County, city leaders review draft interlocal agreement for convention center capital improvement board, set next meeting for Feb. 10

Several Bloomington and Monroe County officials met Monday evening to push ahead the $44-million convention center expansion project. They reviewed a draft interlocal agreement, circulated shortly before the meeting, that is intended to supplement statutory requirements for the eventual formation of a capital improvement board (CIB).

The three county commissioners, in addition to several members of the city and county councils, were joined by Bloomington’s deputy mayor, Mick Renneisen at the meeting they’d set at the end of last year.

Monday’s discussion centered on budgets, land, and appointments.

Specific highlighted topics during the meeting included the timeline and sequencing of annual budget reviews by the city and county for the CIB, and a second, already-existing entity, the convention and visitors commission (CVC).

The draft agreement has the city council reviewing the annual budgets first, with final approval by the county council. That squares up with the two state statutes that enable CIBs and CVCs.

The CIB is an entity that the county commissioners will need to form through enactment of an ordinance. Its work will be funded through proceeds from the 1-percent food and beverage tax.

The CVC, which already exists and now handles operations of the current convention center, is funded through the county’s innkeeper’s tax.

Another specific agenda item on Monday was the identification of land parcels to be transferred to the CIB by the city and the county, respectively. An exhibit that was supposed to be a part of the document, showing the real estate to be contributed, was not yet included in the draft.

Some disagreement emerged about the answer to the question: Should the county transfer to the CIB its land on North Walnut where Visit Bloomington currently sits?

County commissioners were inclined to say that real estate should not be transferred to the CIB, because it’s not likely to be used for the convention center expansion. Renneisen advocated for transferring the land to the CIB.

Renneisen reasoned that the land had been purchased with the innkeeper’s tax, and inherent in the concept of the city-county partnership was equitable control over proceeds of two kinds of taxes: the food and beverage tax and the innkeeper’s tax. The city is bringing most of the countywide food and beverage tax to the table, while the county is bringing future revenues and past assets acquired through the innkeeper’s tax.

Commissioner Penny Githens countered that the Visit Bloomington property was not purchased with the idea that it would be a part of the convention center project., so shouldn’t be transferred to the CIB. Renneisen suggested that the CIB would eventually have a bigger scope than just the convention center. It would be more broadly responsible for tourism and economic development, Renneisen said.

Also getting some discussion on Monday was the way the city and county will each make their three appointments to the seven-member CIB. Will it be specified in the interlocal agreement that the mayor or the city council makes the three city appointments? Or will city officials be left to negotiate that point among themselves? Renneisen told the group he was meeting with city council officers on Tuesday and they would go over that issue.

City councilmember Matt Flaherty weighed in for the idea that the specific bodies making the appointments should be nailed down in the interlocal agreement.

Although Monday’s meeting attendees did not try to wordsmith the draft too much, one phrase did get struck by general census in a couple of places: “Neither Council shall have veto power over the other…” The phrase related to approval of the annual budgets for the CIB and the CVC.

It wasn’t that anyone wanted one side to have veto power. A consensus appeared to be that the word “veto” raised an unneeded political specter. The consensus was that a failure of the two sides to reach agreement would just mean that the previous year’s annual budget would be carried over to the following year.

The next meeting among city and county officials is set for Feb. 10. A later date was floated, but commissioner Julie Thomas reflected the majority view that they should meet as soon as possible by saying, “Let’s be bold!”

County and city legal staff will try to have a draft reflecting Monday’s discussion ready by Feb. 3, to allow for a week’s time to review.  A CIB could be enacted by county commissioners sometime in the coming weeks.