Monroe County’s jail is located on the top floors of the Charlotte Zietlow justice center.
Monroe County jail commander Kyle Gibbons (Nov. 28, 2023)
Monre County chief deputy sheriff Phil Parker (Nov. 28, 2023)
County commissioners Penny Githens and Julie Thomas with county attorney Jeff Cockerill (Nov. 29, 2023)
Chief deputy sheriff Phil Parker in front of the Monroe County council (Nov. 28, 2023)
Foreground: county councilor Peter Iversen and commissioner Penny Githens. Background from left: Chief deputy Phil Parker, sheriff Ruben Marté, and jail commander Kyle Gibbons (Nov. 27, 2023)
Just before the Thanksgiving holiday, a rough patch was hit on the road to a new jail for Monroe County.
A disagreement emerged between the sheriff and county commissioners over the funding of someone to direct the transition—from the current jail at 7th Street and College Avenue to a new facility. No location has been decided for a new jail.
Even if the rough patch did not get smoothed out, it’s now in the rear-view mirror.
On Wednesday, Monroe County commissioners approved a change to their ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) plan to include $110,000 a year for three years to fund a contract for someone to serve as director of the jail transition. Of the amount, $10,000 is to cover liability insurance.
It might be next year before all parties have signed an interlocal agreement between Bloomington and Monroe County—in connection with an expansion of the Monroe Convention Center.
The effort to get final consensus on a collaboration between city and county leaders about a convention expansion dates back several years, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
But two weeks ago, both branches of Bloomington’s government approved the interlocal agreement, for the operation of the capital improvement board (CIB) and the convention and visitors commission (CVC)—in connection with the convention center expansion.
Bloomington mayor John Hamilton inked the interlocal on the afternoon of Nov. 15. The city council followed suit that evening, with an uncontroversial vote to approve the interlocal agreement.
The county council and the county board of commissioners were expected to consider and approve the agreement this week.
But the item appeared on Tuesday night’s county council meeting agenda only as a discussion item. And that’s where it remained for Tuesday. No vote was taken, even though councilors expressed a fair amount of solid support for the agreement.
At their regular Wednesday morning meeting, Monroe County commissioners approved two additional studies of the Thomson PUD property, which is currently being considered as a potential new jail site.
A Phase 2 environmental study, as well as a wetlands delineation, are both to be done by VET Environmental Engineering, for a total of about $20,000.
Even if commissioners have stressed that no decision on a future new jail site has been made, those two studies mark a bit of progress towards the eventual construction of a new jail to replace the facility at 7th Street and College Avenue. The current jail has been analyzed by a consultant as failing to provide constitutional levels of care.
Not getting any airtime at the commissioners meeting on Wednesday was significant discord that has emerged between the sheriff’s office and the commissioners—about filling a position to direct the transition to a new jail facility.
But that discord looks like it could be on a schedule for some kind of resolution, starting with a joint meeting of the county commissioners and the county council on Monday, Nov. 27.
At the county council’s Tuesday night meeting, council president Kate Wiltz looked to the end of the month as a timeframe for resolving the sore points.
As a chance to work through some concerns and possibly get a transition director’s contract approved, Wiltz pointed to already scheduled meetings on three successive days—Nov. 27 (joint), Nov. 28 (county council), and Nov. 29 (county commissioners).
Marty Hawk and Geoff McKim. Monroe County council (Sept. 20, 2023)
Kate Wiltz and Trent Deckard. Monroe County council (Sept. 20, 2023)
From left: Marty Hawk, Geoff McKim, Kate Wiltz, Trent Deckard, and Peter Iversen. (Cheryl Munson attended on Zoom.) Monroe County council (Sept. 20, 2023)
Bottom to top: Cathy Smith (auditor), Brianne Gregory, Molly Turner-King, and Kim Shell. Monroe County council (Sept. 20, 2023)
Based on the deliberations among county councilors on Wednesday night, Monroe County employees will likely receive 8.5-percent raises in 2024 compared to their pay this year.
But no final decisions were made. The council did undertake some adjustments to get closer to the goal of 8.5-percent raises.
