Bloomington city council paves way for middle-of-the-road approach to outdoor dining through year’s end

This past weekend could have marked the final chance for restaurant patrons to enjoy a meal straddling the double-yellow roadway markings on Kirkwood Avenue. It’s been an option since mid-June, and was set to expire on Sept. 30.

But Bloomington’s city council acted on Wednesday to extend through the end of the year the authorization for the periodic closing of sections of Kirkwood Avenue to automobile traffic. The same action allowed for expanded merchandizing and seating in the public right of way.

The resolution, approved unanimously by the city council on Wednesday, also extended the easing of sign regulations for downtown businesses, and the simplification of procedures for obtaining a sign permit.

The council’s initial action in June came at the request of the city’s economic and sustainable development department, as way to help restaurants recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, even as the pandemic continues. The same logic applied to the extension.

Expanded outdoor seating allows restaurants to draw business from patrons who would not choose to eat at a restaurant at all, if it meant dining indoors.

A “parklet” program, which sets up barricades around street parking spaces for expanded outdoor restaurant meeting, without closing down the whole street, did not need additional city council action on Wednesday to continue. Continue reading “Bloomington city council paves way for middle-of-the-road approach to outdoor dining through year’s end”

Monroe County mulls $3 million in capital projects for yearly GO bond issuance, after concept gets kicked around in debate on local income tax increase

At last Tuesday’s meeting of Monroe County’s council, county board of commissioners president Julie Thomas presented a list of projects that could be funded using proceeds from a $3-million general obligation (GO) bond.

Introductory text of a past year’s ordinance used to authorize Monroe County’s issuance of general obligation bonds.

It’s a routine strategy for the county, each year to set property taxes at a high enough rate to generate enough revenue to cover the repayment of short-term general obligation bonds.

The list presented by Thomas for this year included: trucks and heavy equipment for the highway department; support vehicles for the highway department; parks ADA projects; replacement of core switches in the justice building; radios for sheriff’s office; handheld narcotics analyzer; county vehicle refresh; renovations related to office move by highway and surveyor; and trail connections.

On Tuesday, the list did not appear to generate any red flags for county councilors. Last year, commissioners proposed a $5-million bond that drew sharp enough scrutiny from councilor Marty Hawk that the list of projects was trimmed down to about $3.3 million. This year’s proposal will get more consideration in the next few weeks before a vote is taken.

The idea of issuing GO bonds to fund capital projects made its way into recent deliberations in front of the Bloomington city council, during its deliberations on a possible increase to the countywide local income tax (LIT). The council’s vote was 4–5, so the proposal did not achieve even the simply majority to move it forward for consideration by the rest of the tax council. Continue reading “Monroe County mulls $3 million in capital projects for yearly GO bond issuance, after concept gets kicked around in debate on local income tax increase”

Indiana’s highest court name checks Animal House’s Dean Wormer as it hears arguments in Bloomington zoning case

The day after Monroe County’s health department announced that Alpha Epsilon Pi and Indiana University had reached an agreement to shut down the fraternity through next summer, Indiana’s five supreme court justices heard oral arguments that could impact how Greek organizations are defined in the state.

Screenshot of Indiana Supreme Court oral arguments in City of Bloomington Board of Zoning Appeals v. UJ-Eighty Corporation on Sept. 24, 2020 Speaking (yellow box) is assistant city attorney Larry Allen.

The case heard by the Indiana Supreme Court on Thursday morning involves a decision by Bloomington’s board of zoning appeals dates back to summer 2018. A key question of law: Can a city rely on a university to decide what counts as a fraternity when it comes to the definition in the city’s zoning code?

Thursday’s oral arguments were unrelated to the recent AEP shutdown, or the COVID-19 county health regulations the fraternity apparently violated.

But COVID-19 did get a specific mention Thursday morning, from chief justice Loretta Rush, who opened proceedings by thanking people who’d sent well wishes for her recovery from the pandemic virus.

On Thursday morning, the court heard arguments on two questions. The first was whether the court would accept transfer from the court of appeals. That is, the court is still weighing whether to issue a ruling in the case at all. One option is to neither affirm nor reverse the court of appeals ruling, which went 2–1 against Bloomington. Not accepting transfer would let the court of appeals ruling stand.

The other question on which the court heard arguments on Thursday was the usual one: Was the court of appeals right? Specifically, was the court of appeals right in saying Bloomington’s zoning code violated the US Constitution because it delegated to Indiana University the city’s authority to determine zoning compliance?

