Rural Transit riders might see no change, if parallel service is run to get around urban-to-urban trip ban

The actual solution to a transit problem outside Bloomington boundaries might not turn out to be the one that was anticipated by the city council in the first half of August.

That’s when Bloomington’s city council revised local law to allow Bloomington Transit (BT) to operate anywhere in Monroe County, not just inside city limits.

There were independent reasons for expanding BT’s service area.

But it was believed that the legal authority for BT to run service outside the city boundaries would solve a dilemma caused by a recent change in an INDOT (Indiana Department of Transportation) enforcement policy. The change to enforcement affects a long-time regulation on federal funds (Section 5311) for rural transit agencies like Area 10’s Rural Transit.

The basic idea was that BT would start filling in for about 8,000 trips a year that Rural Transit will be prohibited from making, beginning on Jan. 1, 2024.

In federal transit terms, the extra trips that BT was expected to start covering would start and end inside the “urban area” of Monroe County—but would not be entirely contained within the city. (For a trip with origin and destination both inside the city, Bloomington Transit already provides service.)

One example of such a trip would be from Ellettsville to Walmart on Bloomington’s west side. Another such trip is from Ellettsville to anywhere inside the city limits—like the former location of the IU Health hospital at 2nd and Rogers streets. Trips starting and ending inside Ellettsville are also examples.

It seemed like the only question that needed to be answered by the end of this year was: How much would Monroe County government and the town of Ellettsville pay Bloomington Transit for the service?

But now, it looks like Rural Transit might have found a way around the Section 5311 ban against urban-to-urban trips. And the cost for Rural Transit’s proposal is about 70 percent of BT’s proposal.

So a likely scenario is that Rural Transit will, at least for the next year, continue to provide the same urban-to-urban service that it has in the past. Continue reading “Rural Transit riders might see no change, if parallel service is run to get around urban-to-urban trip ban”

Hiccup for convention center interlocal agreement: ‘Let’s take a breath’ says Monroe County council

It might be next year before all parties have signed an interlocal agreement between Bloomington and Monroe County—in connection with an expansion of the Monroe Convention Center.

The effort to get final consensus on a collaboration between city and county leaders about a convention expansion dates back several years, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

But two weeks ago, both branches of Bloomington’s government approved the interlocal agreement, for the operation of the capital improvement board (CIB) and the convention and visitors commission (CVC)—in connection with the convention center expansion.

Bloomington mayor John Hamilton inked the interlocal on the afternoon of Nov. 15. The city council followed suit that evening, with an uncontroversial vote to approve the interlocal agreement.

The county council and the county board of commissioners were expected to consider and approve the agreement this week.

But the item appeared on Tuesday night’s county council meeting agenda only as a discussion item. And that’s where it remained for Tuesday. No vote was taken, even though councilors expressed a fair amount of solid support for the agreement.

Part of the delay on the county council’s side relates to a request from Bloomington mayor-elect Kerry Thomson, who wrote a letter to Hamilton two weeks ago, asking him not to make strategic decisions that could have an impact lasting into 2024. Continue reading “Hiccup for convention center interlocal agreement: ‘Let’s take a breath’ says Monroe County council”

October 2023 food inspection reports for Monroe County released by health department

Caption: The image links to a dynamic map. (The color coding scheme goes like this: Green=Zero violations; Yellow=At least 1 non-critical violation but no critical violations; Red=At least 1 critical violation.)

Monroe County’s health department has released the reports for inspections of food service operations that were conducted in October 2023

A bit under half (49 of 104) of the places that were inspected in October had no violations.

Recording at least one non-critical violation, but no critical violations were 19 establishments. Recording at least one critical violation were 36 establishments.

Summaries of the inspections completed in March are now available on a list which is published on the health department’s website.

Continue reading “October 2023 food inspection reports for Monroe County released by health department”

Column: A better blueprint for Bloomington city council meetings

In the last four years, one of the more controversial decisions by Bloomington’s city council was the enactment of an ordinance to reinstall stop signs on 7th Street.

This image was generated by AI.

A measure of that controversy was Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s veto of the decision.  Of the three pieces of the legislation that have been vetoed by the mayor in the last eight years, the stop sign veto is the only one that was not overridden by the council.

The stop sign ordinance was a nice illustration of how the balance of power works, between the legislative and executive branches in local government.

But the ordinance was also a case study in the dysfunction that has plagued the internal workings of Bloomington’s city council for nearly the last four years—almost its entire term.

Just like better road design can lead to fewer collisions between vehicles, better city council meeting design might lead to fewer, and less damaging political collisions. Continue reading “Column: A better blueprint for Bloomington city council meetings”

2024 Election Notebook: Deckard announces re-election bid, other county seats open

Appearing for part of the program at Friday’s Canopy of Lights in downtown Bloomington were three local elected officials—Bloomington mayor John Hamilton, and Monroe County commissioners Penny Githens and Julie Thomas.

Trent Deckard, with his family (Kyla Cox Deckard, Lucy, and Madeline) streams live on Facebook the announcement that he is seeking re-election to an at-large seat on the Monroe County council. (Nov. 24, 2023)

So the executives in city and county government were represented on stage.

Off stage, holding up the county’s fiscal end of things, were county councilors Jennifer Crossley, Kate Wiltz, and Trent Deckard.

And at the state level, District 61 house representative Dave Hall held the banner for the General Assembly.

That’s probably not an exhaustive list.

All of the elected officials spotted at the event by the B Square were Democrats, except for Hall, who is a Republican.