There’s still some dust that needs to settle on the provisional adjustments to the 2024 budget that were made by the council on Wednesday. And the final vote on the budget won’t come until Oct. 17, after a first reading on Oct.10.
Also on Tuesday, a vital records registrar position in the health department was bumped from a 35-hour week to a 40-hour week. The additional work translates into an increase from $39,622 annually to $45,282
Appearing in front of the council to make the requests on Tuesday were new health officer Clark Brittain, and vice chair of the Monroe County board of health Dawne (Aurora) DiOrio, along with Kelley.
None of the councilors were supportive of the request to make the increased health administrator hours retroactive to Jan. 1 of this year. But a majority did support making the change retroactive to July 1.
The council voted 6–1 to make the change retroactive to July 1, 2023. Dissenting was Marty Hawk, who did not support making the change retroactive at all.
Related to salaries for all positions across the county’s organization was the appearance of county commissioner Penny Githens at the county council’s Tuesday meeting.
Githens was there to present the 2024 salary recommendations from the board of commissioners to the county council.
Table of local income taxes in different cateogories
Monroe County councilor Geoff McKim
If Monroe County councilors stay on the course they have now charted out, they could have around $100,000 more to spend on jail operations for the final quarter of this year.
It would also mean in subsequent years about $424,000 more to spend each year to support the county jail.
The council’s vote on Tuesday night was just to direct the county staff to move forward with all necessary means to advertise holding the first reading of a change to the local income tax (LIT), at the “earliest possible possible time,” while following all the direction of state officials.
But the plan is not to increase the LIT—at least not right now. That could come later, once the site of a new jail is selected, its square footage is determined, and its construction cost is dialed in.
For now, the county council is just looking to shift one category of local income tax to another. The idea is to reduce by 0.01 percent the LIT in a category called the special purpose LIT, but to impose, for the first time, a rate in the corrections LIT by a corresponding 0.01 percent.
That would leave the overall rate paid by taxpayers at 2.0350 percent, the same as it is now.
The unanimous vote to create the justice fiscal advisory committee (JFAC)—consisting of three county councilors and 12 other ex officio members—came at the council’s regular meeting on Tuesday. The ex officio members don’t count towards the number needed for a quorum.
The word “fiscal” in the name of the new committee that has been formed by the county council reflects the fact that the council is the county’s fiscal body.
Any funding for a new jail facility would have to be approved by the seven-member county council, no matter what decisions are made by the three county commissioners about the location and size of a new jail facility.
From left: Elizabeth Sensenstein, Phil Parker, Kyle Gibbons, Jeff Cockerill, Geoff McKim, Peter Iversen.
Monroe County chief deputy sheriff Phil Parker.
From left: Monroe County chief deputy sheriff Phil Parker, Kyle Gibbons, and county attorney Jeff Cockrill.
Now finally settled is the wording of the job description for a new position at Monroe County’s jail, which is supposed to help put the jail into a clean and sanitary condition and keep it that way.
The job description was the topic of a Friday noon meeting of the county council’s personnel administration committee (PAC), which agreed to forward the job description to Waggoner, Irwin, and Sheele, Inc. (WIS)—which is the county’s HR consultant.
WIS will incorporate the job description into the county’s job classification scheme, which determines compensation. The final step in the process will be for the full county council to approve the creation of the position, and its compensation.
“Try as I may, I cannot come to grips why this low-level position, a sheriff’s office employee, is of any interest at all for the commissioners, other than to fully support it.”
That’s one sentence of a 3,500-word email that Monroe County sheriff Ruben Marté addressed on Monday night to Penny Githens, president of the board of county commissioners.
The other two commissioners are Lee Jones and Julie Thomas. The email was sent to county commissioners and other members of the community justice response committee (CJRC), among others.
When The B Square asked Githens about Marté’s email at a Tuesday noon meeting of the Monroe County Democrats’ Club, she said she had not yet read through it.
The new low-level position will have the job title of “jail technician”—a member of the staff who would be responsible for cleaning and sanitizing the jail. The jail technician would also supervise inmates who work to clean the jail.