Key topics for District 3 city council race forum: convention center, transportation

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From left, Bloomington  District 3 city council candidates: Ron Smith, Nick Kappas and Marty Spechler. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

At a forum held on Wednesday night for Bloomington city council candidates in District 3, an audience of around a dozen Bell Trace residents heard from the three candidates who are on this year’s ballot: Nick Kappas (independent), Ron Smith (Democrat), and Marty Spechler (independent).

Bell Trace is a senior living community on the city’s east side. Residents had questions about two specific topics: transportation and a planned convention center expansion downtown.

The timing for those topics squares up with a couple of public meetings planned before the end of the month, on Oct. 29. One is the kickoff to a series of meetings hosted by Bloomington Transit about a proposed new route configuration, which has been studied for more than a year.

Another meeting set for Oct. 29 is a joint meeting of the city council and the county council about the plans for the expanded convention center.

All three candidates expressed support for the convention center expansion. Mayor John Hamilton, who was having dinner at Bell Trace with his mother-in-law, dropped by the forum to express his support for fellow Democratic Party primary winner Ron Smith. Hamilton was also asked about the convention center. He said he was “a little worried” about it, but was confident that it would move forward. Continue reading “Key topics for District 3 city council race forum: convention center, transportation”

Yoder to leave Monroe County’s council due to residency change, still considering what’s next

In a release posted on Facebook, Democrat Shelli Yoder announced on Thursday that she is resigning from Monroe County’s council and will serve through the end of October. Yoder’s resignation was caused by a pending change in her residency, according to the release.

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In this photo from July 2019, Shelli Yoder chairs a meeting of the Monroe County council as its president. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

Yoder currently represents the county council’s District 1, which covers the eastern third of Monroe County and the northeast corner of Bloomington.

The release quotes Yoder as saying “Although this move will take my family into a different Bloomington neighborhood just beyond the border of District 1, my commitment to our community and Monroe County’s continued success is as strong as ever. I look forward to finding new opportunities to serve and to continuing the work of meeting the challenges we face at the local, state, and national levels.”

At-large seats on the council can be held by residents who live anywhere in the county. Asked by The Beacon via text message, if she had contemplated running for one of the three at-large positions on the county council that is up for election in 2020, Yoder replied: “I’m still considering what’s next.”

The three at-large seats on the seven-member council are currently held by Geoff McKim, Cheryl Munson, and Trent Deckard.

Yoder also told The Beacon that she plans to attend the joint meeting of the county council and the Bloomington’s city council, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 29  in the Nat U. Hill room of the county courthouse. That means Yoder will spend part of her antepenultimate day of county council service in the same room where she’s chaired its meetings as president of the council for the last couple of years. Continue reading “Yoder to leave Monroe County’s council due to residency change, still considering what’s next”

New report: Bloomington’s 2018 GHG emissions up compared to 2016, but asterisks abound

On Tuesday night, Bloomington’s department of economic and sustainable development released a new report on greenhouse gas emissions. Based on data presented in the report, citywide numbers for the gases that are causing climate change have gone up by at least 12 percent since the last inventory was taken two years ago.

But the new report is hedged with caveats throughout, cautioning against comparing figures from the two reports, because of changes in methodology between the two years.

The previous inventory was based on 2016 data.

The new report, which is based on 2018 data, says that Bloomington generated community-wide 1,639,657 metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent emissions that year. That compares to 1,375,237 metric tons reported for 2016.

During Tuesday night’s presentation of the new report at city hall, Alex Crowley, director of the city’s department of economic and sustainable development, said the focus now would be on comparing future years with the numbers in the report released Tuesday. He also said a retroactive effort would be made to compute the inventory for the previous report using the current methodology.

To some extent, the new report already tries to adjust figures from the 2016 report.
The total emissions number reported by Bloomington in 2016 was 1,375,237 metric tons of carbon-dioxide equivalent. But after adjusting for methodology in the solid waste sector, the report released on Tuesday would put the 2016 solid waste number at 132,400 metric tons, instead of the 47,214 tons that was previously reported. That adjustment puts the emissions total for 2016 at 1,460,422 metric tons.

