On split vote, public safety income tax committee recommends: No “off-the-top” allocations this year for rural fire departments

A committee of the Monroe County tax council voted Tuesday morning against a recommendation to allocate $353,700 of public safety income tax money to support requests made by four rural fire departments in the county.

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Screenshot of the Aug. 4 meeting of the PS-LIT committee of the local income tax council of Monroe County. It was conducted on the Zoom video conferencing platform.

The potential direct allocation of funds to the fire departments would have made up about 4.5 percent of the $7.8 million that the committee was using as a conservative estimate for the total amount it could allocate for 2021.

The distribution of local income tax revenues for 2021 is based on 2019 income tax filings, which have been delayed because of relaxed deadlines due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The vote on the seven-member PS-LIT (public safety local income tax) committee was 2–5 for the direct allocation of the funds to the Monroe County Fire Protection District, and fire departments serving Richland, Bean Blossom, and Benton townships.

The tally flipped to 5–2 for the committee’s vote on its recommended allocations for 2021 public safety income tax revenue.

The dispatch center—which is a public safety answering point (PSAP)—is recommended to receive its requested budget of $2,247,490.

The remaining amount is recommended to be divided, through a property-tax-footprint-based formula, among Bloomington, Monroe County, Ellettsville and Stinesville. In round numbers, that works out to about $2.8 million for Bloomington, $2.5 million for Monroe County government, $165,000 for Ellettsville and $1,100 for Stinesville. Continue reading “On split vote, public safety income tax committee recommends: No “off-the-top” allocations this year for rural fire departments”

Bloomington RDC OKs payment of property taxes connected to real estate deal for convention center expansion

On Monday night, Bloomington’s redevelopment commission (RDC) approved the payment of some property taxes, on land it does not (yet) own.

The uncommon circumstance arose from the fact that when the RDC purchased the Bunger & Robertson property on College Avenue last year for $4,995,000, the deal did not include two parcels making up the north part of the parking lot that serves the building.

That portion of the parking lot has different owners. Based on a count using aerial images from the Monroe County GIS database, the two parcels include around 45 parking spaces.

The RDC is still looking to buy the parking lot parcels, so they can be used for the Monroe County convention center expansion project. That’s why the RDC bought the Bunger & Roberston real estate.

The convention center expansion is currently paused due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For now, the RDC is leasing the two parking lot parcels from the owners. The deal approved by the RDC in May includes a contractual agreement that the RDC pay $3,500 a month, for an annual total of $42,000.

But the contract also includes a requirement that the RDC pay the property taxes on the parcels.

It was payment of the property taxes that the RDC approved at its regular Monday night meeting. Continue reading “Bloomington RDC OKs payment of property taxes connected to real estate deal for convention center expansion”

Bloomington hopes to put $2M of local money into $10M “tech accelerator” if feds will make up the difference

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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.

Bloomington is applying to the federal government for an 80-20 matching grant that would pay for a $10 million “tech accelerator” to be constructed in the Trades District area of downtown Bloomington.

According to Jennifer Pearl, president of the Bloomington Economic Development Corporation, the tech accelerator would “make programming and services available to tech companies in our region, to help them grow and commercialize.”

The physical location in the Trades District would make it a “technology hub,” Pearl said.

Startups and mature tech companies alike would be candidates for using the tech accelerator’s services, Pearl said.

Bloomington’s 20 percent share of the project would be $2 million, drawn from revenue to the city’s consolidated TIF (tax increment finance) district. That’s why the proposal appeared on the Bloomington redevelopment commission’s Monday night agenda. The RDC administers the city’s TIF funds.

The RDC did not approve any expenditures of funds on Monday. They just gave a green light for the grant application to be made. Continue reading “Bloomington hopes to put $2M of local money into $10M “tech accelerator” if feds will make up the difference”

Bloomington public bus driver tests positive for COVID-19, BT still on course for closer-to-normal service on Aug. 24

In a press release issued late Monday afternoon, the city announced that a Bloomington Transit (BT) bus driver has tested positive for COVID-19.

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The caution tape separating drivers from passengers on Bloomington Transit buses will soon be replaced with plexiglass shields.

That’s the second BT employee who has tested positive for the pandemic disease. The first was a maintenance worker. Nine other city employees have also tested positive.

According to Monday’s release, the driver started having symptoms on Wednesday, July 29 and received the positive result on Saturday, Aug. 1. For Saturday, Monroe County’s total COVID-19 confirmed positive case count was 10.

The seven-day average daily case count in Monroe County has started to drop—it’s now around around 13, compared to 20 for the last week of July. The number of cases reported for Sunday was just 2, the lowest number since July 6, almost a month ago.

In July, the BT board approved a plan to resume certain aspects of normal service starting Aug. 24. Continue reading “Bloomington public bus driver tests positive for COVID-19, BT still on course for closer-to-normal service on Aug. 24”

Bloomington’s city council asks for dollar amounts on active tax abatements, accepts report saying all are in “substantial compliance”

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Image links to dynamic version of the map, with clickable dots that reveal links to the resolutions on the tax abatements approved by the Bloomington city council, including vote tallies.

At last Wednesday’s regular meeting, Bloomington’s city council accepted a report about tax abatement activity over the last year, from the city’s five-member economic development commission (EDC).

The oldest tax abatement reviewed by the council dates back to 2013. The most recent one was last year.

By accepting the report, without taking further action, councilmembers were acknowledging that the companies are in “substantial compliance” with the commitments they made—related to jobs and affordable housing—that led the city council to grant them a tax abatement.

Councilmembers have requested that city staff provide some followup information, about the dollar amounts of tax abatements.

