$3K incentive for new Bloomington bus drivers, as ridership creeps upward from pandemic lows

Bloomington’s public bus system is about 10 drivers short of the number needed to ramp service back up to meet the needs of Indiana University students and affiliates in a post-COVID-19 climate.

“For us to be able to restore the full level of service to the IU campus, we would need to hire about 10 drivers,” Bloomington Transit general manager Lew May told the board at its monthly meeting on Tuesday.

Indiana University is resuming in-person classes in the fall.

May laid out the urgency of the hiring situation: “We’ve got about four months to go, to make those hires.”

To help with the hiring effort, at Tuesday’s meeting, BT’s board approved a series of incentives.

Incentives include: increasing the employee referral incentive from $1,000 to $3,000; implementing a new employee hiring incentive of $3,000; a $100 incentive for getting a COVID-19 vaccination.

BT is also planning to host an on-site job fair in mid-May where applicants could be interviewed on the spot. Continue reading “$3K incentive for new Bloomington bus drivers, as ridership creeps upward from pandemic lows”

Potential affordable housing encore for Kohr hospital building takes another step

The aerial photo of the Kohr Administration Center is from the Pictometry module of Monroe County’s online property lookup system.

At its regular Monday meeting, Bloomington’s redevelopment commission voted to greenlight the formalization of a deal with a potential affordable housing developer for the Kohr Administration Center building, which is a part of the IU Health hospital on 2nd Street.

The potential developer is a group represented by Brinshore Development, Bloomington Housing Authority, and Springpoint Architects, Bloomington’s director of economic and sustainable development Alex Crowley told RDC members on Monday.

The city of Bloomington will be getting control of the Kohr building in the context of a $6.5 million real estate deal, which calls for Bloomington to take over the whole hospital property on 1st and 2nd streets in 2022. That will come after IU Health moves operations in late 2021 to its new facility, which is currently under construction on the SR-46 bypass.

The question of formalizing a Kohr building deal was put to the RDC, because it’s the public entity responsible for approving tax increment financing (TIF) district funds, which are being used to purchase the hospital site from IU Health.

The RDC’s approval to go ahead and draw up a formal arrangement, will put the group in a position to meet this year’s July 26 deadline for an application to the federal low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) program, to help finance the project. Awards through the program are due later in 2021, Crowley said. Continue reading “Potential affordable housing encore for Kohr hospital building takes another step”

Opinion: Fare-free public buses in Bloomington deserve a conversation right now

Bloomington’s public buses have been operating fare-free since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the pandemic appears to be waning, now is a perfect time to contemplate a permanent fare-free policy for BT buses.

It was over a year ago when Bloomington Transit’s five-member board made the decision to stop collecting fares from passengers as they get on the bus. The decision related to rear-door boarding protocols for pandemic prevention. Fareboxes are located by the front door.

Since then, the BT board has been voting at its regular meetings to approve the extension of the fare-free policy, one month at a time.

At the March board meeting, board member Doug Horn said he is reluctant to continue voting not to collect fares every month, as the board has been doing.

On the board’s Tuesday’s agenda is an item that would, among other things, extend the fare-free policy though May 18.

Based on Horn’s request in March—that BT staff prepare some fare data analysis—the item could get some lively discussion on Tuesday.

I hope the conversation is both lively and productive. Continue reading “Opinion: Fare-free public buses in Bloomington deserve a conversation right now”

Parking garage ribbon cutting marks transition, a prelude to hoped-for development

Saturday’s ribbon cutting at Bloomington’s new 350-space parking garage in the Trades District, west and north of the city hall building on Morton Street, was a chance to mark an upcoming transition in city government.

It was also an occasion for local leaders to talk about the positive impact on development that the garage is hoped to have. The surface lot it replaces, just to the west of the city hall building, offered around 100 spaces. So the garage is netting around 250 parking spaces. Continue reading “Parking garage ribbon cutting marks transition, a prelude to hoped-for development”

“Black Lives Matter” street mural work put off by morning rain, day still not a washout

Raheem Elmore spray paints outlines for letters in the street mural that will read “Black Lives Matter” as Fogg looks on. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

Saturday morning’s wet weather did not mean a complete washout for work on a downtown Bloomington “Black Lives Matter” mural.

