Bloomington city council completes routine maintenance on public safety income tax rate, total still 0.25 percent

At its meeting on Wednesday, Bloomington’s city council completed its annual adjustment to the public safety local income tax (PS-LIT) rate.

The total rate that residents of Monroe County pay on their income for public safety stays the same, which is 0.25 percent.

But the way the rate is split—between funding for the countywide dispatch center and general public safety—was tweaked to fit the 2021 budget request by the dispatch center.

The dispatch center—known as a public safety answering point, or PSAP—needed $2,247,490 in PS-LIT revenue for its 2021 budget. The rate corresponding to that amount, based on estimates released in September by the state’s department of revenue, is 0.0594 percent.

The remaining revenue, generated by the other 0.1906 of the 0.25 total rate gets divided by city, county and town governments for general public safety purposes.

That’s a smidgen higher rate for general public safety purposes than last year’s 0.1846 percent, due to a slight decrease in the dispatch center’s overall budget.

Continue reading “Bloomington city council completes routine maintenance on public safety income tax rate, total still 0.25 percent”

Washington Township starts process to join fire district, would make 7 out of 11 member townships in Monroe County

At its meeting last Wednesday (Sept. 30), Monroe County commissioners approved a resolution that sets out the process for Washington Township to join the Monroe Fire Protection District (MFPD).

A series of three public meetings about the proposal, to be conducted on the Zoom video conferencing platform, have been scheduled. The final public meeting is set for Friday, Oct. 9.

If Washington Township is approved as a member, that would eventually make seven out of 11 Townships that are a part of the MFPD. It would mean nine out of 11 townships get fire protection from MFPD, either as members or through contract.

This year Benton Township was already approved for joining the district in 2022, the same year Washington Township would become a member.

A recently announced three-year $3.8 million federal grant that was awarded to MFPD won’t reduce the property tax rate that member township residents pay. But it will provide immediate funding for 14 additional firefighters and reduce the amount of cash reserves that need to be tapped in 2022, according to MFPD chief Dustin Dillard.

Cash reserves will need to be used, because of the lag in timing for additional contributions of property tax and local income tax by new member townships. There’s a six-month delay before the first infusion of property taxes to the district from new member townships. And the property tax footprint from new township members that goes into the local income tax distribution formula is not factored into the mix until a year later, because the footprint is based on the previous year’s levy. Continue reading “Washington Township starts process to join fire district, would make 7 out of 11 member townships in Monroe County”

Long lines but sunny start to early voting in Monroe County

Tuesday morning, Oct. 6, saw a long line of voters in downtown Bloomington.

It stretched south down the block from Election Central, at the corner of 7th and Madison, around the corner where the former La Vie en Rose Cafe stands, west along 6th Street, nearly to Rogers Street.

Tuesday was the first day of early voting in Monroe County for the Nov. 3 general election.

Around 8 a.m., when voters could first start casting their ballots, the temperature was hovering a smidgen over 40 F degrees. But by early afternoon, clear, sunny skies helped the mercury break 70 F.

At 8:45 a.m. The Square Beacon counted 105 people in line to vote. Among the prospective voters, The Square Beacon did not spot any without a face covering, as a precaution against spread of the COVID-19 pandemic virus. Voters emerging from Election Central mid-morning said they had stood in line around an hour.

An hour is about how long it took the The Square Beacon to cast a ballot, after joining the line on 6th Street just before noon. The Square Beacon’s time inside the polls was clocked at 16 minutes and 44 seconds. Continue reading “Long lines but sunny start to early voting in Monroe County”

Monroe County girds for in-person, mailed-in ballots alike, as registration deadline looms

A voter registration deadline of Monday, Oct. 5  is looming, and four weeks of early voting are set to start the following day at 8 a.m. The only location for early voting is Election Central, at the corner of Madison and 7th streets in downtown Bloomington.

A copy of a mailer that was sent to all registered voter households in Monroe County for the Nov. 3, 2020 election.

So Monroe County’s election board met last Tuesday afternoon to review any outstanding issues related to this year’s general election. The Nov. 3 general election will take place as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rack up about 1,110 confirmed positive tests a day statewide and about two dozen a day in Monroe County.

Tuesday’s discussion took place the same day as a ruling by federal district judge Sarah Barker, but before it was widely reported. Barker’s ruling granted a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of an Indiana election law on mailed-in ballots.

The law says mailed-in ballots have to be received by noon on Election Day, and they’ll be rejected after that, no matter when they’re postmarked. The injunction—which has been appealed—says that Indiana election officials are “not to reject mail-in ballots postmarked on or before November 3, 2020 and received on or before November 13, 2020.”

If that ruling stands, it’s not clear how it might impact local election planning.

A concern about adequate space was one theme of last Tuesday’s meeting, as the local election board is looking towards larger numbers of in-person and mailed-in votes alike.

