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”

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?”

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”

Monroe County councilor calls on public to give feedback on possible 19-percent Duke Energy rate increase

At Tuesday night’s regular meeting of Monroe County’s council, the seven-member group got a request for an extra $80,500 to pay for utilities at five county buildings. The extra expenditure was needed because of inaccurate estimates of usage, not the planned electric rate increase by Duke Energy.

But the extra appropriation led to a quick discussion of a current proposal by Duke Energy to raise its residential electric rates by around 19 percent.

County councilor Eric Spoonmore told Angie Purdie, administer for the board of commissioners, he was glad she’d mentioned the rate case that’s now going through the regulatory process. He encouraged residents of Monroe County to make their voices heard on the matter.

Based on the Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor (OUCC) summary of the Duke Energy proposal, Duke wants to increase annual operating revenues by $395 million, which is an rise of about 15.5 percent—after the proposed two-stage implementation is done, in 2020 and 2021.

How much would more would Duke Energy’s 840,000 customers in 69 Indiana counties pay? According to OUCC, Duke Energy’s request would raise a monthly residential electric bill for 1,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) from $120.30 to $142.95. That’s 18.8 percent more. Continue reading “Monroe County councilor calls on public to give feedback on possible 19-percent Duke Energy rate increase”

Arguments heard in court on Bloomington’s attempt to take land to replace 4th Street parking garage

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Looking north on Walnut Street at the intersection of 3rd Street on Oct. 6, 2019. The gray building with the purple sign in the left of the frame is the building that Bloomington is trying to acquire through eminent domain action. The partially demolished building to its north is the 4th Street parking garage. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

Around two hours worth of arguments and testimony were heard Monday morning at a show cause hearing about Bloomington’s eminent domain action on the property. It’s just south of the now already partially demolished 4th Street parking garage.

Bloomington wants the owner, Juan Carlos Carrasquel, to sell his building so that the footprint of a planned replacement parking garage can extend the full block from 4th Street down to 3rd Street. Drawn out during Monday morning’s testimony was the city’s offer to  Carrasquel of $587,500 for the building. He purchased the building for $500,000 in spring of 2018.

The central legal issue in the case is whether the planned ground-floor retail space in the garage disqualifies it from the public purpose that a taking through eminent domain requires.

No bench ruling was made by judge Holly Harvey when the hearing concluded in Monroe’s circuit court at the Charlotte Zietlow Justice Center in downtown Bloomington.

Harvey did set a couple of deadlines. The first one is Oct. 18, for Carrasquel’s attorneys to file a reply to the memo filed last Friday by the city’s legal team. The deadline for the two sides to file a proposed set of findings and an order is Oct. 25.

Those deadlines mean a ruling might not come before Nov. 4, when the city’s plan commission is next scheduled to consider the proposed site plan for the replacement garage. The plan commission’s agenda for Monday, Oct. 7 shows the site plan as continued until Nov. 4. If there’s not a ruling by then, in the city’s favor, consideration of the site plan can be expected to be continued another month.

The site plan, which was initially heard by the city planning commission at its July 8 meeting, includes a six-story structure, with 511 parking spaces and roughly 11,800 square feet of non-garage space on the ground floor. Continue reading “Arguments heard in court on Bloomington’s attempt to take land to replace 4th Street parking garage”