Convention center expansion talk picks back up: “People want to be together.”

View of the Monroe County convention center looking southwest from the top of the new 4th Street parking garage.

Two recent meetings of Monroe County officials featured renewed enthusiasm to start thinking again about the convention center expansion project.

The downtown project, which Bloomington and Monroe County officials have been pursuing for a few years now, had hit yet another rough patch in early March 2020, just before the pandemic hit.

The COVID-19 pandemic effectively paused the effort, as city and county elected officials were at odds over the way members would be appointed to a yet-to-be-established capital improvement board (CIB).

A year and a half later, at the county council’s Sept. 15 hearing on the convention center budget, council president Eric Spoonmore helped put the expansion project back on the civic radar. “I don’t want us to lose sight of this very important convention center expansion project that we have promised to the community,” Spoonmore said. Continue reading “Convention center expansion talk picks back up: “People want to be together.””

COVID-19 impact: No recycling pickup in Bloomington for week starting Sept. 27

Recycling pickup by the city of Bloomington will be canceled for the week starting Monday, Sept. 27 according to a news release issued by the city on Sunday afternoon.

The reason for the interruption in service, which will last at least a week, according to the news release, is a shortage of sanitation workers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the news release, the city’s currently available sanitation workforce is less than half the number needed for normal operations.

After last Thursday’s report of city workforce COVID-19 cases, the sanitation division reported  three more positive COVID-19 cases and six additional potential exposures, according to the news release. Continue reading “COVID-19 impact: No recycling pickup in Bloomington for week starting Sept. 27”

Budget notebook: Final 2022 Bloomington budget released, $1,000 “retention pay” for police in 2021

Screenshot of a proposed amendment to the 2021 fire and police salary ordinance, to be given a first reading at the Bloomington city council’s Sept. 29 meeting.

The final 2022 budget, on which the Bloomington city council will be expected to take action in mid-October, was released late Friday afternoon.

It’s possible to find among the documents in the meeting information packet for Sept. 29 an additional $5,000 in pay for police officers.

But that figure does not mean a $5,000 increase in base pay this year, as called for in a city council resolution approved on Sept. 8.

Instead, what Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s administration appears to be proposing is to give officers an extra $1,000 in “retention pay” per quarter, starting in 2021.

There’s five quarters from now through the end of 2022. So an extra $1,000 for each of those quarters would add up to $5,000. Continue reading “Budget notebook: Final 2022 Bloomington budget released, $1,000 “retention pay” for police in 2021″

Continued calls for vaccination against COVID-19: “There’s no reason to be ‘right’—we all just want to be happy here.”

The percentage of eligible Monroe County residents who have been vaccinated against the COVID-19 pandemic virus is still just under 60 percent.

At the current pace of vaccinations in the county, which is around 60 additional people a day, it will take another week or so to eke out the next few tenths of a point to get past the 60-percent milestone.

At Friday’s weekly news conference of local leaders on pandemic response, Monroe County’s department of health public information officer Kathy Hewett said about the remaining 40 percent of the eligible population, “We still have a ways to go.”

For those who have not yet received a jab, could a decision now to get vaccinated feel like an admission that they’ve been wrong up to this point?

Responding to a question from a reporter about that possibility, Indiana University’s health officer Aaron Carroll said, “There’s no reason to be ‘right’—we all just want to be happy here.”

Carroll continued, “Everyone will be safer if they get vaccinated.” He added, “If you need an excuse, more recently, I think you could point to recent data, and that the hospitals are still filling up, that things are still very dangerous.” Continue reading “Continued calls for vaccination against COVID-19: “There’s no reason to be ‘right’—we all just want to be happy here.””

Appeal denied: Mask violation citation of Seven Oaks Classical School upheld by county commissioners, fine waived

A citation given to Seven Oaks Classical School for a violation of the county’s Aug. 5 mask mandate was upheld on Thursday afternoon by a unanimous vote of the three Monroe County commissioners.

Although commissioners denied the school’s appeal, they waived the $250 fine.

The citation was appealed by Seven Oaks on Aug. 25.

A formal hearing on the appeal was held earlier this week, on Monday.

The Aug. 5 mask mandate says that when community spread of the COVID-19 pandemic is high in Monroe County, as determined by state metrics, everyone “must wear a face shield, face covering, or mask…over their nose and mouth when in an indoor public place and shall at all times, follow current CDC guidelines in every situation.”

Schools get a specific mention in the Aug. 5 order: “For academic and extracurricular activities, all K-12 schools in Monroe county shall follow the guidelines of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Indiana Department of Education (IDOE), and the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH).” Continue reading “Appeal denied: Mask violation citation of Seven Oaks Classical School upheld by county commissioners, fine waived”

Bloomington city council OKs annexation on 6-3 votes for all territories, except north area

The outcomes on the remaining annexation votes taken by Bloomington’s city council on Wednesday night unfolded as expected, based on the previous week’s initial session on the topic.

