Analysis | Bloomington’s final 2021 budget proposal: Six of city’s proposed 11.1 new positions are for parking services

The final version of the 2021 budget proposal from Bloomington mayor John Hamilton was released on Friday as a part of the city council’s Sept. 30 meeting information packet.

In the packet, a memo from the head of the city’s human resources department highlights one significant difference between the narrative about the budget presented in mid-August and the budget that the council will be asked to adopt.

That difference is the addition of a half dozen new parking services positions compared to last year, at a total cost of $398,870. They’re being added in connection to the planned opening of two new parking garages next year.

The six new parking services positions make up more than half of the 11.1 total new positions in the 2021 budget across the city’s whole organization.

The 1.6 positions that were a prominent part of the administration’s mid-August “belt-tightening” narrative about the budget are general fund positions. One is for a transportation demand management employee. The other 0.6 fraction is for human resources.

An additional 3.5 dispatcher positions are funded out of the public safety local income tax. The dispatch center is a joint effort between the city and the county. Those positions were mentioned specifically as a part of the written narrative from the police department in mid-August.

The six parking services positions don’t seem to have been a part of the administration’s mid-August narrative about new positions in the 2021 budget. Narrative aside, what about the numbers?

Were the parking services positions included in the dollar figures for the mid-August 2021 budget proposal, or weren’t they?

Responding to a request for clarification from The Square Beacon, the mayor’s office said on Monday, “The parking services positions were included in the dollar amounts associated with the mid-August budget proposal.”

Where do the six new parking services positions show up numerically in the mid-August proposal? They’re hard to spot, especially if you’re not trying to find them, and there was little reason to be looking.

Indications the parking positions weren’t in the mid-August budget proposal

Putting together the budget involves a lot of moving parts. During the media preview of the budget on Aug. 14, deputy mayor Mick Renneisen had not been apprised of the latest news out of the controller’s office, when he responded to a question about which positions requested by departments were not included in the 2021 budget. He included the additional parking services jobs as some positions that were requested, but not added.

Renneisen said: “We did not add all of the parking services positions that were requested partly because the new garages that will be coming online won’t actually start right away.” He added, “So we wanted to see how we could operate with the existing staff levels we have, before those new assets come online.”

Renneisen said, “Those positions were just delayed and might be added later in the year next year, or the following budget cycle.”

Hamilton followed up Renneisen’s remarks about the two dozen positions that were not funded across the whole city’s organization: “I would just say that’s neither a judgement about the departments, the director of the departments. In many ways, these are very useful positions. It was just a hard year. We are tightening our belt and so we had to be really stingy about adding positions.”

So the new parking services positions were characterized at the media preview of the proposed budget in mid-August as not planned for inclusion in the 2021 budget.

And in the administration’s written narrative from August, a personnel increase of $383,613 for parking services, from $421,711 to $805,324, was attributed not to six new parking services positions but rather to “incorporating parking meter/enforcement personnel.”

The incorporation of parking enforcement personnel is a reference to a reorganization proposed as a part of the 2021 budget that moved 12 parking enforcement jobs out of the police department and into the parking services division of the public works department.

In the mid-August narrative, the number of employees in the parking services division was 22, which is the sum of the number of employees in last year’s public works operations and facilities division budget (10) plus the parking enforcement personnel in the police department last year (12). So the 22 employees described in mid-August for parking services does not appear to reflect the six new parking positions.

All of that is consistent with the idea that no new parking services positions were included in the 2021 budget proposal made in mid-August.

It’s also more consistent with a “belt-tightening” narrative than a half-dozen extra parking services positions would have been. The “belt-tightening” message was one part, if a minor one, of the administration’s effort to sell the city council on the idea of increasing the local income tax, which failed in mid-September on a 4–5 vote.

Added parking services positions: Found!

But the statement from the mayor’s office on Monday indicates the dollar amounts of the six new parking services positions were already in the mid-August budget proposal.

That statement is consistent with the fact that there’s no corresponding difference between the mid-August numbers and those in the final version of the budget. That is, a comparison between the dollar amounts in the mid-August proposal to the dollar amounts in the final version of the budget shows an exact match between the amounts for personnel paid out of each of the two parking funds—parking meter fund and parking maintenance fund.

Specifically, the mid-August proposal shows $805,324 to be paid out of the parking facilities fund  for personnel. The final version of the budget shows the same $805,324 paid out of the parking facilities fund for personnel.

The mid-August proposal shows $892,882  to be paid out of the parking meter fund for personnel. The final version of the budget shows the same $892,882 paid out of the parking meter fund for personnel.

A closer look at the set of numbers where the figure $892,882 is listed shows that it’s likely to be the dollar amount that corresponds to the incorporation of 12 parking enforcement personnel into the parking services division of public works.

That is, maybe the mid-August written narrative, about $383,613 accounting for the move of enforcement personnel, was not accurate. It’s plausible that the $383,613 in the mid-August proposal corresponds, even if imprecisely, to the $398,870 that comes from totaling the six new parking services positions described the human resource memo.

On Tuesday, city controller Jeff Underwood confirmed to The Square Beacon that the $383,613 figure accounts for the six new parking services positions in the 2021 budget, not the transfer of parking enforcement personnel.

Epilogue

What made a simple question about six parking services positions in the city of Bloomington’s budget so hard to answer?

Unlike Monroe County or the city of Terre Haute, Bloomington does not choose to put each employee line on a separate budget line. If every employee were assigned a budget line, it would be easier to check the proposed budget against the final version to see what changed.

A different place to check in the budget documents for differences in numbers of positions would be the salary ordinances. Those are included in the package of legislation that makes up the city budget. The budget consists of six separate pieces of legislation, three of which are salary ordinances.

Here’s the complete stack of final legislation included in the Sept. 30 meeting packet, separated out for convenience.

Unlike the salary ordinance for police and fire personnel, the salary ordinance for other employees enumerates the authorized positions. It takes a bit of work to sort through how the tallies of positions in police and public works settle out, given the transfer of parking enforcement from police to public works.

Even if it takes some work to see, the six new parking services positions are reflected in the salary ordinance that the city council is being asked to adopt.

How does the enumerated list of positions in the final version of the salary ordinance stack up against the enumerated list in the August version? The city council does not receive drafts of the salary ordinances in the administration’s August proposals, so it’s not possible to say.

What does all of this mean?

It means that Bloomington’s current budget process is not based on proposed and final budget legislation that is detailed enough to answer basic questions—questions that would be natural for an average city councilmember or a resident to ask.

 

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