Owners or employees? Bloomington city council’s planned $2-million COVID-19 relief gets scrutiny

At its meeting on Wednesday, Bloomington’s city council took the next procedural step towards getting $2 million worth of already-collected food and beverage tax revenue, into the hands of the private sector.

The goal is to provide bridge funding for local employers and employees who have been impacted by the COVID-19 viral epidemic.

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Row-wise from top left: city council deputy administrator/attorney Stephen Lucas, CM Ron Smith, CM Jim Sims, city council  administrator/attorney Dan Sherman, CM Sue Sgambelluri, CM Matt Flaherty, CM Dave Rollo, CM Kate Rosenbarger, CM Isabel Piedmont-Smith, city clerk Nicole Bolden, CM Steve Volan, and CM Susan Sandberg. (Screen grab from April 1, 2020 meeting of the Bloomington city council conducted on the Zoom videoconferencing platform.)

The bridge is supposed to span the time it will take for more robust federal aid to land in local hands.

The step taken by the city council on Wednesday was to hear a first reading of a $2 million appropriation ordinance, made possible by the positive recommendation of the food and beverage tax commission at a meeting convened last Friday.

Based on the timeline sketched out on Wednesday by city controller Jeff Underwood, the money could be ready for distribution as soon as the end of next week, April 10.

The steps involved would include a city council approval of the appropriation at its second reading at a Tuesday, April 7 meeting.

The appropriation would then need a final sign-off by the Indiana Department Local Government Finance, which Underwood hopes to get by April 10. At that point, the money would be available, Underwood said at Wednesday’s meeting.

To whom should that money be available? Continue reading “Owners or employees? Bloomington city council’s planned $2-million COVID-19 relief gets scrutiny”

From grass roots, to government, to industry—Bloomington concerned about face masks to guard against COVID-19

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Kelly Clark accepts a donation of freshly-sewn fabric face masks to the Bloomington Indiana Fabric Mask Drive at a downtown Bloomington parking lot on Thursday evening. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

A virtual press conference on Monday featured various government officials, who talked about local measures that are being taken to address the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s so far claimed 17 lives in the state.

During the conference, Bloomington city councilmember Dave Rollo posed a question: Could the Monroe County health department issue a declaration saying that grocery stores cannot prohibit their workers from wearing masks to protect themselves and others from infection with COVID-19?

Rollo didn’t get an answer to the question at the press conference—a technical glitch prevented some county officials from joining the call.

Whether grocery store workers are allowed to wear face masks is just one part of the issue Rollo raised. Continue reading “From grass roots, to government, to industry—Bloomington concerned about face masks to guard against COVID-19”

Monroe County, Bloomington both putting food and beverage tax money towards COVID-19 economic relief

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Screen grab of the March 25, 2020 meeting of the Monroe County council, conducted on the videoconferencing platform Zoom.
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Screen grab of the March 25, 2020 meeting of the Bloomington city council, conducted on on the videoconferencing platform Zoom.

Added together, Bloomington and Monroe County’s respective shares of unexpended food and beverage tax revenues, collected countywide since early 2018, stand at around $5.7 million.

In separate actions over the last week, Bloomington and Monroe County elected officials have taken steps towards appropriating $2.2 million of that money for relief of businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

By early Wednesday, March 25, COVID-19 had claimed 14 lives in the state of Indiana. Continue reading “Monroe County, Bloomington both putting food and beverage tax money towards COVID-19 economic relief”

COVID-19 responses by Bloomington, Monroe County include altered 911 dispatch protocols, emergency funding

On Wednesday, the city of Bloomington and Monroe County continued their efforts to respond to the COVID-19 viral pandemic.

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On Wednesday, Monroe County and the city of Bloomington updated their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

No cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Monroe County, but testing has been limited.

Based on 193 tests in the state of Indiana, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases rose to 39 on Wednesday, roughly double the number on March 15, three days earlier.

Highlights from a press release issued by the city of Bloomington early Wednesday afternoon included the creation of a city working group called the Continuity of City Government (COCG) team. It will be led by the city’s deputy mayor Mick Renneisen, and human resources director Caroline Shaw, according to the news release.

Monroe County’s board of commissioners met Wednesday morning and authorized $50,000 worth of emergency COVID-19 relief and made a request for $200,000 more.

The basic message of the city’s press release is that services will be maintained, and city hall will remain open. The city’s press release confirms that earlier-reported consideration by city of Bloomington utilities has resulted in the suspension of water shutoffs. Continue reading “COVID-19 responses by Bloomington, Monroe County include altered 911 dispatch protocols, emergency funding”

COVID-19: Governor activates Indiana National Guard, alters public meeting requirements; Bloomington city council to meet

In a late Tuesday afternoon press release, Indiana’s governor has added to the orders he announced on Monday to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic health emergency.

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New in the executive order, compared to Monday’s announcement, is the activation of the Indiana National Guard “as needed, to address and assist in this public health emergency.”