Including Area 1A on the west side of the city, which got an OK last week, seven of the eight proposed areas for annexation were approved, all on 6–3 votes. The three dissenting votes came from Dave Rollo, Susan Sandberg and Ron Smith.

A key argument for the three dissenters was the idea that the city of Bloomington was not in a position to extend some services to the new territory. The specific services causing concern relate to public safety.

The current disparity between the number of sworn officers employed by Bloomington’s department (91) and the number who are authorized (105)—in the context of the 23 to 35 additional officers called for in the fiscal plans—led dissenters to conclude it is unrealistic to think Bloomington could provide public safety services to the new areas.

Those voting in favor cited standard arguments in favor of annexation, including: the idea that annexation is a natural part of the history of cities; that those who own land near municipal boundaries already enjoy several benefits of that proximity, so it’s fair for them to pay city property taxes; and the idea that the remonstrance waivers signed by landowners in exchange for extension of sewer service is a contractual agreement that landowners should expect to fulfill. Continue reading “Bloomington city council OKs annexation on 6-3 votes for all territories, except north area”

Decision on school’s appeal of mask mandate citation to come Thursday, Sept. 23

A time has now been set for a ruling on the appeal filed by Seven Oaks Classical School of its mask mandate citation from the Monroe County board of health: Thursday, Sept. 23 at 3 p.m.

The county’s mask mandate is a health order that is intended to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic virus.

It’s the three-member board of county commissioners that heard the appeal on Monday, and that will now render the decision on Thursday.

The scheduling announcement came around noon Wednesday at the end of the county commissioners work session, which followed their regular Wednesday morning meeting. From a procedural point of view, the board is continuing its work session until Thursday.

Board president Julie Thomas said at the work session, “We’d like some more time to continue our individual reading and research, because we did have a lot of materials provided to us, which we appreciate.” Continue reading “Decision on school’s appeal of mask mandate citation to come Thursday, Sept. 23”

6 license plate recognition cameras to be placed at Monroe County high traffic spots

Six cameras that can recognize license plate numbers will be installed at various high-traffic locations in Monroe County.

Image from the Flock Safety press kit.

The $16,500 agreement with the Flock Group was approved by county commissioners at their regular Wednesday meeting.

According to the sheriff’s office, the ability to have access to information about the license plate numbers of vehicles that have driven past certain locations will help with response to emergencies like Amber Alerts.

According to Flock’s website, its cameras can identify license plates on vehicles traveling up to 100 miles per hour and up to 75 feet away, even at night. Continue reading “6 license plate recognition cameras to be placed at Monroe County high traffic spots”

After 23 years, retiring Bloomington Transit GM Lew May says: “It’s just been a wonderful ride.”

The community room at the Bloomington Transit (BT) headquarters building on Grimes Lane will now be called the Patrick L. “Lew” May Community Room.

BT general manager May attended his final board meeting on Tuesday night. The five-member group approved a resolution thanking him for his 23 years of service and naming the room after him.

May told the board, “We’ve done just tremendous work together. And it’s just been a wonderful ride, it truly has.” May added, “And that’s the longest I’ve ever worked at any one place.”

John Connell, who is taking over from May at the end of the month, attended the meeting in-person, which was a hybrid in-person, video-conferenced event. Connell comes to BT by way of the Greater Lafayette Public Transportation Corporation, where he was operations manager.

The board handled some significant business at May’s final meeting.

Among the items approved by the board were: a new salary ordinance that factors into the current negotiations with the drivers union; a contract with RATP Dev, which is a transit management consultant company through which May and his successor, Connell, serve as general manager; and a new contract with Mesmerize Media, which is the company that sells the advertising on the outside and inside of BT buses. Continue reading “After 23 years, retiring Bloomington Transit GM Lew May says: “It’s just been a wonderful ride.””

No same-day decision after hearing on school’s appeal of mask mandate citation

No decision was made Monday afternoon on the appeal filed by Seven Oaks Classical School, which challenged a $250 citation it had received from Monroe County’s department of health for an alleged violation of the county’s Aug. 5 mask mandate.

The mask mandate says that when community spread of the COVID-19 pandemic is high in Monroe County, as determined by state metrics, everyone “must wear a face shield, face covering, or mask…over their nose and mouth when in an indoor public place and shall at all times, follow current CDC guidelines in every situation.”

Schools get a specific mention in the Aug. 5 order: “For academic and extracurricular activities, all K-12 schools in Monroe county shall follow the guidelines of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Indiana Department of Education (IDOE), and the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH).”

The citation was based on a visit to the school from county health administrator Penny Caudill. The note on the citation reads: “Observed few masks, although some students, faculty and staff had masks on.”

The three-member Monroe County board of commissioners voted unanimously on Monday to wrap up the hearing after around 2 hours and 40 minutes of presentations and cross examinations that were at times intense.

Commissioners decided Monday to put off a vote on the appeal. But under the county code that regulates the appeals process for health order citations, which was enacted in May of 2021, the commissioners will have to issue a written decision not more than 15 working days from Monday. Continue reading “No same-day decision after hearing on school’s appeal of mask mandate citation”