And the city council will likely soon be asked to approve revisions to the  guidelines on tax abatement compliance. The point of the revisions is to ensure that affordable housing projects don’t get analyzed as non-compliant due to a failure to create or retain the jobs they indicated in their applications. Continue reading “Bloomington’s city council asks for dollar amounts on active tax abatements, accepts report saying all are in “substantial compliance””

Opinion | Bloomington city council’s legislative process should require an anti-racist step; training by locals would help

What if every ordinance and resolution considered by Bloomington’s city council had to be scrutinized and debated publicly based on this question: How is this legislation anti-racist?

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Under city code, Bloomington’s city regular council meetings are scheduled for the first and third Wednesdays of the month. If three readings were required for an ordinance, the legislative process would take at least a month, from start to finish.

I think building such a step into the city council’s regular process could complement Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s recent proposed response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is to “recover forward.”

The idea is not merely to restore Bloomington’s economic health, but to make it better than it was before. The same goes for two other areas—climate justice and racial justice.

Hamilton’s proposal includes the idea of changing the way Bloomington does things, so that we are combatting racial injustice in a way that reflects community values.

Here’s one way to build a separate step into the city council’s process, so that all legislation gets scrutinized through an anti-racist lens: Add an anti-racist reading to the legislative routine.

Currently, the normal process is that every ordinance must get read twice, at separate meetings, before it is enacted. A resolution currently just needs one reading.

The idea would be to add an occasion designed to discuss the ways the item does or does not serve the city’s anti-racist policy goals—an occasion called the “anti-racist reading.”

For ordinances, the anti-racist reading would be sandwiched between what are currently the first and second readings. For resolutions, the anti-racist reading would come after what is currently the first and only reading.

To engage in that discussion would, I think, require some training, which would equip city councilmembers with some tools that would make that kind of work easier. Continue reading “Opinion | Bloomington city council’s legislative process should require an anti-racist step; training by locals would help”

IU Health COVID-19 response: Capacity limits mean dialing down elective procedures, shifting patients to deal with recent surge

At IU Health’s hospital in Bloomington, the area’s recent surge in COVID-19 cases has pushed administrators to find ways to make space for new patients.

A month ago in Monroe County, the seven-day average of confirmed new positive COVID-19 cases had settled around 2. That has increased to around 17 at the end of July. Not every positive case requires hospitalization. But those increased numbers have pushed IU Health’s Bloomington facility towards its capacity.

On Friday, MaryAnn Valenta, IU Health’s regional director for strategic integration, said the hospital is responding to the recent surge by reducing the number of elective procedures and transferring patients to other hospitals inside and outside the region. Where they’re transferred is based on “the location that makes the most sense to each patient based on bed capacity.”

Valenta’s remarks came during Friday’s weekly press conference on COVID-19 response with local leaders from the city, county and university. Continue reading “IU Health COVID-19 response: Capacity limits mean dialing down elective procedures, shifting patients to deal with recent surge”

10K COVID-19 tests a day: Indiana University’s reopening plan to include diagnostic and surveillance testing

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Screenshot of Friday July 31, 2020 press conference of local Bloomington leaders. It was conducted on the Zoom videoconferencing platform.

As part of its campus re-opening plan, Indiana University is planning to use a combination of diagnostic and surveillance testing, in a program that will see up to 10,000 COVID-19 tests done in a single day.

That was Friday’s news from Aaron Carroll, associate dean of the Indiana University School of Medicine. Continue reading “10K COVID-19 tests a day: Indiana University’s reopening plan to include diagnostic and surveillance testing”

Bloomington mayor: Proposed 2021 budget will reduce sworn police from 105 to 100

During a panel discussion with other city officials, live streamed Thursday afternoon on Facebook, Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton put numbers to an idea he mentioned in a speech two weeks ago.

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The 2021 budget proposal, which the mayor will eventually present to the city council in mid-to-late August, would reduce the number of sworn officer positions with the Bloomington police department (BPD) from 105 to 100.

The budget is scheduled for adoption in October.

The idea is to re-allocate the money for five sworn officers to at least five new non-sworn positions—a mix of social workers and neighborhood resource specialists, Hamilton said.

The move comes in the context of calls nationwide and locally to “defund the police.” Continue reading “Bloomington mayor: Proposed 2021 budget will reduce sworn police from 105 to 100”

15-minute free PUDO parking starts Aug. 1 in downtown Bloomington

During the COVID-19 pandemic, aversion to dine-in eating at restaurants or leisurely browsing inside retail stores has put a premium on finding a spot to park just for short while.

Patrons are looking to park just long enough to grab take-out food, or an item that’s been set aside by a store owner for quick pick-up.

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Green dots are locations of parking meters in downtown Bloomington. Purple dots are 15-minute temporary spaces, part of a pick-up, drop-off (PUDO) pilot starting Aug. 1 lasting at least through Sept. 30. (Image links to dynamic version of map)

One measure of the interest in alternatives to dine-in or in-store service is search interest on Google for the word “delivery.” It tripled in late March, compared to a month earlier.

The city of Bloomington announced this week that it will resume enforcement of parking meters on Aug. 1, after a few months of allowing people to park for free for two hours.

The city is also rolling out a pilot program to support those local businesses whose potential customers are more likely to become actual customers, if they have easier access to short-term parking.

Starting Aug. 1, at least through Sept. 30, some of the the downtown’s roughly 1,500 spaces with on-street parking meters will be converted to 15-minute free parking spots, meant for pick-up and drop-off purposes. The shorthand to describe the spaces is the acronym PUDO. Continue reading “15-minute free PUDO parking starts Aug. 1 in downtown Bloomington”