Column | On voting: Wear a mask for civic task

In-person early voting in Monroe County starts at 8 a.m. Tuesday at Election Central in downtown Bloomington.

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“When you do a civic task, like vote in person, wear a mask.”

The week of early in-person voting, leading up to election day on June 2, will take place in the middle of a declared health emergency. It was enacted to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Here’s a word of encouragement to those who want to perform their civic duty of voting in person: Please wear a face covering.

Put on a mask.

As of Sunday, Monroe County has seen 160 confirmed cases and 10 deaths due to COVID-19. Statewide, about 32,000 cases are confirmed and 1,800 people have died from the disease. Continue reading “Column | On voting: Wear a mask for civic task”

Monroe County June 2 primary election update: 18K absentee ballots sent so far; early in-person voting starts Tuesday

According to Monroe County election supervisor Karen Wheeler, 17,997 absentee ballots had been sent out to voters as of Friday and 6,517 of them received by her office.

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Monroe County’s Election Central at the corner of 7th and Madison streets in downtown Bloomington on May 23, 2020 (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

When The Square Beacon touched base with Wheeler on Saturday morning, she said about 5,000 more ballots still need to be sent out. That will make about 23,000 total absentee ballots for this year’s primary election. Election day is June 2.

A lot of voters waited until close to the deadline to apply for an absentee ballot. The deadline for turning in ballot applications was Thursday, May 21. The voted ballots themselves have to reach the clerk’s office by noon on primary election day, June 2. Voters who receive their ballots later next week, and are concerned that their mailed ballot might not arrive in time, can turn in their ballots in person at Election Central.

The roughly 1,300 ballots that have been processed every day for the last week is about twice the number Wheeler had previously described as the office’s maximum daily capacity. She said previously she’d be looking to recruit county employees who had been ordered to stay home from work during the COVID-19 health emergency.

On Saturday, she said about 20 people were working inside the Election Central building at 7th and  Madison streets. They’ll need to work Sunday, Monday, and probably Tuesday, too, Wheeler figured.

“It’s been intense,” Wheeler said. Continue reading “Monroe County June 2 primary election update: 18K absentee ballots sent so far; early in-person voting starts Tuesday”

Bloomington city hall opens in limited way on Tuesday, mask wearing promoted by #WearItBtown

Bloomington’s city hall, closed to the public since the third week of March, will re-open in a limited way next Tuesday, the day after Memorial Day.

The city’s mayor, John Hamilton, gave a reminder about the limited re-opening at Friday afternoon’s weekly press conference. Local leaders give updates on COVID-19 issues every Friday at 1:15 p.m. through an event live-streamed on the city’s Facebook page.

Hamilton stressed that the city is still encouraging residents who need to do business with the city to take advantage of services by phone or the city’s website, if possible.

Among the new protocols at city hall is a requirement that visitors wear a face covering. For people who don’t have one, a free mask will be provided. Continue reading “Bloomington city hall opens in limited way on Tuesday, mask wearing promoted by #WearItBtown”

Monroe County’s total food and beverage COVID-19 relief nudges towards $200K as board gets updates on blood drive, mask promotion

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Screen shot from the May 20, 2020 meeting of Monroe County’s board of commissioners, which was conducted on the Zoom video conferencing platform.

At Wednesday’s regular meeting of Monroe County’s commissioners, another $5,000 COVID-19 relief grant was made to a tourism-related business outside Bloomington city limits, using food and beverage tax proceeds.

The breakdown for Pili’s Party Taco’s use of the $5,000 grant is: $1,800 rent; $1,200 insurance (truck and supplies); and $2,000 for employee salaries.

The board also got an update on an upcoming blood drive, a mask-wearing promotion, and a comprehensive county planning update. Continue reading “Monroe County’s total food and beverage COVID-19 relief nudges towards $200K as board gets updates on blood drive, mask promotion”

Monroe County’s new COVID-19 health order on reopening: Will local officials eat their own cooking?

A new COVID-19 health order issued on Thursday by Monroe County’s health officer Thomas Sharp goes into effect starting Saturday, May 16.

In broad strokes, it puts the county in Stage 2 of Indiana governor Eric Holcomb’s “Back on Track” plan announced on May 1, with a key difference: Monroe County will stay in Stage 2 an extra week compared to the governor’s plan—that is, through May 31.

One effect of the county’s order is that restaurants can open for dine-in services, at 50 percent capacity. Another effect is that barbers and hairstylists can also open for business. Any business that opens has to follow guidelines in the governor’s order. Continue reading “Monroe County’s new COVID-19 health order on reopening: Will local officials eat their own cooking?”

Monroe County gets masks, sanitizer from state for election workers as more than 4.3K people have already voted by mail

Secretary of state Connie Lawson said on Friday that the state received the personal protection equipment (PPE) that it had ordered for election workers, using $7.5 million of Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act  funding.

National Guard troops had started delivering masks, sanitizer, gloves and microfiber towels to all 92 counties the previous day, and were continuing  deliveries “as I speak,” Lawson said.

