2022 Bloomington budget released same day as encampment clearance, includes 6 new on-the-ground, non-sworn public safety positions

Early in the day on Friday, an encampment of people experiencing homelessness under the B-Line bridge at Grimes Lane was cleared by Bloomington city workers.

That was expected, based on Tuesday’s posting of notices near the encampment, with a Friday deadline for vacating.

Later on Friday, Bloomington mayor John Hamilton briefed the press on the proposed 2022 budget that his administration had earlier released to city councilmembers.

The city council will receive presentations from department heads over the course of four meetings next week.  The final budget will be presented to the council in September, with a final vote in October.

Hamilton was asked during the press briefing if there was anything in his 2022 budget to increase resources to help people as soon as they resorted to camping under a bridge, to avoid repeating the pattern of larger encampments followed eventually by a clearance.

Hamilton replied by citing the millions of dollars in the budget for trying to help those who are facing homelessness, or challenges to success in a workplace or educational environment.

Hamilton added, “There’s a lot of investment that we are proposing to help support the housing insecurity task force.” The task force is led by United Way of Monroe County, Community Foundation of Monroe County and the South Central Housing Network, and released a report in July that outlines a plan to make homelessness “rare, brief and non-repeating.”

The 2022 budget includes $1.57 million for “assisting the unhoused or at-risk.” The budget document describes the expenditure like this: “In order to reduce housing barriers, provide assistance to sustain housing first initiatives and help shelter the unhoused, this sub-category includes funding to assist the City and local organizations who are engaged in providing these services.”

This year’s basic city budget—not including City of Bloomington Utilities, the Bloomington Housing Authority or Bloomington Transit—weighs in at $106.6 million. It’s the first time that Bloomington’s basic budget has ever topped $100 million. It’s a 12-percent increase over last year’s figure.

Current city staff will get a $500 essential-worker bonus made possible through the American Rescue Plan Act. Part-timers will get $300.

For non-union city workers the cost-of-living increase to wages would be 2.75 percent.

Also on the personnel side, the budget would add 17.5 new positions, six of them in what could be described as non-sworn on-the-ground public safety positions. Four of the positions would be community service specialists in the police department, who would work under a new director of civilian operations.

Another two new positions would be added to the fire department. They’re called community care specialists. Hamilton described the new jobs as parallel to the community service specialists in the police department, but paying special attention to health needs and emergency response. The fire department would also get a new deputy chief position, to handle administration and planning.

The 911 call center would add three new dispatcher positions.

In the 2022 budget, the number of funded sworn officers would increase from 100 to 105.. ​​The proposed 2021 budget  dropped the number of sworn officers to 100, replacing the five sworn positions with a mix of social workers and neighborhood resource officers.

A largely symbolic resolution of the city council, passed in connection with the 2021 budget, stated that the authorized number of sworn officers was 105, but provided no money in the budget for them.

An additional position in the city clerk’s office rounds out the proposed added positions.

Table: Proposed Added Positions City of Bloomington 2022 Budget

Description Added Count
BPD: sworn officers 5 (for total of 105)
BPD: non-sworn, community service specialists 4
BPD: non-sworn, director of civilian operations 1
Dispatchers 3.5
BFD: community care specialists 2
BFD: deputy chief for planning, administration 1
Clerk’s office 1
Total 17.5

What to expect from budget week: Aug. 23 to Aug. 26

The city council will receive presentations from department heads over the course of four meetings next week.  After each presentation, department heads will field questions from councilmembers. When questions are exhausted, councilmembers will take what they call “straw polls” on the department’s budget.

The straw polls have no legal significance. They are just a way for councilmembers to express their support or dissatisfaction with a department’s budget. Often councilmembers “pass” or “abstain” on a straw poll vote as a milder expression of dissatisfaction than a vote against it would.

The council is not legally required to adopt the administration’s proposed budget. Amendments are possible in the form of cuts. If the budget were to be voted down, the impact would be that the previous year’s property tax levy would be used, instead of the proposed budget’s levy.

This year the proposed property tax levy is 25,482,221, which is a 4.3-percent increase over last year’s $24,428,040. That means for the city council to vote down the 2022 budget would translate into a revenue loss of $1.054 million in property taxes.