Bloomington utilities to study pace of water main replacement: Is 2.5 miles of pipe a year enough?

On Tuesday night, Bloomington’s utilities director Vic Kelson presented the city council with a proposed $1.7 million for water main replacement as part of the department’s 2020 budget.  He described how that would pay to replace roughly 2.5 miles of pipe.

During the time for councilmember questions, Isabel Piedmont-Smith responded to the 2.5-mile figure by saying, “That does sound like very little.” Piedmont-Smith’s assessment was based on the roughly 420 miles of pipe in the system, and the frequency of recent high profile water main breaks.

At a press briefing on the Friday before the week of budget hearings, Mayor John Hamilton said the pace of water main replacement was not fast enough, because pipes don’t last as long as it will take to replace them all—if the current pace of replacement is maintained. About the 2.5 miles per year that has been budgeted for the last few years, Hamilton said, “That’s way better than it was five years ago, but is not good enough.”

At Tuesday’s city council session, utilities director Vic Kelson put the possibility of increasing the pace of water main replacement in the context of a possible rate increase. The current residential rate for City of Bloomington Utilities (CBU) is $3.73 per 1,000 gallons with a monthly $5.89 charge for a 5/8-inch meter. Any proposal for an increase in water rates has to be presented to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. Bloomington’s rate case to the IURC is planned for 2020.

Kelson said as a part of the rate case, CBU would be evaluating whether the 2.5 miles of pipe a year is aggressive enough. Continue reading “Bloomington utilities to study pace of water main replacement: Is 2.5 miles of pipe a year enough?”

Show cause hearing date set in Bloomington eminent domain case: Sept. 12

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Shown is an aerial view of the 4th Street parking structure looking east.  From the Monroe County GIS system’s Pictometry tool, vintage 2017.

Sept. 12 is the date now set for the show cause hearing in Bloomington’s current eminent domain litigation. The case involves the City of Bloomington’s attempt to take the 222 Hats building at the south end of the block, so it can add the land to the footprint of a replacement parking structure.

The re-scheduled hearing will take place in front of Judge Holly Harvey at 10 a.m. on Sept. 12 in the Charlotte Zietlow Justice Center at 301 N. College Avenue. The order issued by Harvey sets a half hour as the timeframe. The parties are ordered to appear in court “…allowing 30 minutes, to show cause, if any, they have why the property sought to be acquired in the Complaint should not be acquired.”

Legal skirmishing led to cancellation of a show cause hearing initially scheduled for July 22.

The replacement parking structure site plan that has been developed by the City of Bloomington is for a six-story garage with 510 parking spaces and roughly 11,000 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor.
Continue reading “Show cause hearing date set in Bloomington eminent domain case: Sept. 12”

Budget 2020: Bloomington fire chief points to improvements in fire call and response time stats, says situation now too fluid to put timeline on new stations

The 10-year capital plan for Bloomington’s fire department includes two additional fire stations—one in the southwest and one in the southeast part of town. It also includes the replacement of two existing stations, and a relocation of the station that serves the Indiana University campus.

Those five stations together have an estimated cost of $28 million, and the three additional fire engines they’ll house will add another $1.8 million.

But those costs aren’t pegged to any particular year in the 10-year plan. So they’re not a part of the proposed $13.25 million budget for 2020, which Bloomington’s fire chief, Jason Moore, presented to the city council on Tuesday night.

Responding to a councilmember question about the timeframe for building new stations,  Moore said, “To start making decisions when everything is so fluid, I feel would be rushed and ill-advised. So we will be making recommendations when it’s appropriate and when the entire big picture of public safety can be really painted crystal clear for everyone.”

Moore also told the council that additional improvements in response times would likely depend on adding staff and stations. Continue reading “Budget 2020: Bloomington fire chief points to improvements in fire call and response time stats, says situation now too fluid to put timeline on new stations”

City council mulls future local funding for Bloomington Transit investments, as 2020 budget relies on feds for electric buses, shared-ride microtransit

Possible federal grants are a key part of the Bloomington Transit 2020 budget presented to the city council on Tuesday by the public transit agency’s general manager, Lew May. Councilmembers appeared receptive to the planned $4 million in capital expenditures to acquire four more alternative-fuel buses.

BT is also applying for a federal grant to fund a shared-ride microtransit pilot program to take up the slack on certain routes after fixed-route service ends for the day.

Council president Dave Rollo suggested looking beyond traditional federal funding sources. Among the local funding sources he suggested were tax increment finance funds and local income taxes.

A budget increase of $87,000 to cover an outside contract to add a security officer at BT’s downtown transit station drew scrutiny from councilmembers.

As it did on Monday, which was the first day of a week’s worth of departmental budget hearings, climate change drove a lot of the council’s commentary. Councilmembers wanted BT to consider adding solar panels to a new roof for the BT facility on Grimes Lane, which is currently budgeted for $363,250.

Before the unanimous straw vote was taken by councilmembers in support of the proposed budget, Dave Rollo said, “We are running out of time. And we need to direct capital to Bloomington Transit, if we’re going to be serious about climate—it’s got to be part of the strategy.”

The council’s vote to adopt the budget is scheduled for Oct. 10 after getting a first reading on Sept. 25.

Continue reading “City council mulls future local funding for Bloomington Transit investments, as 2020 budget relies on feds for electric buses, shared-ride microtransit”

Climate change, looming recession highlight city council response to mayor’s budget speech

Reactions from some Bloomington councilmembers to the administration’s proposed 2020 budget on Monday included two major questions: whether the budget does enough to address climate change; and whether Bloomington is ready for a looming recession. Continue reading “Climate change, looming recession highlight city council response to mayor’s budget speech”

Monday’s budget presentations: Ethernet for ITS, salary increase for city council

Monday night kicks off a four-day week of budget presentations in front of Bloomington’s city council. After Mayor John Hamilton’s address scheduled for 6 p.m., the council will hear from Human Resources, City Clerk, Legal, Information and Technology Services, City Council, Controller, and the Office of the Mayor.

