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.”

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

Bloomington city council paves way for middle-of-the-road approach to outdoor dining through year’s end

This past weekend could have marked the final chance for restaurant patrons to enjoy a meal straddling the double-yellow roadway markings on Kirkwood Avenue. It’s been an option since mid-June, and was set to expire on Sept. 30.

But Bloomington’s city council acted on Wednesday to extend through the end of the year the authorization for the periodic closing of sections of Kirkwood Avenue to automobile traffic. The same action allowed for expanded merchandizing and seating in the public right of way.

The resolution, approved unanimously by the city council on Wednesday, also extended the easing of sign regulations for downtown businesses, and the simplification of procedures for obtaining a sign permit.

The council’s initial action in June came at the request of the city’s economic and sustainable development department, as way to help restaurants recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, even as the pandemic continues. The same logic applied to the extension.

Expanded outdoor seating allows restaurants to draw business from patrons who would not choose to eat at a restaurant at all, if it meant dining indoors.

A “parklet” program, which sets up barricades around street parking spaces for expanded outdoor restaurant meeting, without closing down the whole street, did not need additional city council action on Wednesday to continue. Continue reading “Bloomington city council paves way for middle-of-the-road approach to outdoor dining through year’s end”

Split votes on race-related topics by city, county electeds

Wednesday is the usual meeting day for two local elected bodies—Bloomington’s city council and Monroe County’s board of commissioners. This week they each approved legislation involving anti-racist efforts.

The city council approved a resolution endorsing a proposal for art featuring the phrase “Black Lives Matter.”

The county commissioners approved a $292,500 contract with a consultant to provide diversity training.

Both approvals came without the full support of the elected groups. In a rare non-unanimous vote on the three-member county board, commissioner Penny Githens dissented on the approval of the diversity training contract.

On the city council, Dave Rollo abstained from the vote on the art project, which left the proposal with eight of nine city councilmembers in support of it.

Continue reading “Split votes on race-related topics by city, county electeds”

Technology center application to feds for $9.4 million building gets more OKs from RDC, city council committee endorsement comes after grumbling

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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.

On Monday night, Bloomington city council’s four-member sustainable development committee convened a meeting to consider signing a letter of support for an application by the city to the federal Economic Development Administration (EDA). The city looking to build a technology center in the Trades District, just north of city hall.

A couple of committee members balked at being asked to vote on the question, because they’d received the supporting written materials just three hours earlier. So the letter of support from the committee had to wait for approval until Tuesday afternoon when the committee resumed its recessed meeting from Monday, missing one of its members.

The Tuesday afternoon meeting lasted just six minutes, which included a reading of the letter aloud into the record. One missing instance of the word “of” was noted and corrected before the letter was approved.

The application had received an initial OK in early August from the city’s redevelopment commission (RDC).  The RDC is involved because it owns the land, and the project requires expenditure of about $2 million in tax increment finance (TIF) funds, money that the RDC oversees.

A couple hours before the city council’s committee met on Monday, the RDC amplified the application’s green light, given six weeks ago, with some additional endorsements. The five voting RDC members unanimously endorsed a feasibility study, a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS, pronounced /sεdz/), the funding match, and use of the land.

The RDC owns the real estate and would continue to own it, along with the building, after it is constructed. According to representatives of Axis Architecture + Interiors the construction could be completed, possibly by the end of 2022.

If the EDA were to approve the application, the $2 million in local funds would get a 20-80 federal match to pay for the construction of roughly $9.4-million, 3-story, 31,375 square foot building at Maker Way and Madison Street, north of city hall in downtown Bloomington. The estimated dollar figure includes architectural and engineering design fees, permits, inspections and connection fees.

The federal funds would be available through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Continue reading “Technology center application to feds for $9.4 million building gets more OKs from RDC, city council committee endorsement comes after grumbling”

From police, to parking, to public works, to bidets: Bloomington 2021 budget Q&A flush with facts

Late August marked the conclusion of a four-night series of city council hearings on Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s proposed 2021 budget. Shortly after that, councilmembers submitted written questions to city staff.

In the second week of September, staff responses to councilmember questions were posted in a Q&A document on the city’s budget web page.

Whether the concerns expressed in the written questions or during the budget hearings will result in changes to the budget won’t be known for sure until the final budget is presented to the city council on Sept. 30.

A vote to adopt Bloomington’s city budget is set for Oct. 14. Continue reading “From police, to parking, to public works, to bidets: Bloomington 2021 budget Q&A flush with facts”

Bloomington city council declines mayor’s request for tax increase on 4-5 vote, proposal now dead

On Monday Wednesday night, Bloomington’s city council voted 4–5 on a request from mayor John Hamilton for a quarter-point increase to the countywide local income tax. That kills the proposal and it will not be considered by other governing bodies in Monroe County.

A press release from Bloomington mayor John Hamilton, issued 15 minutes before midnight on Wednesday and shortly after the city council’s meeting concluded, announced the news.

The headline of the press release leaves the defeat of the proposal to the calculation of readers: “City Council Renders Four Votes for 0.25% Local Income Tax Increase.”

The press release confirmed that the proposed ordinance considered by Bloomington’s city council will not be forwarded for consideration to the other members of Monroe County’s income tax council, which includes the county council and the two town councils. [IC-6-3.6-3-8]

The four votes in favor of the tax increase came from Dave Rollo, Matt Flaherty, Kate Rosenbarger and Steve Volan.

Voting against the proposal were Ron Smith, Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Susan Sandberg, Sue Sgambelluri, and Jim Sims.

The press release quotes Hamilton saying, “I am disappointed that a majority of our city council did not affirm the need for government to step up in this time of multiple crises to take care of our residents, and protect and advance the community for subsequent generations with additional revenue.”