Compared to the solid-waste-adjusted total number from 2016, the 2018 number of 1,639,657 metric tons is 12 percent higher. The 2018 figure is 19 percent higher, if based on the unadjusted solid waste figure from 2016. Continue reading “New report: Bloomington’s 2018 GHG emissions up compared to 2016, but asterisks abound”

Monroe County’s annual tax sale results: $240K in back taxes to be paid on 46 properties

At Thursday’s annual sale of real estate with delinquent taxes, Monroe County’s treasurer, Jessica McClellan, was able to auction off 46 of the 65 properties on this year’s list. The minimum bid for each property was the total amount of back taxes, penalties and sales-related costs that were owed to the county.

The 46 pieces of real estate that found at least one bidder on Thursday had a total of $239,453 in outstanding taxes plus sales costs that needed to be paid. The county will now get that sum—either from the amount paid by the highest bidder on Thursday or from the owner, if the owner redeems the property.

There’s still a year-long window for redemption. So the word “sale” is more apt for the tax certificate a high bidder gets once the price is paid, than for the property itself.

According to McClellan, the high bidder on Thursday does not acquire the right to go on to the property—the owner is still the owner until the redemption period expires.

That left 19 properties unsold on Thursday, with a total of $211,967 in delinquent taxes and other costs that are unpaid. Continue reading “Monroe County’s annual tax sale results: $240K in back taxes to be paid on 46 properties”

Election equipment vendors pitch wares to Monroe County officials

Monroe County is looking to get some new election equipment. The 2020 budget adopted last Tuesday by the county council includes a general obligation bond, out of which around $1 million could be used on the purchase of new voting machines. The council’s decision on the bond issuance isn’t expected until its November meeting.

On Monday afternoon, four different vendors pitched their wares to county officials as part of their response to the RFP (request for proposals) that’s been issued by the county. The RFP says the county is looking either to lease or purchase the equipment.

Vendors on hand to demonstrate their voting machines at the courthouse on Monday were: Hart Intercivic, out of Austin, Texas;  Election Systems & Software (ES&S), out of Omaha, Nebraska; Unisyn Voting Systems  out of Vista, California; and MicroVote General Corporation from Indianapolis.

Proposals from vendors have to be turned in to the board of county commissioners by Oct. 22. The timeline in the RFP is described as a “best estimate.” After possible interviews, the evaluation of the proposals is planned for Nov. 2. A decision by commissioners could be made at their regular meeting on Nov. 6.

Continue reading “Election equipment vendors pitch wares to Monroe County officials”

Jordy the courthouse dog hits half-decade mark, confirms he is a good boy

Switchyard Brewing on Walnut Street, a couple blocks north of the square in downtown Bloomington, markets itself as “dog friendly.”

On Sunday a couple of people with their dogs were soaking up a cool, sunny fall afternoon at the brewery’s outdoor tables—and they’d have been there anyway, even if a Jordy, a local canine celebrity, was not celebrating his fifth birthday inside.

Jordy’s birthday celebration coincided with a regular Sunday Switchyard event—a gathering of the BYOD (Bring Your Own Dog) Walking Club.

The now five-year-old golden retriever works with the nonprofit Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) to help comfort kids when they have to participate in stressful legal proceedings. Continue reading “Jordy the courthouse dog hits half-decade mark, confirms he is a good boy”

Bloomington hosts weekend of family bicycle events, answers question: Where does the car go?

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Makinzie Hoagland describes how a Local Motion grant will be used to design and build a way to organize the wall of wheels at the back of The Bike Project. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

On Saturday morning, the garage door to Bloomington’s Bike Project was open to a bright, crisp fall morning—a couple hours earlier than the posted hours, which start at noon. It’s a spot where loads of people walk past on any given Saturday, on their way to the Farmers Market, just north of there.

The open house for the bicycle cooperative was synched up with Cargo Bike Show & Tell, one of the events scheduled for Bloomington’s first annual Fall Family Bike Fest—which started Thursday and ran through Sunday.

The upcoming start of the Bike Fest was heralded on Tuesday afternoon, with the hanging of a new billboard on the northeast corner of 6th and Walnut streets, where the Subway recently closed up shop. The bicycle-themed billboard was designed by Pealer Bryniarski for the Your Art Here space. Funding for the billboard came from a Local Motion grant award, made by Bloomington’s bicycle and pedestrian safety commission to The Bike Project. Continue reading “Bloomington hosts weekend of family bicycle events, answers question: Where does the car go?”

