COVID-19 impact: 2021 budget previewed by Bloomington mayor shows more expenses than revenues

Single Bar Barchart of City Budget 2021 preview
Re: the gray bar. A detailed breakdown of proposed major categories of expenses has not yet been released for the proposed 2021 Bloomington budget.

Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s proposed 2021 budget will be presented by city department heads next week in four sessions that will take place over successive nights, starting Monday.  [Updated at 1:22 p.m. on Aug. 17, 2020. The proposed budget has now been posted to the city’s website.]

During Friday’s media preview of his proposed budget for next year, Hamilton reflected on this year’s numbers compared to the four budgets he presented in his first term as mayor. “This is my first non-balanced budget,” Hamilton said, “meaning the expenses are higher than the projected revenues.”

Controller Jeff Underwood was on the conference call, so Hamilton was quick to clarify, “in case Jeff falls out of his chair” that the city has sufficient revenues plus reserves to pay for the budget.

Hamilton is proposing to spend $4 million of reserves, in order to maintain basic services and to pay for a collection of initiatives to stimulate the local economy that he is calling “Recover Forward.” The first phase of that set of initiatives was approved by Bloomington’s city council last Wednesday as a roughly $2 million appropriation. Continue reading “COVID-19 impact: 2021 budget previewed by Bloomington mayor shows more expenses than revenues”

Bloomington city council votes to offer staff job to current deputy without a search

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City clerk Nicole Bolden, deputy administrator/attorney Stephen Lucas, and administrator/attorney Dan Sherman confer during a procedural debate by the city council in November last year. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

On Wednesday, Bloomington city councilmembers voted 9-0 to make an offer to Stephen Lucas to assume the role of council attorney/administrator on Aug. 1.

That’s the day after Dan Sherman retires from the job, after around 30 years of service. Lucas is Sherman’s current deputy.

Council president Steve Volan and and vice president Jim Sims were tapped by their council colleagues to sort out the details with Lucas, assuming he accepts the offer. When asked by councilmembers, Lucas had indicated his interest in the upcoming open position. Continue reading “Bloomington city council votes to offer staff job to current deputy without a search”

Column: Bloomington’s city council should increase Jack Hopkins social services budget for 2021

The headline to this column could provoke a reflexive response from longtime Bloomington city councilmembers. As a matter of law, they’ll say, it’s not up to them, but rather the mayor to increase the budget for Jack Hopkins social services.
Annotated R Bar Chart History of Jack Hopkins Funding 2020 Apps

From a legal point of view, I think they might be wrong.

But all nine city councilmembers and the mayor are members of the Democratic Party. So even if they’re right on the legal question, partisanship works in their favor.

Without confronting any of the typical partisan barriers that some cities might face, Bloomington’s elected officials could fund more social services.

At least a 10-percent increase in Jack Hopkins social services funding is achievable for the 2021 budget, even assuming no additional revenue.
Continue reading “Column: Bloomington’s city council should increase Jack Hopkins social services budget for 2021”

Opinion: It’s time to rethink closed door caucuses for Indiana city councils

caucus closed doorA 1980 article in the Valparaiso University Law Review states that the political party caucus exemption in the Open Door Law (ODL) here in the state of Indiana is “a major potential weakness in the act, and is virtually impossible to police.”

The same article mentions that there have been few problems with the caucus at the local level, either because it is not abused or else is used discretely enough to avoid criticism.

At lot has happened since 1980. But the law review article also mentions, as a point of curiosity, that up to that point there had been “few complaints by the press.”

Consider this column to be a complaint by the press. Continue reading “Opinion: It’s time to rethink closed door caucuses for Indiana city councils”

Question of standing committees delayed until late February by Bloomington’s city council, uncertain future next week for local towing law

On Wednesday night, Bloomington’s city council voted unanimously to postpone, until Feb. 19, council president Steve Volan’s resolution on establishing several council standing committees.

The unanimous vote on the postponement went smoother than the subsequent discussion of the council’s schedule for next week. That’s when an ordinance regulating non-consensual towing will appear on the agenda for a second reading.

