The past practice used by Monroe County to make a cost of living adjustment (COLA) for employees could lead to a historic fiscal impact on the 2023 budget.
That’s because the county’s fiscal body—the seven-member county council—has typically tried to key its COLA to the percentage increase in the consumer price index (CPI) between the previous December and the December before that.
During Friday’s media preview of his proposed budget for next year, Hamilton reflected on this year’s numbers compared to the four budgets he presented in his first term as mayor. “This is my first non-balanced budget,” Hamilton said, “meaning the expenses are higher than the projected revenues.”
Controller Jeff Underwood was on the conference call, so Hamilton was quick to clarify, “in case Jeff falls out of his chair” that the city has sufficient revenues plus reserves to pay for the budget.
Monroe County’s council is already starting to weigh how the COVID-19 pandemic will impact future revenues.
A presentation from councilor Geoff McKim towards the start of Tuesday night’s regular monthly meeting considered some scenarios for revenue reductions that would, in just two years, wipe out the bulk of the county’s rainy day fund.
The county’s rainy day fund currently has a balance of $7.2 million.
President of the board of county commissioners, Julie Thomas briefed the seven-member council on about $157,000 that commissioners have already spent due to the COVID-19 emergency. Thomas ticked through two different $25,000 grants to social service agencies, and other expenses like electrostatic cleaners, laptops for work from home, licenses for Zoom video conferencing software, and repair to a sewage lift station.
That set the general stage for financial caution. But on a 5–2 split vote, councilors did wind up approving $50,000 in legal fees to support possible litigation over an environmental assessment done for a project planned in Hoosier National Forest.
Bloomington city councilmembers listen as members of the police union talk about recruiting and retention in the department. (Dave Askins/Beacon)
Jeff Rodgers, who represents the detective division in the collective bargaining process has put in 13 years with the department. (Dave Askins/Beacon)
Paul Post, who’s president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 88. (Dave Askins/Beacon)
More than four dozen Bloomington police and their family members filled the city council’s chambers Wednesday night. They were there to support members of their collective bargaining team, who addressed the local lawmakers at their regular meeting on the topic of better pay.
The police department’s budget for next year was not on the city council’s agenda for Wednesday.
Still, the show of interest from the Bloomington Police Department (BPD) fit into a general timeframe of budget decisions for 2020. The city council will vote in early October on the budget after getting the final proposal on Sept. 25.
A city council chamber filled with police officers also fit the context of current collective bargain negotiations between the police union and the city. Paul Post, who’s president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 88, told councilmembers on Wednesday that the 18-month long negotiations had reached a point when the city’s negotiating team declared an impasse and mediator was brought in.
The result of the mediation process, Post said, had produced a written proposal from the city’s team. Post delivered bad news. “Unfortunately, that proposal was not enough,” Post told councilmembers, adding that it was voted down by union membership, because, “it did not adequately meet the financial needs, nor was it designed to meet the recruiting and retention needs so many of you have recently pointed out.”
Bloomington’s city council isn’t scheduled to take a final vote on the adoption of Mayor John Hamilton’s proposed 2020 budget until Oct. 10.
But next Monday, Hamilton will appear at 6 p.m. in front of the council to deliver a speech that presents the $98.6 million proposal.
In their four-day schedule of departmental hearings starting after Hamilton’s speech, the city council is expected to take straw votes on each department’s proposal. That will give Hamilton’s administration a chance to make some final tweaks before the budget is given a first reading in front of the council on Sept. 25.
The $98.6 million covers all of the city’s 15 departments except for three—City of Bloomington Utilities ($44 million), Bloomington Transit ($14 million), and Bloomington Housing Commission ($13 million). The 15-department total adds up to around $170 million.
The proposed core budget of $98.6 million for 2020 is the fourth annual budget that Hamilton has presented since he was elected in November 2015. It continues the trend of his first three proposed budgets—year-to-year increases averaging about 8 percent. This year’s $98.6 million budget is more than one-third (36 percent) bigger than the last one approved for his predecessor, Mark Kruzan, in 2016.
Of the four basic categories in the budget—personnel, supplies, other services, and capital outlays—the biggest difference between the proposed 2020 budget and the one adopted in 2016 is in capital outlays. The $8.6 million for capital outlays in 2020 is almost three and a half times the $2.5 million in 2016.
Last year, on the occasion of the budget presentation, Hamilton spoke for a half hour.
Based on a press briefing last Friday, one topic he’s likely to address this year, beyond the nuts and bolts of the proposed budget, is climate change and how it affects budgeting. Climate change “is going to be part of our planning forever,” Hamilton said.