The authority in question is the ability to determine if an organization is or is not a fraternity or sorority.

Continue reading “Indiana’s highest court name checks Animal House’s Dean Wormer as it hears arguments in Bloomington zoning case”

Split votes on race-related topics by city, county electeds

Wednesday is the usual meeting day for two local elected bodies—Bloomington’s city council and Monroe County’s board of commissioners. This week they each approved legislation involving anti-racist efforts.

The city council approved a resolution endorsing a proposal for art featuring the phrase “Black Lives Matter.”

The county commissioners approved a $292,500 contract with a consultant to provide diversity training.

Both approvals came without the full support of the elected groups. In a rare non-unanimous vote on the three-member county board, commissioner Penny Githens dissented on the approval of the diversity training contract.

On the city council, Dave Rollo abstained from the vote on the art project, which left the proposal with eight of nine city councilmembers in support of it.

Continue reading “Split votes on race-related topics by city, county electeds”

Election update: Voting machine accuracy test passed; Poll workers still needed; Registration deadline Oct. 5

At 8 a.m. on Wednesday, Monroe County’s election division started running its voting equipment through the logic and accuracy test that’s required under state statute.

After two hours of testing, the county’s equipment passed with a 100-percent score, deputy county clerk Tressia Martin told The Square Beacon.

The tests were conducted at the old Johnson Hardware Building, aka Election Central, at 7th and Madison streets. The blinds on the Madison Street side of the building were opened so that the public could watch, without going inside the building. It’s was a nod to helping prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic virus.

The completion of the accuracy test crosses one more task off the list that election staff have to complete for the Nov. 3, 2020 general election.

In early September, the board of elections had settled on 28 different polling locations for the county’s 82 precincts.  That decision was given approval by the county’s board of commissioners at its regular meeting Wednesday morning, shortly after the logic and accuracy test concluded. Continue reading “Election update: Voting machine accuracy test passed; Poll workers still needed; Registration deadline Oct. 5”

Technology center application to feds for $9.4 million building gets more OKs from RDC, city council committee endorsement comes after grumbling

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A view from the west of Bloomington’s Trades District. The April 2020 image is from the Monroe County online GIS system.

On Monday night, Bloomington city council’s four-member sustainable development committee convened a meeting to consider signing a letter of support for an application by the city to the federal Economic Development Administration (EDA). The city looking to build a technology center in the Trades District, just north of city hall.

A couple of committee members balked at being asked to vote on the question, because they’d received the supporting written materials just three hours earlier. So the letter of support from the committee had to wait for approval until Tuesday afternoon when the committee resumed its recessed meeting from Monday, missing one of its members.

The Tuesday afternoon meeting lasted just six minutes, which included a reading of the letter aloud into the record. One missing instance of the word “of” was noted and corrected before the letter was approved.

The application had received an initial OK in early August from the city’s redevelopment commission (RDC).  The RDC is involved because it owns the land, and the project requires expenditure of about $2 million in tax increment finance (TIF) funds, money that the RDC oversees.

A couple hours before the city council’s committee met on Monday, the RDC amplified the application’s green light, given six weeks ago, with some additional endorsements. The five voting RDC members unanimously endorsed a feasibility study, a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS, pronounced /sεdz/), the funding match, and use of the land.

The RDC owns the real estate and would continue to own it, along with the building, after it is constructed. According to representatives of Axis Architecture + Interiors the construction could be completed, possibly by the end of 2022.

If the EDA were to approve the application, the $2 million in local funds would get a 20-80 federal match to pay for the construction of roughly $9.4-million, 3-story, 31,375 square foot building at Maker Way and Madison Street, north of city hall in downtown Bloomington. The estimated dollar figure includes architectural and engineering design fees, permits, inspections and connection fees.

The federal funds would be available through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Continue reading “Technology center application to feds for $9.4 million building gets more OKs from RDC, city council committee endorsement comes after grumbling”

From police, to parking, to public works, to bidets: Bloomington 2021 budget Q&A flush with facts

Late August marked the conclusion of a four-night series of city council hearings on Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s proposed 2021 budget. Shortly after that, councilmembers submitted written questions to city staff.

In the second week of September, staff responses to councilmember questions were posted in a Q&A document on the city’s budget web page.

