the sustainability of the county’s budget choices, given the context of Bloomington’s looming annexation.
On Thursday morning, a ruling came in the lawsuits concerning annexation of Area 1A and Area 1B west and southwest of town. Those cases are now likely to go to trial, starting in the early part of 2024. Before Thursday’s ruling, the annexation of those two areas looked like it would not be decided for another couple of years.
Councilor Trent Deckard, who is a Democrat—like all other local county or city elected officials, except for Hawk—did not mince words when he delivered remarks related to the impact of the city’s annexation.
Deckard started by saying, “I throw this out as a reminder and an admonition to other elected officials. And specifically, I’m speaking to our friends at the city.” Deckard continued, “It is important for you to consider the effects and repercussions of what you do, in everything that you do.”
Deckard alluded to the way that city officials have suggested how the county government should allocate its financial resources.
Bloomington mayor John Hamilton has called on the county to match every dollar it spends on the planned new jail facility with a dollar spent on diversion and treatment.
Deckard’s take on that relationship between city and county governments was this: “Now the way I look at it, if you offer a suggestion to your neighbor, you do not at the same time rob your neighbor’s pocket.”
Satire on the planned new jail facility was provided by Micol Seigel, in the guise of Judge Dame Geeky Fud. She told the council: “I pronounce you guilty of pretending to care, as a smokescreen for condescending condemnation of people disadvantaged by the consequences of political decisions you have made, hiding behind the specific hand wringing over the impossibility of real solutions.”
A commenter who introduced himself as Leroy Jones removed his farmer’s hat during his commentary to reveal devil’s horns. He said about the planned new jail: “You see, I believe this facility can be a safe space for revealing the true nature of ourselves.” He continued: “It can be a safe space for us to finally admit the sweet nourishment we get from seeing those who have done wrong, suffer.”
A satirical letter, opposing the construction of the new jail, printed on county government letterhead, was distributed at the meeting.
One of the concerns that Hawk expressed at the meeting was the advertisement of the debt service amount for the general obligation (GO) bonds. The budget estimate for the item was set at $5 million with the maximum amount of revenue to be raised set at $4.4 million.
Monroe County routinely issues GO bonds every year to cover capital projects. Under state law, the amount of bonds that can be issued as a “controlled project” without risk of formal remonstration, increased a few years ago, from $3 million to $5 million. Hawk successfully fought a push by other county officials to increase its annual bonding amount to $5 million.
So Hawk was not content to see the $5-million amount listed for that line, even though the county commissioners and the county council had approved only a $3.1-million bond issuance for this year. The higher amount had apparently been advertised to the public before the final votes on the GO bonds were taken by the council and the county commissioners. The votes came a bit later this year than in the past.
Brianne Gregory, the county’s finance director, said at Tuesday’s meeting that she had inquired with Indiana’s Department of Local Government Finance how to handle the situation. According to DLGF, Gregory said, it would not make a difference to change the amount—the state would simply go by the amount of the bonds that were actually issued.
Hawk told The B Square after the meeting that her vote against the budget was not based solely on the debt service amount. She has broader concerns—about whether the council had all the information it needed to assess whether this year’s budget is sustainable into the future.
In his remarks about the county’s salary ordinance, councilor Peter Iversen alluded to the fact that the wage increase was even more than 8.5 percent—around 11 percent—for the county’s lowest paid workers. Iversen cited the new compensation for COMOT B workers of $21.08 per hour, as reflecting the fact that the county’s new minimum wage is more than $20 per hour. The acronym stands for: computer, office, machine operation, technician. Last year those workers made $18.98 per hour.
Several county councilors distributed thank yous all around for the work that went into the 2024 budget. Among those getting thanked by Hawk was McKim, who was out of town on a work commitment. Indiana’s Open Door Law prohibits remote, electronic participation in a meeting when a budget is approved.