R Out Salary Data Bloomington

A couple of highlights include: $350,000 for the replacement of wired Ethernet network; and a proposed 13.5-percent increase for city councilmember salaries, from $16,127 to $18,307.

The proposed 2020 budget of $98.6 million is 36 percent bigger than the last budget approved for Hamilton’s predecessor, in 2016. Of the four basic categories in the budget—personnel, supplies, other services, and capital outlays—the biggest difference between the proposed 2020 budget and the one adopted in 2016 is in capital outlays. The $8.6 million for 2020 is almost three and a half times the $2.5 million in 2016.

For most departments presenting on Monday night, capital outlays are not a big factor. For ITS, however, the 2020 proposal reflects one of the larger capital outlays in the budget: $350,000 for the replacement of wired ethernet network hardware and wireless Wi-Fi network hardware. It’s the same amount budgeted for a Kirkwood Avenue street project.  (The Planning and Transportation Department presents its proposal on Thursday. Jump to a table with 2020 capital outlays, sorted by cost.)

Three departments worth of elected officials will be presenting on Monday—city clerk, mayor, and city council. Such departments are not typically associated with intensive capital outlays. But because the city council directly oversees a fund for sidewalk and traffic calming projects, there’s $324,000 worth of capital outlays in the city council’s 2020 budget associated with that fund.

The city council’s 2020 budget proposal is different from that of the other two elected officials in another way. Instead of the basic 2 percent increase in compensation for non-union employees that underlies the overall budget, the request from the city council is for a 13.5-percent increase.  Continue reading “Monday’s budget presentations: Ethernet for ITS, salary increase for city council”

Amended objections now filed in Bloomington’s effort to take 222 Hats property to build replacement parking garage

On Friday, Aug. 16, the landowner filed an amended version of objections with the Monroe Circuit Court, in an attempt to prevent the City of Bloomington from acquiring the 222 Hats property at the south end of the block of Walnut Street between 4th and 3rd streets.

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Image from the Monroe County GIS system, Pictometry tool. Vintage is 2017.

The City of Bloomington wants to take the  property through an eminent domain process so that it can extend the footprint of its planned replacement parking structure to cover the full length of the block from 4th to 3rd streets.

A month earlier, an initial version of the objections was filed, because it was not clear at the time if the court was going to grant a motion for an extension of the deadline. The court did grant the extension.

A review by The Beacon of both documents revealed a few differences between the first and second versions. A new paragraph was added on the topic of the definition of “public use.” The concept of “public use” is key, because property taken through eminent domain is supposed to be for a public use. The first objection filed by the landowner argues that the taking would not be for a public use, because of the ground floor retail space that is planned for the replacement parking garage.

Another  amendment to the document was stylistic—one sentence was edited to conform with Mark Twain’s legendary advice, “If you see an adverb, kill it.”

None of the changes altered of the number or kind of objections that were already filed. Continue reading “Amended objections now filed in Bloomington’s effort to take 222 Hats property to build replacement parking garage”

Semi-final field set for Bloomington Comedy Festival

Wednesday’s competition at the Comedy Attic’s Bloomington Comedy Festival added three candidates to the semi-final field of comedians who’ll compete next Wednesday for a spot in the finals on Aug. 28.

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The top three vote getters on Wednesday were Abby Troughton, Zach Rody and Shanda Sung.

They’ll join Jonas Schrodt, Mark Bookwalter and Kristin Lucas in the semifinals on Wednesday, Aug. 21.

It’s the same day as departmental budget hearings in front of the Bloomington city council for the Bloomington Housing Authority,
Housing and Neighborhood Development,
Economic and Sustainable Development,
Community and Family Resources, and
Parks and Recreation departments.

For many residents the potential scheduling conflict, between the civic and the comedic, could mean that tickets to the BCF shows are a smidgen easier to get in advance. The shows generally play to a sold-out venue.  Continue reading “Semi-final field set for Bloomington Comedy Festival”

Butterfly traffic up in downtown Bloomington

On College Avenue in downtown Bloomington, Indiana, around 11,000 mechanical beasts drive past the northwest corner of the courthouse square every day.

The total for the intersection climbs by a two or three thousand, if the east-west flow on 6th Street is added in.

At that location, a comprehensive traffic count of all God’s creatures would factor in at least a couple dozen extra—to account for the monarch butterflies that have been darting around the intersection in recent days.

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Monarch butterfly at the intersection of College Avenue and 6th Street, looking west, in downtown Bloomington, Indiana.  August 2019 (Dave Askins/Beacon)

Continue reading “Butterfly traffic up in downtown Bloomington”

Up to 44 more parking spaces now possible on Dunn Street

Residents won’t see the changes immediately, but Bloomington’s city council voted unanimously Wednesday night to approve an ordinance revision to allow for more parking on Dunn Street.

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Dunn Street at 10th looking south. Aug. 12, 2019 (Dave Askins/Beacon)

The ordinance change allows the street to be reduced  to one travel lane.

The legislation approved by the council on Wednesday also revised a neighborhood permit parking zone boundary for residents who live on 17th Street.

The south side of 17th Street was added to the newly established neighborhood parking permit Zone 6, in the Garden Hill neighborhood, west of the Indiana University football stadium. Continue reading “Up to 44 more parking spaces now possible on Dunn Street”