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”

Wisler leads short-handed plan commission in review of Moores Pike PUD, other projects

At Monday’s meeting of the Bloomington plan commission, a planned unit development (PUD) for 2.2 acres of land on Moores Pike, with 80 apartments in one 50-foot, four-story building, was forwarded to the city council with a negative recommendation.

In other business, which did not get final action from the commission, a proposed “mini-warehouse” facility on West 3rd Street across the road from Culver’s Restaurant, was continued to the plan commission’s November meeting.

A mixed use PUD proposed for the northwest corner of E. Longview Avenue and S. Pete Ellis Drive, with 19,000 square feet of commercial space, 264 apartments and a 306-space parking deck, was approved for its second of two required hearings, to be held in front of the plan commission next month.

After the departure of Joe Hoffmann last month, the plan commission’s first order of business at its Monday meeting was to elect a new president. Brad Wisler, as vice president, was an unsurprising choice. But due to the commission’s diminished numbers  it required a unanimous vote—which it got—of the other five commissioners present. Nick Kappas was nominated and approved as vice president by the same 5-0 tally. (Nominees did not participate in those votes.) Continue reading “Wisler leads short-handed plan commission in review of Moores Pike PUD, other projects”

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”

Election board OKs final prep for reduced November elections: “I … recommend that we charge both parties with letting their voters know.”

Carolyn VanddeWiele, a Democrat who chairs Monroe County’s three-member election board, led the group at its meeting last Thursday through its routine final preparations for the Nov. 5 municipal elections.

Part of that prep included some announcements of key dates. Oct. 7 is the last day to register to vote in Bloomington municipal elections. And the first day for early voting is Oct. 21.

Both main items on the agenda reflected the fact that this year’s municipal elections in Bloomington will be held in just two out of the city’s council districts—District 2 and District 3.

One agenda item, approval of the official legal notice, called out District 2 and District 3 as the only districts where elections will be held. That’s because of an election board decision made at its Aug. 1 meeting. The board based its decision on the fact that the city-wide races for mayor, clerk and councilmember at large, are all uncontested—a situation that’s unprecedented in Bloomington—and the races in the other four districts are uncontested. Continue reading “Election board OKs final prep for reduced November elections: “I … recommend that we charge both parties with letting their voters know.””

Bloomington paves way for Little 500 street sprints

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On Saturday afternoon in downtown Bloomington, a blocked-off Kirkwood Avenue offered enough car-free asphalt for the Indiana University Student Foundation to run 54 heats of cyclists down a 200-meter course.

Kaethe Schroeder (SKI) and Robert Strobel (Black Key Bulls)  prevailed in the  finals of the women’s and men’s divisions, respectively. The Street Sprints are part of the fall cycling series tied to the Little 500 bicycle race held in the spring.

The first rounds of the Street Sprints included 24 heats, which winnowed the men and women’s fields from 167 total cyclists down to 32—16 men and 16 women. The remaining rounds were two-up sprints—only the winner advanced.

According to race director Andrea Balzano, this fall marked the ninth year of Street Sprints. For the first two years the event was held on North Jordan Avenue, but since 2013, it’s been held on Kirkwood.

Kirkwood, of course, is an avenue that’s storied not just in song (“Tonight, I’m gonna see my baby again, we’re gonna go walkin’ down Kirkwood, look at us go”) but in Bloomington’s public works budget presentations this year (“Pavement maintenance project for East Kirkwood Avenue…Delayed due to high contracting costs”).

Continue reading “Bloomington paves way for Little 500 street sprints”

Bloomington to buy handheld narcotics analyzer with federal grant money

At its Wednesday regular meeting, Bloomington city council voted to approve an interlocal agreement with Monroe County to spend $33,506 worth of Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) money.

The federal funds are awarded to states and localities based on based on violent crime statistics for each state and/or local unit of government.

The agenda item was not controversial, drawing one question from councilmember Allison Chopra, and a comment from councilmember Jim Sims.

Chopra wanted to know if the money was restricted in its use. The answer from Bloomington’s police chief, Mike Diekhoff, was: Yes, the money has to be spent on the items that the department applied for.

This year, the city is spending its 80-percent share of the money ($26,805) to purchase a TruNarc handheld narcotics analyzer. Monroe County is spending its 20-percent share ($6,701) on tire deflation devises for use in vehicle pursuit intervention.
Continue reading “Bloomington to buy handheld narcotics analyzer with federal grant money”

Zietlow to election board on its decision against elections: “Voting is the primary duty of citizens in a democracy.”

At Thursday afternoon’s meeting of Monroe County’s election board, a question decided by the board two months ago was again raised in front of the three-member body: Should municipal elections be held on Nov. 5 in Bloomington, even in districts where none of the races are contested?

On Thursday, the question was brought up during public commentary by Charlotte Zietlow, whose impact on the political life of Monroe County dates back at least to 1972, when she took a seat on the Bloomington city council, which was followed eight years later by her election to the county’s board of commissioners.

Zietlow’s answer: Yes, elections should be held even where races are uncontested.  Continue reading “Zietlow to election board on its decision against elections: “Voting is the primary duty of citizens in a democracy.””