By around 11 a.m. on Saturday, a slight misting drizzle had turned into a legitimate light rain, puddling the pavement along the block of 6th Street, on the north side of Bloomington’s downtown courthouse square.

That’s where the planned painting of Bloomington’s second “Black Lives Matter” street mural was set to take place through the day, with volunteers working 45-minute shifts.

Anticipating that the pavement would not dry out in time to complete work, even if the rain stopped, a decision was made to waive off the volunteers for Saturday and try for a backup rain date.

Clad in coveralls at the site on Saturday morning, Sean Starowitz, Bloomington’s assistant director for the arts, told The Square Beacon that the tentative backup date has now been set for June 5. That’s a few weeks later than one announced earlier.

By around 5 p.m., the rain had stopped and the pavement had pretty much dried out.

It was dry enough that one of the artists leading the project, Raheem Elmore, wanted to try to spray paint the outlines of the block letters for the “Black Lives Matter” slogan. Continue reading ““Black Lives Matter” street mural work put off by morning rain, day still not a washout”

COVID-19 update: Get vaccinated, keep masking up, local leaders continue to say

“While it feels like COVID may be behind us, in many ways it’s not,” IU Health’s southwest region president Brian Shockney said at Friday’s weekly press conference of local leaders.

Shockney added: “The best way that you can choose to help ensure our communities don’t see another surge is to make the choice to get your vaccine.”

The importance of continuing to wear a face covering, despite the ending of the statewide mask mandate, was another talking point on Friday.

Bloomington’s director of public engagement, Mary Catherine Carmichael, said about the local decision by the Monroe County board of health to continue the mask regulations: “We’re going to stick with this. We know we’re not out of the woods.”

Carmichael also encouraged restaurant patrons not to put servers in the position of playing the role of the “mask police.” She said, “Obviously, these are businesses that have signage on the doors, letting folks know…you will be expected to wear a mask. So we just ask everybody to please mind those rules. Continue to wear those masks.”

The county board of health has contracted with Security Pro 24/7 to enforce the local health regulations. That contract goes through July 1.

For Shockney and Monroe County health administrator Penny Caudill, part of the message on Friday centered on the Centers for Disease Control recommendation announced on Tuesday to suspend administration of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. That announcement came after unusual blood clots were identified in six women between the ages of 18 and 48. One of them died. Continue reading “COVID-19 update: Get vaccinated, keep masking up, local leaders continue to say”

8 of 10 zoning ordinances now teed up for possible vote on April 21 by Bloomington city council

On Wednesday night, Bloomington’s city council took a half hour to complete the tedious process of introducing 10 separate ordinances that would change the city’s basic law on land use in the city.

After that, in just about three hours, the council wrapped up its initial discussion on eight of the ordinances. That sets up a possible vote to enact them at the council’s regular meeting next Wednesday, April 21.

The remaining two ordinances will almost certainly require more time in front of the city council, just as they did previously when the plan commission heard them.

They’re controversial enough that they’ve led to competing websites and yard signs.

One of the disputed ordinances covers the allowed use of duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes in residential neighborhoods. The other ordinance is the proposed new citywide zoning map.

The city council will take a first crack at the two more controversial ordinances, starting April 28 when it convenes a committee-of-the-whole session.

Even if the eight ordinances discussed by the council on Wednesday cover less contentious ground than the other two, they aren’t without their own controversies. And it could be too heavy a lift for the council, at next Wednesday’s regular session, to take votes on all eight.

On Wednesday, councilmembers indicated that they’d like to propose amendments to some of the eight ordinances. Debate and public commentary on any amendments will factor into the time it takes to complete the council’s work on the eight pieces of legislation.