The partisan presence at Friday’s event was a good reminder that the local 2024 election season is underway, and has been since the summer. Continue reading “2024 Election Notebook: Deckard announces re-election bid, other county seats open”

Revolting Children, Santa, other usual suspects: 2023 Canopy of Lights in downtown Bloomington

On Friday night, downtown Bloomington was lit up brighter than Rudolph’s nose on Christmas Eve, and the square was packed with people, spilling onto Kirkwood Avenue, which was shut down for the occasion.

It was the traditional day-after-Thanksgiving extravaganza to flip the switch on the strands of lights that connect the courthouse building to buildings around the square—The Canopy of Lights.

Taking the edge of the 36 F degree temperatures were costumed characters, and live radio broadcasts courtesy of B97 & Hoosier Country 105, served up with hot chocolate, cookies, and kettle corn. Continue reading “Revolting Children, Santa, other usual suspects: 2023 Canopy of Lights in downtown Bloomington”

Thanksgiving Day Photos: Some local Bloomington birds that are not turkeys

The photos above were taken inside of 90 minutes on the morning of Thanksgiving Day 2023. To save future archivists one chore, that was Nov. 23, 2023.

The chronological sequence starts with a red-tailed hawk perched on the WFHB antenna just across from the 4th Street parking garage in downtown Bloomington. The photo was taken from the roof of the garage.

From there, The B Square headed north to Miller-Showers Park. The red-shouldered hawk photos were taken at Miller-Showers Park.

After Miller-Showers Park, the next stop was Griffy Lake. That’s where the photos of the woodpeckers and the great blue heron were taken.

These photos are a good reminder that not every great bird is a turkey, not even on Thanksgiving Day.

For people who earn a livelihood writing the news,  Thanksgiving Day is also a good reminder to say thank you to the folks who keep us in business: Thank you, readers!

Below are more photos, including some that were taken on the day before Thanksgiving.

Continue reading “Thanksgiving Day Photos: Some local Bloomington birds that are not turkeys”

Again denied: Bloomington BPW rejects resident’s appeal of citation, OKs cleanup order

On Tuesday night, Bloomington’s board of public works denied the appeal by Joe Davis for a citation by the city—for what the city staff considers to be violations of the health and sanitation parts of city code (Title 6) at his South Washington Street property.

In a separate action, the three-member board granted the request from the city’s housing and neighborhood development (HAND) department for a continuous abatement of Davis’s property. That means that the city can come onto the property and put it into a condition that the city believes is compliant with local code.

After Tuesday’s meeting, Davis told The B Square that he intends to challenge the board’s decisions in the Monroe County circuit court.

Davis has experience with that kind of legal challenge. He represented himself in connection with a previous abatement order, which the city started to enforce in the second week of August.  For that order, Davis did not prevail in his court action, but did run out the clock on the city’s abatement order, which expired on Aug. 11.

This week’s action by the board of public works follows last week’s decision by the city’s board of zoning appeals (BZA), to deny Davis’s appeal of a different citation—for backyard parking and storage (Title 20).

Davis told The B Square he will also challenge the BZA’s decision in circuit court.

On Davis’s property various materials and artifacts are visible, which the city concludes are a violation of local code. B Square photographs of the property are included below.
Continue reading “Again denied: Bloomington BPW rejects resident’s appeal of citation, OKs cleanup order”

Flood damaged Bloomington fire station gets $4.5M in construction contracts OK’d for major renovation

For the last two and a half years, Bloomington’s main fire station on 4th Street has sat unused for fire operations.  That’s because it was damaged in the flood of June 2021.

But construction work on the existing 4th Street station, to put Station 1 back into service, is set to start on Dec. 1.

About $4.5 million in construction contracts for the work was approved by Bloomington’s board of public works at its regular Tuesday meeting.

In an email responding to a B Square question, fire chief Jason Moore called the work “a much needed public safety project that has been in the works since the flood in 2021.”

Serving as a temporary downtown fire station for the last two and a half years has been the former Bunger & Robertson building at 4th and College, which was outfitted with a temporary structure that serves as a firetruck bay. Continue reading “Flood damaged Bloomington fire station gets $4.5M in construction contracts OK’d for major renovation”

Mayoral transition: Bloomington boards have upcoming vacancies, to be filled by city executive

In an open letter dated Nov. 9,  mayor-elect Kerry Thomson made a clarion call to Bloomington residents for them to participate in city government.

people sitting around a table with two empty chairs
This art was generated by

Thomson wrote to residents that her administration would “make it easy for them to participate in their government.”

She added: “That starts now—with you.”

Cited in Thomson’s letter as a path to participation is service on a board or commission, through a mayoral appointment.

She invites residents to apply for an seat on a board or commission

Appointments to boards and commissions also get a mention in a Nov. 14 letter that Thomson sent to current Bloomington mayor John Hamilton.

Thomson includes such appointments in the decisions that she asks Hamilton to refrain from making in his remaining time in office (emphasis in original): “Such decisions would include, but not be limited to, signing new or extensions of contracts, purchasing or conveying property, and making future board and commission appointments.”

Most board and commission terms go through Dec. 31 or Jan. 1, which means several naturally-occurring vacancies will need to be filled. For example, two of the five mayoral appointments to the plan commission end on Jan. 1, 2023.

At least some of the mayor-appointed members of boards and commissions are described explicitly in local law as serving “at the pleasure” of the mayor—like members of the board of public works or the board of public safety.

Seats on those two boards do not have specified term lengths. There’s not a natural point in time for a mayor to swap out one of those board members, by choosing not to re-appoint them.

The request about appointments in Thomson’s letter to Hamilton is not confined to just those board members that are explicitly described in the law as serving “at the pleasure” of the mayor. Continue reading “Mayoral transition: Bloomington boards have upcoming vacancies, to be filled by city executive”