Whether the concerns expressed in the written questions or during the budget hearings will result in changes to the budget won’t be known for sure until the final budget is presented to the city council on Sept. 30.

A vote to adopt Bloomington’s city budget is set for Oct. 14. Continue reading “From police, to parking, to public works, to bidets: Bloomington 2021 budget Q&A flush with facts”

Convention center budget session: A glimpse into possible timing for tourism recovery

A week ago Friday, the Monroe County council wrapped up a series of four budget work sessions in as many days.

On the docket for Friday were the funds related to the county’s convention center.

The recovery of the area’s tourism industry from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has already begun, but it will be gradual. It will follow a U-shaped trend, not a V-shaped pattern, according to Mike Campbell, who serves on the county’s 5-member convention and visitors commission.

Campbell sits on the board in his capacity as the associate director of the Indiana University Memorial Union.

Campbell gave projections for the county’s 5-percent innkeeper tax based on numbers that show a recovery starting to take shape. Revenues are expected to rebound from a low of about $49,000, reported in June this year. That was just 17 percent of the total for June in 2019, which was about $289,000.

Already on the books are increases in July and August to 40 percent and 60 percent of revenue for those same months last year. Based on September’s numbers so far, Campbell thinks the now-projected $155,000 figure for September will be hit. It won’t be until August of next year, however, when the revenues are forecasted to be back to previous levels.

Some of the projected recovery is due to latent travel demand that would not have been seen otherwise, because the usual large events are not taking place. For example, the cancelation of Indiana University football games means a loss of bookings, but that makes room for people looking to visit the area to view the fall foliage. Continue reading “Convention center budget session: A glimpse into possible timing for tourism recovery”

Benton Township now in Monroe Fire Protection District, Washington Township in queue

At its weekly Wednesday morning meeting, Monroe County’s board of commissioners approved the inclusion of Benton Township in the Monroe Fire Protection District (MFPD). Benton Township will become a member on Jan. 1, 2022.

Sooner than that, Benton Township will start getting backup fire protection from the district for its volunteer fire department. A $450,000 contract between the MFPD and Benton Township will bridge the year between the end of Benton’s contract with Northern Monroe Fire Territory—because the two-township NMFT is dissolving—and the start of its membership in the MFPD.

The NMFT is dissolving because one of the two NMFT members, Bloomington Township, is joining the MFPD starting Jan. 1, 2021. The other NMFT member, Washington Township, is in the queue to join MPFD starting in 2022, on the same timeline as Benton Township. Public meetings on the topic for Washington Township start Sept. 30.

Last year, Van Buren Township, like Bloomington Township, was approved for inclusion in the MFPD. Continue reading “Benton Township now in Monroe Fire Protection District, Washington Township in queue”

Bloomington city council declines mayor’s request for tax increase on 4-5 vote, proposal now dead

On Monday Wednesday night, Bloomington’s city council voted 4–5 on a request from mayor John Hamilton for a quarter-point increase to the countywide local income tax. That kills the proposal and it will not be considered by other governing bodies in Monroe County.

A press release from Bloomington mayor John Hamilton, issued 15 minutes before midnight on Wednesday and shortly after the city council’s meeting concluded, announced the news.

The headline of the press release leaves the defeat of the proposal to the calculation of readers: “City Council Renders Four Votes for 0.25% Local Income Tax Increase.”

The press release confirmed that the proposed ordinance considered by Bloomington’s city council will not be forwarded for consideration to the other members of Monroe County’s income tax council, which includes the county council and the two town councils. [IC-6-3.6-3-8]

The four votes in favor of the tax increase came from Dave Rollo, Matt Flaherty, Kate Rosenbarger and Steve Volan.

Voting against the proposal were Ron Smith, Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Susan Sandberg, Sue Sgambelluri, and Jim Sims.

The press release quotes Hamilton saying, “I am disappointed that a majority of our city council did not affirm the need for government to step up in this time of multiple crises to take care of our residents, and protect and advance the community for subsequent generations with additional revenue.”

The extra 0.25 points of local income tax would have brought the total rate paid by Monroe County residents to 1.5950 percent. The higher rate would have generated around $4 million for the city of Bloomington and around $4 million for Monroe County government and the two towns of Ellettsville and Stinesville.

The arithmetic on 0.25 points of additional income tax for someone with a taxable income of $30,000 would translate to an extra $75 a year. Continue reading “Bloomington city council declines mayor’s request for tax increase on 4-5 vote, proposal now dead”