Courthouse Project – June 5, 2018 Commissioner’s Meeting

At today’s commissioner’s meeting, one of the agenda items was on the “next step” regarding the DLZ Justice Center Feasibility Study that was presented on June 4.

The “perception” I had from Commissioners Biddle and Anderson was that nothing more was needed.  Jerry Pittman reinforced that they do need to hold a public meeting and try to get as many people to attend as possible in order to build consensus for the project. Beth Mulry – County Auditor made an excellent suggestion that meetings need to be conducted throughout the county in order to explain the need and gain support for this project.

I pointed out that the June 4 presentation did NOT identify a compelling need for this project.  I also stated that if they approved this project based on the presentation, I would sign the remonstrance petition and collect as many more signatures as I could.

Jerry asked good questions and I provided him information on a suggested county decision-making framework that does provide an outline that supports a decision.  Jerry and I will be meeting to review the process as it applies to the Justice Center project.

Note that DLZ did identified “next steps” for the project on page 46 of their presentation that includes: “Determine Financial Options – How to Fund” and “Generate an Awareness and Build a Consensus – Public Outreach.”

 Determine Financial Options – How to Fund

Umbaugh and Associates were contracted to identify funding options. Their report “DOES NOT” provide a context that identifies the total financial impacts on citizens.  They identify that the debt could range from 10-12 cents  per hundred dollars of assessed value.  Fact is that this is another line item added to property tax bills. For instance, from 2012 to 2017:

  • County Property Tax rates increased by 33%.
  • County Total Tax Levy increased by 40.4%.

On funding, I provided a hand-out at the June 4 meeting that provided key points on Brown County taxes economics.  The SPIN that the debt will only cost 10 – 12 cents per hundred dollars of assessed value is misleading.

My handout (included enclosures) provided at the June 4 Meeting: June 4 DLZ Commissioner and Council Joint Meeting

Again, this debt will be another line item added to our tax bills that continue to increase. It will also move us up to number 2  for having the highest debt per capita in the state.  And we currently have the 5th highest income tax rate in the state.

Further, the property tax system can result in annual adjustments in assessed value that can lead to higher property taxes. Higher taxes are needed to support higher spending that is approved by the county council and endorsed by the commissioners.  Other counties in Indiana are managing to live within their means without excessive borrowing and increasing taxes. Why can’t we?

Generate an Awareness and Build a Consensus – Public Outreach

To prevent a successful remonstrance, Commissioners and Council have to make a credible case that would address at least two major issues:

  • Given our economic situation, tax levels and trends, debt, and  projections for a declining an aging population, that this project is “affordable” without an undue financial burden on the taxpayers and,
  • There is a compelling need that a new Justice Center is critical and is the best and most practical option.

Options could include the following:

  1. Status quo — make need repairs and renovations to the existing facilities.
  2. Make needed repairs and renovations now to the existing courthouse and budget for ongoing maintenance.   If the prosecutor’s office needs to be replaced, then increase the size and re-build at the current location.
  3. A new Justice Center.
  4. Review the feasibility of buying and renovating the Peaceful Valley Hotel.
  5. Lease space in the Professional Building.
  6. Other …?

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