Bloomington’s city council OKs 2020 budget, declines to set pay for police, cites ongoing labor talks

On Thursday night, Bloomington’s city council approved just five of the six items on its agenda that make up the legislative package covering the roughly $170 million budget for 2020.Single Bar Barchart of City Budget

The one item that didn’t get approved was the salary ordinance that sets police and fire salaries—they’re part of the same ordinance. It was put off, with a motion to table, which passed 9–0 on the nine-member council.

The decision to table the question appeared to be based on a hope for some kind of breakthrough in collective bargaining negotiations between the city and the police union.

A meeting with the city, the police union and a mediator, is scheduled for Oct. 24. The talks, which started with four meetings in 2018, did not conclude with an agreement by the end of that year, which was the end of the contract. So Bloomington police have been working thorough 2019 under a so-called “evergreen” clause.

Councilmembers also got clarification Thursday night that the proposed salary ordinance for 2020 means police would paid the same next year as they were in 2018. “It doesn’t appear that anyone wants that,” councilmember Steve Volan said.

Two factors seemed to give councilmembers the comfort they needed to entertain the idea of putting off a vote on the police and fire salaries.

They learned Monday night from council attorney/administrator Dan Sherman that they did not need to pass the salary ordinance by Nov. 1—which is the deadline for passing tax rates and appropriations. They also learned from controller Jeff Underwood that he had authority to pay firefighters and police through the end of 2019, based on the current salary ordinance.

The council will need find time to approve a new salary ordinance by the end of the year if police and firefighters are going to get paid in 2020. That will mean fitting it into a schedule packed from now until the end of the year with hearings and deliberations on the updated Unified Development Ordinance. Continue reading “Bloomington’s city council OKs 2020 budget, declines to set pay for police, cites ongoing labor talks”

Photo: Your Art Here gets new, bicycle-themed billboard

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Artist Pealer Bryniarski (left) poses for a photo in front of the bicycle-themed billboard/mural he designed for the Your Art Here project. The installation rotates works through the space on the side of the building on the northeast corner of 6th and Walnut streets. (The previous one was “refugees welcome.”) The bicycle mural was hung by Max Smith (right) on Tuesday afternoon. The new mural installation coincides with the city of Bloomington’s first Fall Family Bike Fest which starts Thursday. It includes events every day, including two free screenings of the film “Motherload.” More details to come from the Beacon about the mural.  (Dave Askins/Beacon)

Monroe County’s council OKs $83.1 million “maintenance budget,” leaves compensation, justice reform for future

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Monroe County Council on budget approval night, Oct. 8, 2019. From left: Cheryl Munson, Trent Deckard, Eric Spoonmore, Shelli Yoder, Kate Wiltz, Geoff McKim, and Marty Hawk. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

Monroe County now has what county councilor Geoff McKim on Tuesday night called a “maintenance budget” for 2020, which includes $83.1 million worth of expenditures. That’s about 4.8 percent more than the $79.3 million budgeted last year.

McKim said at Tuesday’s county council meeting that there are two issues not addressed in the 2020 budget, but would need attention in 2021—employee compensation and justice reform issues.

If employee compensation is not competitive in the labor market, the county needs to fund more in compensation, he said. Once the results of an in-progress criminal justice reform study come back, it would be possible to make systematic, prioritized investments for facilities and services alike, McKim said. That could require more investments in everything from mental health to the jail.

The vote on the seven-member council at Tuesday night’s meeting was 6–1, with the lone dissent coming from Marty Hawk. She said she supported almost everything in the budget, but did not support the $3.3 million general obligation (GO) bond.

The GO bond amount had been reduced by a vote of the council the night before, from $5.48 million, to the $3.3 million that appeared on Tuesday night’s proposal. Hawk made a motion Tuesday night to reduce it even more, to $2.6 million, and she had a list of the specific projects she wanted it to fund. The motion died for lack of a second.

The vote on the adoption of the budget is a separate question from the issuance of the bonds. A public hearing on the bond was held Tuesday night, but the vote on issuance was postponed until Oct. 22.

Also put off, until an unspecified time, was the purchase of property northwest of the I-69 and SR-46 interchange. The county is looking to acquire the quarry-hole-dotted land to establish a limestone heritage destination site. Continue reading “Monroe County’s council OKs $83.1 million “maintenance budget,” leaves compensation, justice reform for future”