On Wednesday, the city of Bloomington and Monroe County continued their efforts to respond to the COVID-19 viral pandemic.
No cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Monroe County, but testing has been limited.
Based on 193 tests in the state of Indiana, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases rose to 39 on Wednesday, roughly double the number on March 15, three days earlier.
Highlights from a press release issued by the city of Bloomington early Wednesday afternoon included the creation of a city working group called the Continuity of City Government (COCG) team. It will be led by the city’s deputy mayor Mick Renneisen, and human resources director Caroline Shaw, according to the news release.
Monroe County’s board of commissioners met Wednesday morning and authorized $50,000 worth of emergency COVID-19 relief and made a request for $200,000 more.
The basic message of the city’s press release is that services will be maintained, and city hall will remain open. The city’s press release confirms that earlier-reported consideration by city of Bloomington utilities has resulted in the suspension of water shutoffs.
For people who call 911, police emergencies will be handled as they always are, according to a separate news release, issued by Bloomington’s police department.
But 911 callers who request medical assistance will be asked questions to try to determine if they, or the person who needs assistance, have had any exposure to COVID-19. According to the news release, if a caller indicates possible COVID-19 exposure, emergency medical responders will be notified so they can take precautions.
On Tuesday, Bloomington’s city council gave notice of a work session to be held at 4 p.m. on Thursday to discuss COVID-19 response. All public meetings are subject to altered Open Door Law requirements under an executive order made by Governor Eric Holcomb on Tuesday. [Updated March 19: The city council has cancelled the work session.]
President of Monroe County’s board of commissioners, Julie Thomas, told The Square Beacon that in the coming weeks, for the duration of the COVID-19 health emergency, commissioners will be operating under those relaxed meeting requirements. That includes having one commissioner physically present, with the other two participating telephonically or by some other electronic means.
Members of the public still have the right to attend public meetings.
On Wednesday, Vauhxx Booker, a member of the county’s affordable housing advisory commission and human rights commission, addressed the commissioners in person. Highlights of his remarks included calls for: commissioners to establish housing as a human right; a suspension of evictions; and the end to cooperation by the Monroe County sheriff with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
During its Wednesday regular session, the board of commissioners authorized $50,000 in emergency funding—$25,000 for the Hoosier Hills Food Bank and $25,000 for the United Way’s COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund. As part of the same ordinance, the commissioners relaxed enforcement of zoning ordinances and waived building code requirements to make sure that humanitarian efforts of social service agencies are not blocked by those code requirements.
In separate action, commissioners passed a resolution requesting $200,000 in unexpended food and beverage tax revenue, for COVID-19 relief in areas outside the Bloomington city limits. That’s a request that will need to be approved by the food and beverage tax advisory council (FABTAC). The action was in part a response to an online petition started by local bars and restaurants over the weekend.
Based on the FABTAC’s annual report, recently presented to the county council, the county’s share of unexpended FABTAC revenue is currently around $700,000. Of that $500,000 has been approved by FABTAC for the development of a limestone heritage site. Asked by The Square Beacon why the request was not for more than $200,000, board of commissioners president, Julie Thomas, said that figure could be increased if needed.
Whether it’s legally possible to use food and beverage tax revenue for relief of small businesses is a question currently being analyzed by county and city legal staff. Based on Bloomington city council president Steve Volan’s comments reported by The Square Beacon on Monday, the city of Bloomington is less sanguine about the legal possibility of using its share of the food and beverage tax money for COVID-19 relief.
Thomas said that assuming the legality its use, the three business owners who sit on the seven-member FABTAC would need to recuse themselves from a vote that approves funds from which their businesses could directly benefit.
Thomas told The Square Beacon that by Friday, the county hopes to have sent out a survey to businesses, so that their level and kind of need can be assessed. Thomas said she did not see the use of food and beverage tax funds as necessarily limited to relief just for businesses that collect the tax paid by their patrons. She thinks the criterion should be that the businesses be “tourism related.”
Possibly affecting local efforts towards business relief is a request made Wednesday by Indiana’s governor, Eric Holcomb of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Holcomb asked the SBA to issue an Economic Injury Disaster Loan declaration supporting small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak in Indiana.
In separate action by commissioners on Wednesday, they approved a resolution authorizing Thomas to approve future claims, subject to ratification by the board.
Not a part of a formal action on Wednesday was the view expressed by Thomas at the meeting that the city of Bloomington should pause any discussion of raising the local income tax to pay for climate action initiatives. Bloomington city council action could unilaterally impose the proposed 0.5 increase on all county residents.
The city of Bloomington’s Wednesday press release include some additional measures in addition to those previously announced, which included the cancellation of all upcoming large city-led public meetings and events.
Additional measures include closure of the following city facilities: Twin Lakes Recreation Center; the Allison-Jukebox Community Center; and the Banneker Center.
Also new in the Wednesday release from the city of Bloomington was the announcement of one two-hour free parking session per day at downtown meters and in surface lots. The measure is intended to promote the continuation of commerce, according to the release.
Also new in Wednesday’s release is the announcement that the department of housing and neighborhood development (HAND) has suspended routine rental inspections of all existing properties through May 8. Tenant complaint-driven inspections will continue, but may be delayed as a public health precaution, according to the Wednesday release.