Lawson said that her office had tapped Indiana sources of PPE who did not supply PPE to medical providers—to make sure her office was not depriving health care workers of needed equipment. Lawson made her remarks during Indiana governor Eric Holcomb’s regular press conference on Friday.

Monroe County’s election supervisor Karen Wheeler confirmed to the Square Beacon Friday afternoon that the National Guard had dropped off two pallets of PPE material earlier that morning.  The pallets were not completely full, but had lots of the equipment, she said. She called it “rather impressive.” Continue reading “Monroe County gets masks, sanitizer from state for election workers as more than 4.3K people have already voted by mail”

Lawsuit now filed by Monroe County, other plaintiffs over proposed logging, burning in Hoosier National Forest

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The project area for the Houston South project is shown in dark red, with Lake Monroe watershed in heavy blue. The image is from the meeting minutes for the Feb. 12, 2019 meeting of Monroe County’s council. Image links to meeting minutes.

A lawsuit filed by Monroe County officials in federal district court on Wednesday claims that the US Forest Service violated the National Environmental Protection Act and the National Forest Management Act in its adoption of a plan to log, burn and apply herbicide to sections of the Hoosier National Forest just southeast of Monroe County.

The project activities proposed by the forest service include clear cutting about 400 acres, and some kind of tree removal from another roughly 3,000 acres. Also a part of the mix are herbicide spot treatments on about 2,000 acres. About three miles of new roads are supposed to be built along with eight miles worth of temporary roads.

As described by the forest service, the purpose of the Houston South Vegetation Management and Restoration Project is “to promote tree growth, reduce insect and disease levels and move the landscape toward desired conditions.”

The project area overlaps with part of the Lake Monroe watershed. That’s a substantial part of the objections to the project, because the lake provides drinking water to the city of Bloomington and much of the rest of Monroe County.

Continue reading “Lawsuit now filed by Monroe County, other plaintiffs over proposed logging, burning in Hoosier National Forest”

Monroe County’s council revisits spending decisions, OKs hires despite freeze, gets news of extra income tax revenue

The Monroe County council’s nearly four-hour meeting on Tuesday was capped off with a presentation from councilor Geoff McKim, who relayed some good financial news.

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Screen grab of the May 12, 2020 meeting of Monroe County’s council, conducted on the Zoom videoconferencing platform.

Monroe County will receive about $1.4 million in supplemental local income tax (LIT) revenue for its general fund this year. That will be added to the roughly $13.3 million of LIT revenue in this year’s general fund budget.

McKim made a recommendation for use of the $1.4 million, based on the uncertain impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on future county revenues. The county should put the extra LIT revenue in the county’s rainy day fund, McKim said.

No vote was taken on the question. It’ll likely come up at the council’s work session on May 26.

McKim’s recommendation was consistent with the cautious approach the county council took on Tuesday to some spending decisions it had put off from its mid-April meeting.

Some of the decisions, like spending money on refurbishment of the Alexander Memorial, were put off again, while others, like the overhaul of telecom infrastructure in the Nat U. Hill meeting room, got approved.

Also winning approval were some requests from department heads to fill a few positions, despite the hiring freeze that the council imposed at the end of April. Continue reading “Monroe County’s council revisits spending decisions, OKs hires despite freeze, gets news of extra income tax revenue”

Tax abatement for rehab hospital gets final OK from Monroe County

At its regular Tuesday meeting, Monroe’s county council voted unanimously to give final approval of a tax abatement to Ernest Health, Inc. worth about $3.1 million.

Sometime in June, the company is now expected to start building a $20-million inpatient rehabilitation hospital at the corner of Curry Pike and State Road 46. Ernest Health already operates 28 hospitals across the country—most of them in a swath of states from Texas up to Montana. Continue reading “Tax abatement for rehab hospital gets final OK from Monroe County”

US Forest Service logging, burning project: Monroe County’s environmental commission votes to become plaintiff in lawsuit

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Thumbnails from the US Forest Service response to a request filed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Image links to full .pdf file of response.

At its meeting held on Monday afternoon, Monroe County’s environmental commission voted unanimously to join the county as a plaintiff in the lawsuit that’s being prepared against the U.S. Forest Service. [Updated May 14, 2020 at 10:24 a.m. The lawsuit has now been filed.]

The pending legal action by county officials involves the forest service’s Houston South Vegetation Management and Restoration Project planned for the Hoosier National forest just southeast of the Monroe County line.

The use of the word “restoration” in the name of the project was a point of objection for Julie Thomas, president of the county’s board of commissioners, at their March 18 meeting. Thomas said, “I really resent that they call it a ‘restoration project’, because that’s just…doesn’t fit.”

It was at the March 18 meeting when county commissioners approved a retainer agreement with  the law firm Eubanks and Associates in connection with the lawsuit that’s now being prepared.

The county council and the county commissioners met in a joint executive session on May 6 to discuss initiation of the legal proceedings. It was closed to the public as allowed under an exception included in Indiana’s Open Door Law. Continue reading “US Forest Service logging, burning project: Monroe County’s environmental commission votes to become plaintiff in lawsuit”