Bloomington city council gets first formal look at mayor’s $2.4 M plan to jumpstart recovery in fall 2020, gives positive review but wants more detail

At a committee-of-the-whole meeting on Wednesday night, Bloomington’s city council had several questions for mayor John Hamilton about the initial part of his “Recover Forward” plan.

GRAPHIC for App Ord

The plan has city government playing a “counter-cyclical” role in the context of the negative economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The initial phase of the plan relies on just shy of $2 million of existing general fund money and another $400,000 of funds from other sources, to provide additional support for sustainable development, jobs, and housing.

Most of the questions from councilmembers on Wednesday amounted to requests for additional detail about the programs that the mayor wants to fund. They’d received an initial briefing a couple weeks ago at a work session.  But the most recent information they’d received still lacked the level of detail some councilmembers wanted.

On Aug. 5, the city council will hold another committee meeting on the topic, with possible enactment of the appropriation ordinance on Aug. 12.

Sustainable development projects include: sidewalk and path enhancements, especially near bus stops; energy conservation investments in houses, apartments, and businesses; and establishing a consignment-based farm store.

Jobs programs include: a coding school for hard-to-employ and under-represented people; subsidies to local employers for creating net new local jobs that pay more than $15 per hour; additional funds for a partnership between the city’s parks and recreation department and Centerstone; and life sciences job support.

Housing initiatives include: second mortgages and down-payment assistance for home buyers with income at or below 120 percent of area median income.

Councilmember Susan Sandberg’s remarks at the committee meeting seemed to reflect the sentiment of most councilmembers. They’re basically supportive of the mayor’s plan, but want more details on the specific programs.

“Overall, as this has been presented, I think it makes perfect sense with respect to our response to the crisis,” Sandberg said.

Sandberg added, “My biggest concern, as an at-large representative, is being able to talk to the public who are expressing concerns about the investment of money and what’s going to be the direct result.”

Legislative process

The piece of legislation that will allow the funding of the mayor’s proposal is an appropriation ordinance, abbreviated in city council jargon-speak as an “app ord.” Wednesday’s deliberations kept the ordinance in the normal range of the legislative process. Next up will be an Aug. 5 committee-of-the-whole meeting on the ordinance, followed by possible enactment on Aug. 12.

The council’s committee-of-the-whole session on the ordinance came after a half hour of argument during the council’s regular Wednesday meeting—about the question of which committee should hear the ordinance.

The question they debated was: Should the ordinance be referred to the committee of the whole, or instead to the four-member sustainable development committee? On a 7–2 vote, it was referred to the committee of the whole.

Only council president Steve Volan and Isabel Piedmont-Smith voted against Susan Sandberg’s motion to refer the ordinance to the committee of the whole, which convened immediately after the council’s regular meeting.

Source of funds

Part of the mayor’s overall recovery program for the next couple of years includes a proposal to increase the local income tax by a quarter point—that’s a reduction from his New Year’s Day proposal, which was for a half-point increase.

But the appropriation ordinance discussed last Wednesday won’t rely on any new funds. Instead, about $2 million of the total will be drawn from money that departments did not spend in 2019, which was in their budgets that year.

Called “reversion money” in casual usage, it would otherwise revert to the general fund. In the past few years, reversion money has been to some extent shared back to departments by Hamilton’s administration, as a kind of reward for finding innovative ways to be efficient with budgeted funds.

But this spring Hamilton didn’t ask the council to approve an appropriation ordinance for the reversion money, as he has for the last few years. That was in anticipation of needing the money to address COVID-19 impacts.

On top of the reversion money is $100,000 from Enterprise Zone Investment Deduction (EZID) revenue, which will fund a grant for the arts sector. Added to the reversion money for the housing initiatives will be $75,000 from CDBG grants. Another $250,000 will come from the housing development trust fund.

The role of the housing development trust fund was something Hamilton highlighted for the city council on Wednesday. “It’s probably worth noting that a significant portion—close to half—of the housing-focused assistance that we’re outlining here is proposed to be coming from the housing development fund,” Hamilton said.

The housing development fund has been the destination for “payments in lieu of affordable housing” made by developers who don’t construct affordable housing on the site of their developments.

Details?

Some of the requests from councilmembers for more detail got responses Wednesday night.

Responding to a question from councilmember Matt Flaherty, the city’s director of economic and sustainable development, Alex Crowley, sketched out some features of the energy conservation program.

More generous support would be provided for the lower-income households, that is, grants. In the middle income range, favorable loans could be provided. In higher income ranges, more typical loans would be provided, Crowley said.

One of the entry-requirements of the program will be an energy assessment for the structure where the conservation investments will be made, Crowley said. Crowley said much of the money would be spent on weatherization, because it’s the best first step. After weatherization comes investments in renewable energy, like solar. Investments in higher-efficiency appliances could also be made, Crowley said.

Responding to a question from councilmember Sue Sgambelluri, Crowley gave some additional detail about the kinds of groups who were intended in the description of jobs programs targeting “hard-to-employ and under-represented individuals.”

Examples given by Crowley were recently discharged veterans, ex-offenders, people who have been unemployed for a long period of time, and people who are currently receiving public assistance. Included in the description are minority groups and others who traditionally don’t have easy access to opportunities, Crowley said.

Sandberg, who chaired the Jack Hopkins social services committee this year, asked about the mayor’s intention for special, second round of Jack Hopkins funding, which is a part of the proposal in front of the city council.

Sandberg wanted to know if Hamilton imagined a new application period, and a reconvening of the committee, or simply looking at the unfunded requests from this year’s round, which were approved by the council in mid-June.

Hamilton’s response: “It’s kind of up to you, I think, from my perspective.”

Table of Programs

Department Amount Purpose
Public Works $650,000 Capital investment in sidewalk and path enhancements, including sidewalk enhancements for twenty-five Bloomington Transit stops.
HAND $400,000 Provide up to $50,000 in second mortgages to homeowners at or below 120% of area median income with the aims of building wealth and creating permanently affordable homes.
ESD $325,000 Provide up to a $5,000 subsidy to local employers for creating net new local jobs that pay more than $15 per hour,with an emphasis on employing hard-to-employ and under-represented individuals.
ESD $250,000 Subsidize energy conservation investments in homes, apartments, and businesses. This includes, but is not limited to, investments in insulation, solar panels, plumbing, and efficient appliances.
City Council $200,000 A special, additional round of Jack Hopkins social service grants to supplement the current program.
Controller $114,250 These funds will be necessary for managing the projects described in Appropriation Ordinance 20-03.
ESD $100,000 Recovery grants for the arts community, a sector that has been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
ESD $100,000 Establish a coding school to train and provide employment skills for hard-to-employ and under-represented individuals.
ESD $75,000 Launch a farm store that utilizes a consignment model to assist the local food economy, a sector that has been particularly affected by the economic fallout of the pandemic.
ESD $50,000 Provide life science job support as well as support to other key local sectors.
Parks and Rec $50,000 Additional funds for the partnership between the Parks and Recreation Department and Centerstone.
HAND $50,000 Provide $10,000 down-payment assistance for home buyers with income at or below 120% of area median income.
ITS $35,000 Promoting digital equity in accordance with the results of our commissioned digital equity survey.
TOTAL $2,399,250 The difference from the $1,974,250 in the appropriation ordinance stems from: (1) The source of funds in the arts grant is from Enterprise Zone Investment Deduction (EZID) revenue, not general fund; (2) $75,000 of the $400,000 HAND program will come from CDBG grants and another $250,000 will come from the Housing Development Trust Fund.

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