Also new in Tuesday’s executive order is the temporary loosening, and in some cases tightening, of certain requirements of Indiana’s Open Door Law for public meetings. Continue reading “COVID-19: Governor activates Indiana National Guard, alters public meeting requirements; Bloomington city council to meet”

Public’s work continues in Bloomington under COVID-19 protocols

At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has caused cancellation of several public meetings, Bloomington’s city council now has an additional, special meeting on its calendar set for March 25th.

The extra meeting was added so that the council can act to approve the re-funding of some waterworks bonds. The utilities services board approved the bond re-funding this past week. And the council’s action will set up the city to save about $2.3 million in interest.

Even if that kind of public business continues to get done, it’s not business as usual.

The city council chambers have been configured to reflect the most common precaution against spreading the COVID-19 virus: social distancing. About 60 audience chairs have been stacked to the sides of the chambers, leaving four rows in the center with at least a chair-wide gap between each seat. Continue reading “Public’s work continues in Bloomington under COVID-19 protocols”

From utilities building to city hall, Bloomington’s COVID-19 response shows visible signs

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As part of the effort to reduce transmission of the COVID-19 virus, Bloomington’s city council chambers have been configured into a social-distancing formation as of Thursday, March 13, 2020. The state’s guidance document on gatherings says “Smaller, non-essential gatherings held in venues which do not allow social distancing of six (6) feet per person should be postponed or canceled.” (Dave Askins/Beacon)

On Thursday, Indiana’s governor, Eric Holcomb, announced additional statewide measures meant to help reduce COVID-19 infection rates. The number of cases in the state of Indiana has doubled from six on Tuesday (March 10) to 12 cases two days later (March 12).

Among the measures announced by Holcomb on Thursday was a prohibition of non-essential gatherings of more than 250 people. About the scope of the prohibited gatherings, the press release states, “This includes any event or gathering of people who are in one room or a single space at the same time, such as cafeterias …”

Here in Bloomington, The Square Beacon saw evidence of Bloomington’s city government efforts to reduce COVID-19 infections, from the utilities service building on Miller Drive to city hall. Continue reading “From utilities building to city hall, Bloomington’s COVID-19 response shows visible signs”

Bloomington councilmember on amount, timing, spending, oversight of possible tax increase for climate action: “All the things we’re talking about…are open questions.”

Bloomington city council’s climate action and resilience committee, a four-member subset of the council, convened a meeting Wednesday night to hear feedback from the public on a possible countywide increase to the local income tax.

About three dozen people attended, maybe a third of them Indiana University students, for whom attendance was a class assignment.

Based on the statutory framework for the county tax council, a simple 5–4 majority on the Bloomington city council would be enough to enact the tax.

The size of the increase that was floated on New Year’s Day by Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, was 0.5 points. That  would bring the total amount of local income tax paid by county residents to 1.845 percent.

But the amount of the increase, according to committee chair Matt Flaherty, is an open question, like nearly every other aspect of the proposal—including the timing of a vote by the Bloomington city council, constraints on expenditures, and oversight mechanisms. Continue reading “Bloomington councilmember on amount, timing, spending, oversight of possible tax increase for climate action: “All the things we’re talking about…are open questions.””

Bloomington press release: COVID-19 protocols will include curtailed large events, discretionary travel

In a press release issued late Wednesday, the city of Bloomington announced a response to the COVID-19 pandemic that has seen the number of cases in Indiana increase to 10.

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A bottle of sanitizer was available for public commenters at the Bloomington city council’s Wednesday meeting of its climate action and resilience committee. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon) 

Prominent on the city’s approach will be “social distancing”—measures to reduce occasions when people have to gather in close proximity to each other.

According to the release, “The City will significantly reduce large in-person meetings effective March 16, including boards and commissions, special events, cabinet and other large internal meetings, and more.”

Among the events that will be rescheduled, according to the release, are the March 25 Women’s History Month Luncheon, the March 28 Women’s Leadership Summit, and the March 31 Be More Awards.

The fire department’s U.S. Department of State-sponsored trip to Sierra Leone
has been postponed, according to the release. And attendance at numerous planned conferences will be canceled, according to the release.

A meeting of the city council’s climate action and resilience committee, scheduled for Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in the city council chambers, was left on the calendar. About three dozen people attended. Continue reading “Bloomington press release: COVID-19 protocols will include curtailed large events, discretionary travel”

Bloomington plan commission OKs 4th Street replacement parking garage, target completion date now August 2021

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Rendering of the integrated art project for the 4th Street parking garage that has been designed by Project ONE Studio. The quilted grids are to be fabricated out of  painted aluminum.

By August 2021, motorists in downtown Bloomington could have 537 more parking spaces to choose from.

On Monday night, the city’s plan commission approved a design for a new garage at the same site, on the same footprint, where the old 4th Street parking garage stood, until it was demolished in late 2019. Continue reading “Bloomington plan commission OKs 4th Street replacement parking garage, target completion date now August 2021”