The newly renovated Election Central facility in the old Johnson Hardware building, at Madison and 7th streets, has a lot more room for early voting than the previous configuration.

Still, four pallets worth of COVID-19-related personal protection equipment (PPE), which arrived from the secretary of state’s office, and the elbow room needed to ship out 11,100 absentee ballots so far, mean that Election Central is a little cramped for space. Continue reading “Monroe County girds for in-person, mailed-in ballots alike, as registration deadline looms”

Monroe County mulls $3 million in capital projects for yearly GO bond issuance, after concept gets kicked around in debate on local income tax increase

At last Tuesday’s meeting of Monroe County’s council, county board of commissioners president Julie Thomas presented a list of projects that could be funded using proceeds from a $3-million general obligation (GO) bond.

Introductory text of a past year’s ordinance used to authorize Monroe County’s issuance of general obligation bonds.

It’s a routine strategy for the county, each year to set property taxes at a high enough rate to generate enough revenue to cover the repayment of short-term general obligation bonds.

The list presented by Thomas for this year included: trucks and heavy equipment for the highway department; support vehicles for the highway department; parks ADA projects; replacement of core switches in the justice building; radios for sheriff’s office; handheld narcotics analyzer; county vehicle refresh; renovations related to office move by highway and surveyor; and trail connections.

On Tuesday, the list did not appear to generate any red flags for county councilors. Last year, commissioners proposed a $5-million bond that drew sharp enough scrutiny from councilor Marty Hawk that the list of projects was trimmed down to about $3.3 million. This year’s proposal will get more consideration in the next few weeks before a vote is taken.

The idea of issuing GO bonds to fund capital projects made its way into recent deliberations in front of the Bloomington city council, during its deliberations on a possible increase to the countywide local income tax (LIT). The council’s vote was 4–5, so the proposal did not achieve even the simply majority to move it forward for consideration by the rest of the tax council. Continue reading “Monroe County mulls $3 million in capital projects for yearly GO bond issuance, after concept gets kicked around in debate on local income tax increase”

Indiana’s highest court name checks Animal House’s Dean Wormer as it hears arguments in Bloomington zoning case

The day after Monroe County’s health department announced that Alpha Epsilon Pi and Indiana University had reached an agreement to shut down the fraternity through next summer, Indiana’s five supreme court justices heard oral arguments that could impact how Greek organizations are defined in the state.

Screenshot of Indiana Supreme Court oral arguments in City of Bloomington Board of Zoning Appeals v. UJ-Eighty Corporation on Sept. 24, 2020 Speaking (yellow box) is assistant city attorney Larry Allen.

The case heard by the Indiana Supreme Court on Thursday morning involves a decision by Bloomington’s board of zoning appeals dates back to summer 2018. A key question of law: Can a city rely on a university to decide what counts as a fraternity when it comes to the definition in the city’s zoning code?

Thursday’s oral arguments were unrelated to the recent AEP shutdown, or the COVID-19 county health regulations the fraternity apparently violated.

But COVID-19 did get a specific mention Thursday morning, from chief justice Loretta Rush, who opened proceedings by thanking people who’d sent well wishes for her recovery from the pandemic virus.

On Thursday morning, the court heard arguments on two questions. The first was whether the court would accept transfer from the court of appeals. That is, the court is still weighing whether to issue a ruling in the case at all. One option is to neither affirm nor reverse the court of appeals ruling, which went 2–1 against Bloomington. Not accepting transfer would let the court of appeals ruling stand.

The other question on which the court heard arguments on Thursday was the usual one: Was the court of appeals right? Specifically, was the court of appeals right in saying Bloomington’s zoning code violated the US Constitution because it delegated to Indiana University the city’s authority to determine zoning compliance?

The authority in question is the ability to determine if an organization is or is not a fraternity or sorority.

Continue reading “Indiana’s highest court name checks Animal House’s Dean Wormer as it hears arguments in Bloomington zoning case”

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”

Election update: Voting machine accuracy test passed; Poll workers still needed; Registration deadline Oct. 5

At 8 a.m. on Wednesday, Monroe County’s election division started running its voting equipment through the logic and accuracy test that’s required under state statute.

After two hours of testing, the county’s equipment passed with a 100-percent score, deputy county clerk Tressia Martin told The Square Beacon.

The tests were conducted at the old Johnson Hardware Building, aka Election Central, at 7th and Madison streets. The blinds on the Madison Street side of the building were opened so that the public could watch, without going inside the building. It’s was a nod to helping prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic virus.

The completion of the accuracy test crosses one more task off the list that election staff have to complete for the Nov. 3, 2020 general election.

In early September, the board of elections had settled on 28 different polling locations for the county’s 82 precincts.  That decision was given approval by the county’s board of commissioners at its regular meeting Wednesday morning, shortly after the logic and accuracy test concluded. Continue reading “Election update: Voting machine accuracy test passed; Poll workers still needed; Registration deadline Oct. 5”

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”