Schedule of days for UDO hearings set, leaves scant room for other city council business by year’s end

Bloomington’s city council made some progress on Wednesday night towards setting its schedule for hearing, amending and adopting an updated unified development ordinance. cropped udo schedule calendar-4159913_1280The sometimes tedious character of the half-hour discussion on scheduling was summed up by the council’s attorney/administrator Dan Sherman, when he said to the council, “Thank you for entertaining that can of worms!”

One basic feature of the schedule was already known, based on discussion at a work session last Friday: Hearings on revisions to the city’s basic land use document will start on Oct. 16, which is a Wednesday, the usual day for council meetings.

But the start time for Wednesday’s event will be different from regular meetings. It will be called to order at 6 p.m. And it won’t go past 10 p.m.—unless the council votes at the meeting to extend the time, based on how things unfold at the meeting.

The 6 p.m. start time is common to all of the scheduled UDO hearing dates, except for one. How long the other meetings will last, time limits for public speaking turns and time limits for councilmember questions and comments will be decided at the Oct. 16 meeting.

On Wednesday, the council voted to adopt a schedule featuring a dozen dates for work on the UDO update. The first four meetings are devoted to presentation of parts of the updated UDO and public commentary. That is, no amendments will be considered at the first four hearings.

Preliminary UDO hearing schedule

Oct. 16 Chapter 1, Chapter 2, structuring debate
Oct. 22 Chapter 3
Oct. 23 Chapter 4, Chapter 5
Oct. 30 Chapter 6, Chapter 7, consideration of written objections
Nov. 13 Consideration of amendments non-UDO business?
Nov. 14 Consideration of amendments
Nov. 19 Consideration of amendments
Nov. 20 Consideration of amendments
Dec. 04 [6:30 p.m.] Announcement of further UDO consideration? non-UDO business?
Dec. 10 Consideration of amendments
Dec. 11 non-UDO business?
Dec. 12 Consideration of amendments
Dec. 17 Consideration of amendments
Dec. 18 Further consideration of written objections; FINAL ACTION

The schedule is subject to revision by vote of the council. The public can monitor a separate web page set up on the city’s website for scheduling information. Continue reading “Schedule of days for UDO hearings set, leaves scant room for other city council business by year’s end”

Second Monday in October is now Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Bloomington

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Agnes Woodward, a Cree from the Kawacatoose First Nation in Saskatchewan, who now lives in Bloomington, returns to her seat after speaking to the city council during public commentary in support of declaring Indigenous People’s Day. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

The second Monday in October is now recognized as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Bloomington, Indiana. This year that’s Oct. 14.

The city council voted unanimously in favor of the resolution putting the day permanently on the calendar, after Mayor John Hamilton proclaimed last year’s Oct. 8 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

It doesn’t mean that city employees get another holiday. Rather, the resolution says it’s “an opportunity to celebrate the cultures and values that Indigenous Peoples of our region add to the communities in Bloomington, throughout Indiana, and globally.” Continue reading “Second Monday in October is now Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Bloomington”

Children to Bloomington’s city forester for the last 37 years: “Thank you for speaking for the trees!”

A couple of weeks ago at their regular meeting, members of the city’s board of park commissioners recognized Lee Huss for his 37 years of service to the city of Bloomington as urban forester. Two days before his final day of work at the city, the city council reprised the same sentiments.

On Wednesday night, council president Dave Rollo read aloud an encomium for Huss that quoted the former mayor of Bloomington who hired him, Tomilea Allison: “Few civil servants have left such a visible imprint on our city, and for that, Lee has our heartfelt gratitude.” Huss’s imprint includes increasing the number of street streets from under 8,000 to over 19,000 in the latest tree inventory.

Huss’s work in the last 11 years has included managing the city’s ash trees, which were at risk of total loss due to the emerald ash borer. He helped Bloomington achieve Tree City USA status—making it the first community in Indiana to reach that goal.

Huss took the podium to deliver a couple of comments, leading off with, “Thirty-seven years is not long in the life of a tree.” Huss thanked his co-workers over the years and Mayor Allison, who gave him a job at the city. He was grateful for the chance to help give Bloomington “the urban forest that this community deserves,” Hess said. He also recognized the community’s enthusiasm for trees, saying, “It’s been a tree loving community long before Lee Huss showed up. … It’s going to always be a tree loving community.”

Susan Coleman spoke on behalf of her father, tree commissioner Tom Coleman, thanking Huss for his service. Susan Coleman also presented Huss with a poster-sized card that read “Thank you for speaking for the trees!” It was made by the first- and second-graders at the Project School, who had participated in an after-school activity led by teacher Cindy Simpson.

They’d used species identification guides to identify trees in the Waldron Hill Buskirk Park, Coleman said. She presented Huss with a copy of “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss, signed by the children. (The book is the source of the message on the children’s card: “I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues.”

The Beacon’s hard-hitting question for Hess was: If you could be a tree, what kind of tree would you be? He responded with good humor. An oak, he said, because they are long-lived, and provide the most ecological services to other organisms. Asked to be more specific, he named the white oak, “Just because, I like bourbon, too—it’s used for whisky barrels.”