One theme that cut across two different ordinances was the required daylighting of projects to the public. Continue reading “8 of 10 zoning ordinances now teed up for possible vote on April 21 by Bloomington city council”

Approaching $750K: Monroe County reimbursement grants to businesses using CARES Act money

Monroe County’s total allocation of awards to local businesses, nonprofits and other governmental entities using federal COVID-19 pandemic relief money is now approaching three quarters of a million dollars.

This is a partial list of businesses, nonprofits and taxing units that have received reimbursement pandemic relief grants through Monroe County government, sorted by grant amounts. A complete table is include below.

At their regular Wednesday meeting, county commissioners approved a total $64,724 in the latest round of allocations to local businesses to reimburse COVID-19 expenses. The grand total amount that’s been awarded so far now stands at $743,654.

Wednesday’s grantees included: Dimension Mill; Hive; Jerry G. Miller; Katherine James Designs; Monroe County Public Library; Nick’s English Hut, Inc; One World Catering; Pizza Express, Inc; Rainbow (Hopscotch) Bakery; The Wonderlab Museum; Upland Brewing Company, Inc;VTG Enterprises; Landlocked Enterprises, Inc; Innovative Financial Solutions; Laughlin Financial LLC; Litwin Enterprises; and BloomingPaws LLC.

On Wednesday, after Monroe County’s financial director, Brianne Gregory, presented the item, commissioners approved the allocations without a lot of extra discussion.

Board of commissioners president Julie Thomas noted that the application deadline for the grants is April 30. That means only a couple more weeks are left for businesses, nonprofits, and other governmental entities to apply for the reimbursements.

The county has set up a web page with a form for applicants to fill out.

The basic purpose of the funds is to reimburse non-payroll pandemic-related expenses that haven’t been covered by some other program. Continue reading “Approaching $750K: Monroe County reimbursement grants to businesses using CARES Act money”

Time to attend memorial services of colleagues now covered for Monroe County workers, under revised personnel policy

At their regular Wednesday meeting, Monroe County’s board of commissioners approved a change to the county’s personnel policy.

This image, extracted from the Monroe County sheriff’s office recording of Deputy James Driver’s memorial service, links to the full video.

The change explicitly allows for employees to receive compensated time in order to attend memorial services for anyone actively employed by, or volunteering for the county.

Prompting the change was the recent death of sheriff’s deputy James Driver, who died in a car crash on March 29.

Commissioner Lee Jones said at Wednesday’s meeting, “The recent tragic death that we experienced is what caused us to notice that this needed to be included in the personnel policy.”

According to the press release from the sheriff’s office, Driver was at the time responding with emergency lights and sirens, to a different crash with reported injuries. The location of the crash in which Driver died was near State Road 45 and Eller Road, according to the news release.

The effective date of the ordinance was made April 1, 2021, which covers the time of the memorial services held for Driver in the first week of April. Continue reading “Time to attend memorial services of colleagues now covered for Monroe County workers, under revised personnel policy”

Opinion: Legislating against Bloomington’s long city council meetings would not be a good use of time

At last Friday’s work session held by Bloomington’s city council, councilmember Steve Volan announced that he would be submitting a new ordinance for consideration that would “set a hard limit for all meetings to five and a half hours.”

Volan’s proposal to make city council meeting length a matter of local law comes after a record-setting nine-hour city council meeting that took place in early March.

On Friday, Volan added, “I don’t know when leadership would like to take that up. I’d like to see it taken up as soon as possible.”

I’d like to see Volan’s proposed ordinance ignored by the council’s leadership.

Consideration of such an ordinance would count as a distraction from a more pressing need—to address the kind of basic procedural dysfunctions that plague Bloomington’s city council.

While a nine-hour meeting can be headline grabbing, three-hour meetings that should have required only 90 minutes are also problematic. Perhaps even more troublesome are whole meetings that could have easily been elided. Continue reading “Opinion: Legislating against Bloomington’s long city council meetings would not be a good use of time”