The procedural options for the council’s Feb. 5 action on the towing ordinance include rejection, adoption, postponement, or referral to an ad hoc committee.

On Wednesday, council attorney/administrator Dan Sherman wanted direction from councilmembers on how to portray the towing ordinance item on the the Feb. 5 agenda.

Sherman’s question was resolved by the council in favor of an agenda note. The note will indicate that public commentary will be heard on the towing ordinance, but will also state that the ordinance might be referred to a committee. Continue reading “Question of standing committees delayed until late February by Bloomington’s city council, uncertain future next week for local towing law”

Inside baseball: Guenther swings away with farmers market “winning issue” accusation in District 2 city council race

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From left: District 2 candidates Andrew Guenther and Sue Sgambelluri; moderators Meredith Karbowsky and Taylor Combs; District 3 candidates Marty Spechler, Ron Smith, and Nick Kappas. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

It was a rest day for the baseball World Series between the Astros and the Nationals. But about 20 people attended a city council candidate forum Monday evening, hosted by The Civil Society at Indiana University. Moderators were students Meredith Karbowsky and Taylor Combs.

Only the council hopefuls in District 2 and District 3 were in the lineup—five candidates in all—because the races in the other four Bloomington districts are uncontested.

Held in the basement of Woodburn Hall on the IU campus, the event was unmarked by any real friction through about the first hour.  Candidates did not offer radically different views on public safety, housing, or climate change, even if their talking points differed.  It resembled a mostly friendly game of political pitch and catch, not hardball electioneering.

But a question about the situation that emerged this summer at Bloomington’s farmers market, which was pitched by moderators straight down the middle for each candidate, was blasted by Republican Andrew Guenther right at Democrat Sue Sgambelluri. The two are competing for the District 2 council seat.

On Monday night, Guenther accused Sgambelluri of “political cowardice,” based in part on what some of his supporters told him her campaign treasurer has said. Sgambelluri reached for Guenther’s line drive with a “results-oriented” glove.

On Nov. 5  it’s voters who will make the call, safe or out, in an election that still has a few innings to go. Here’s how the play unfolded. Continue reading “Inside baseball: Guenther swings away with farmers market “winning issue” accusation in District 2 city council race”

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”

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”

Bloomington city council gets assurance: county redevelopment commission’s planned new roads will have sidewalks

Monroe County attorney Jeff Cockerill presented a proposal to Bloomington’s city council Wednesday night that will use revenue from the West Side TIF (tax increment financing) District to pay for two new roads in the area southeast of the intersection of Vernal Pike and Curry Pike.

One of the two-lane roads will extend Profile Parkway to Gates Drive. The other will extend Sunrise Greeting Court from Vernal Pike down to Gates Drive. The roads are meant to promote development on the interior of the area bounded by Vernal Pike, Curry Pike and Third Street. Cockerill said the new roads are also supposed to alleviate traffic congestion—they’ll give motorists a reason not to use Curry Pike and 3rd Street as much. Continue reading “Bloomington city council gets assurance: county redevelopment commission’s planned new roads will have sidewalks”

Now posted: The Beacon’s voter’s guide for 2019 Bloomington general elections

This November will mark the first election, dating back at least to 1967, that not all registered voters in Bloomington will able to cast a ballot for city offices—mayor, city clerk, and the nine-member common council.

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Shown are the two districts where Bloomington city elections will be held on Nov. 5 this year, with the names of candidates who will appear on the ballot. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

That’s because elections are contested in just two city council districts: District 2 and District 3. Voters in District 2 will choose between Andrew Guenther (R) and Sue Sgambelluri (D). In District 3, the choice is between Nick Kappas (I), Ron Smith (D) and Marty Spechler (I).

The Beacon’s voters guide includes short profiles of the five candidates in contested elections and links to other useful information. The guide also includes candidates in non-contested elections.

In areas other than District 2 and District 3, no elections will be held, because there are no contested races. Ballots in those districts will show just the contested races. That’s not automatic, but in areas where no races are contested, state law gives county election boards the authority to cancel them. And that’s what Monroe County’s election board did in August. Continue reading “Now posted: The Beacon’s voter’s guide for 2019 Bloomington general elections”