The extra 0.25 points of local income tax would have brought the total rate paid by Monroe County residents to 1.5950 percent. The higher rate would have generated around $4 million for the city of Bloomington and around $4 million for Monroe County government and the two towns of Ellettsville and Stinesville.

The arithmetic on 0.25 points of additional income tax for someone with a taxable income of $30,000 would translate to an extra $75 a year. Continue reading “Bloomington city council declines mayor’s request for tax increase on 4-5 vote, proposal now dead”

No increase to local income tax for Monroe County at this time: Bloomington’s city council votes 4–5

At Wednesday night’s meeting of the Bloomington city council, the voting tally on the proposal to enact a quarter point increase to Monroe County’s income tax was 4–5.

Voting yes were Dave Rollo, Matt Flaherty, Kate Rosenbarger and Steve Volan.

Voting no were Ron Smith, Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Susan Sandberg, Sue Sgambelluri, and Jim Sims.

Based on the wording of the state statute, the proposal looks like it is dead and does not need to be forwarded to the other members of the tax council—the Monroe County council, the Ellettsville town council and the Stinesville town council.

That’s because Bloomington’s city council action on Wednesday was a resolution to propose an ordinance to the rest of the tax council.

The statute says, “To [present an ordinance to other members of the tax council for passage], the member must adopt a resolution to propose the ordinance to the local income tax council and distribute a copy of the proposed ordinance to the county auditor.” [IC-6-3.6-3-8]

Given that the vote on the resolution was 4–5, the Bloomington city council did not adopt a resolution proposing an ordinance to the other members of the council.

A question asked by The Square Beacon at the meeting  during public commentary, to confirm that the other tax council members will not need to vote on the proposal, did not get a response.

Shortly after the meeting ended, a press release issued by the mayor’s office confirmed: “The ordinance will not be forwarded for consideration by the other members of the Monroe County Income Tax Council.”

The Square Beacon hopes to be able to report in more detail on the deliberations in a separate article. Continue reading “No increase to local income tax for Monroe County at this time: Bloomington’s city council votes 4–5”

Income tax estimates from state for Monroe County, Bloomington 2021 budgets: Up 9.3 percent compared to last year

Tuesday’s news from Indiana’s state budget agency (SBA) can be analyzed by local governments in Monroe County  as at least OK.

The SBA’s estimated distribution of local income tax revenue to Monroe County governments is about 9.3 percent higher for 2021 than it was for 2020.

That’s not a complete surprise. A big impact from the COVID-19 pandemic on income tax revenues to Indiana local governments is not expected to be felt until 2022. That’s when distributions of local income taxes (LITs) will be based on the tax collected on income earned in the pandemic year of 2020.

Still, in late summer this year, local governments were drawing up initial budgets for 2021 with some caution baked in. Even though the 2021 LIT distributions are based on taxes collected on income earned in 2019, there was some concern that the ability of wage earners to pay those taxes this year might have been be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. That concern looks like it has been somewhat relieved by Tuesday’s estimates from the SBA.

But based on the SBA estimates, the increased amount of revenues that Bloomington can likely factor into its 2021 plans will not be enough to tip the balance from a deficit budget to one where revenues exceed expenses.

Responding to a query from The Square Beacon, city communications director Yael Ksander said that “[T]he allocation for the City would still not equal the amount of deficit spending the 2021 budget proposes.”

Planned expenditures won’t be affected by Tuesday’s SBA estimates, Ksander said. “The 2021 expenditure budget will not be revised in light of these new estimates. This additional revenue would simply diminish the level of deficit spending.” Less deficit spending means the city will won’t have to tap as much in reserves as it had planned. Continue reading “Income tax estimates from state for Monroe County, Bloomington 2021 budgets: Up 9.3 percent compared to last year”

New Bloomington commission floated, would oversee funds from higher local income tax rate

On Wednesday night at a special meeting, Bloomington’s city council started its deliberations on a proposal to increase the countywide local income tax by a quarter point. The debate will continue on Sept. 16.

A new seven-member Sustainable Development Fund Advisory Commission (SDFAC) could be created by the Bloomington city council that would control spending of about $4 million in funds that would be generated by the extra quarter point added to the rate through an increase the council is considering.

That amount would take the rate from 1.345 percent to 1.595 percent. The higher rate would generate about $4 million annually for Bloomington. A little more than $4 million would be generated each year for Monroe County government and the town of Ellettsville.

A public hearing and a vote is scheduled for Sept. 16.

Under a proposed ordinance released to the public a few hours before the city council’s special meeting, a new city commission would have some control over expenditures from the extra revenue.

Under the ordinance, a new non-reverting fund would be created, called the Sustainable Development Fund.

Future ordinances and resolutions requiring expenditures from the fund would be subject to approval of a new seven-member commission, called the Sustainable Development Fund Advisory Commission (SDFAC).

Under the new ordinance, without a majority recommendation from the seven-member commission, the city council could not adopt an ordinance requiring an expenditure from the new fund.

Membership on the new commission would consist of: the mayor, three councilmembers and three citizens. That means an ordinance requiring expenditures from the new fund could be blocked by a coalition consisting of a single councilmember and three citizens.

The ordinance creating the new commission got a first reading on Wednesday, but no discussion, because under local code no debate or amendments are allowed at a first reading.  It will be considered at a second reading on Sept. 16.

Wednesday marked the first public deliberations by the city council on the possible income tax increase. A city council work session held last Friday was limited to asking questions of the administration.

On Wednesday, four councilmembers indicated some level of support. The other five can be analyzed as undecided. Continue reading “New Bloomington commission floated, would oversee funds from higher local income tax rate”