On Wednesday, when a decision was scheduled on the 2022 Bloomington budget, the city council chose to recess its meeting without voting, less than 90 minutes after it was called to order.
The recess came when it became apparent that the mayor’s budget did not have majority support on the nine-member council to pass that night.
Some councilmembers, like Dave Rollo, say that in order to support the 2022 budget, it has to include a re-opening of the collective bargaining agreement with the police union and a $5,000 base pay increase for sworn officers.
Other councilmembers, like Isabel Piedmont-Smith, say that in order to support the 2022 budget, it has to include an appropriation for a new job at the city—director of climate action.
That’s not an exhaustive list of all the changes councilmembers say they want to see, before they’ll vote to adopt the 2022 budget.
In any case, councilmembers want Bloomington mayor John Hamilton to make further revisions to the roughly $107 million budget, before they take it up again in two weeks. That amount does not include the budgets for Bloomington Transit (BT) and city of Bloomington utilities (CBU).
Before recessing its meeting, the council approved two of the appropriation ordinances that are part of the six-ordinance package of legislation that makes up the annual budget. Getting unanimous approval were the budgets for BT and city of Bloomington utilities CBU.
On Oct. 27, in addition to the appropriation ordinance for the basic city budget, the council will still have on its agenda three salary ordinances—one for police and fire, one for other city employees, and one for elected officials.
In remarks before the council took up consideration of the city budget, Hamilton framed the council’s potential action on Wednesday as consisting of three choices on his 2022 budget: (1) adopt it; (2) reduce it, then adopt it; or (3) reject it.
The option to reduce, but not increase, is based on state law, which says the city council does not have the option to increase specific item estimates, without the agreement of the mayor.
Hamilton’s Wednesday framing followed a memo sent by the mayor to the council on Tuesday, which consisted of a list of benefits that would come from adopting the budget, followed by a list of negative impacts that would come from failing to adopt it.
Setting the stage for Wednesday, three councilmembers had said during committee deliberations two weeks ago that they’d support the 2022 budget: Susan Sandberg, Ron Smith, and council president Jim Sims.
Saying at the committee meeting that they’d vote no were: Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Matt Flaherty, Kate Rosenbarger, and Steve Volan.
Not indicating support or non-support were Sue Sgambelluri and Dave Rollo.
That seemed to set up Rollo and Sgambelluri as the bellwethers on Wednesday’s adoption of the 2022 budget.
But at Wednesday’s meeting, it was Sandberg who gave an early hint that one way or another, the council would not be adopting the budget that night.
Sandberg floated a question for Hamilton: “So my question is, rather than give us these stark choices, you either accept this budget, hold your nose and vote for it, even though there are parts of it that you think are actually going to be quite harmful to the city, or you scuttle it, and cause all kinds of havoc for the city…or we sit down at the table and we try to negotiate some of these reprioritizations.”
Sandberg then repeated the question in point-blank form: “Are you willing to sit down and continue to negotiate with some of us on making sure that this budget is palatable?”
Hamilton’s answer: “I’ve certainly been willing to talk to any council member for the last six months about priorities. And we have the ordinance in front of you.” Hamilton added, “I hope you’ll adopt it tonight. We are running up against a pretty tight deadline. We’ve tried to give plenty of time for those discussions, but my door is always open.”
The deadline to which Hamilton referred is before Nov. 2.
After leaving the door open to supporting the budget during the council’s committee meeting, Rollo indicated on Wednesday that he wouldn’t support the budget, because it did not address his concerns about recruitment and retention of police officers. Rollo said, “I’m deeply troubled by the lack of substantive recognition of the deteriorating situation in the police department.”
Rollo continued, “Retention and recruitment has to be addressed not by one-off bonuses, but by an increase in base pay so that we are competitive with other cities.” Rollo added, “It’s a matter of priorities. So I’m just astounded that this hasn’t been done. And I can’t support the budget at this time without that provision for public safety.”
From the committee meeting tally, Rollo’s lack of support on Wednesday was a strong indication the budget would not get majority support, if the vote were taken that night.
Failure to adopt the appropriation ordinance that sets the 2022 tax rates and levy before Nov. 2 would mean a loss the the general fund of $1.2 million. Under state law, the failure to adopt a new levy results in the continuation of the previous year’s levy. That would mean using the $24.3 million from 2021 instead of the $25.5 in Hamilton’s 2022 levy.
The city council’s decision to delay, instead of voting down the basic city budget, means at least for now that the city council is avoiding a significant revenue loss to the general fund.
During Wednesday’s deliberations, councilmember Sue Sgambelluri drew out the fact that the failure to adopt the 2022 budget would not mean a similar loss in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding, even though the 2022 budget relies on $10.1 million in proposed ARPA spending.
A failure to adopt the 2022 budget would also not mean a loss in the $1 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act money, which the budget would spend on IT infrastructure replacements.
If the council does not adopt the 2022 budget, then the expenditures relying on ARPA and CARES money funds could be funded with some other appropriation ordinance that is brought sometime later by the administration to the council.
The money that depends on the 2022 budget adoption is the $1.2 million general fund levy increase.
Sgambelluri came close to suggesting a specific technical change in the budget. She noted that Hamilton’s budget puts recurring general fund money towards increasing the number of non-sworn officer positions in the police department. Hamilton’s budget uses one-time ARPA money for $1,000-per-quarter retention bonuses for sworn officers.
Based on her remarks, it sounds like Sgambelluri is looking for the administration to flip that approach, by putting recurring general fund revenue towards increases in sworn officer pay and possibly one-time ARPA money towards new non-sworn positions.
In the second week of September, the council approved a resolution, with support from seven councilmembers, that expressed support for increasing base pay of police officers by $5,000.
The pay increase is intended to help stem unexpected departures from the police department by sworn officers. At last count, Bloomington’s police department has 89 sworn officers, when 105 are authorized. The pay increase is also hoped to aid with recruitment of new officers.
Increasing base pay would require re-opening the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the police union. The current CBA runs through 2022. Negotiations for the new contract would normally start next year, but Hamilton has said he’s willing to start that before the end of 2021.
About the difference between Hamilton’s proposed retention bonuses and increases in base pay, Sgambelluri said on Wednesday, “There is a qualitative difference between one-time bonus dollars and an ongoing investment that actually conveys the value we place and that actually responds to the problems that most urgently need our attention right now.”
Sgambelluri summed up: “I think we have some room for additional work.”
After Sandberg, Sgambelluri, and Rollo weighed in, it was already clear that the 2022 budget would not be adopted on Wednesday.
Adding her support for the option of asking Hamilton to make revisions to the budget, and to bring the revised budget to the council sometime before Nov. 2, was Isabel Piedmont-Smith.
Piedmont-Smith made a pitch for the creation of a new position: director of climate action. It’s not just that the position is needed, she said, it needs to be created at a high level in the organization.
Piedmont-Smith said, “We need them at a level that can talk directly to department heads and make sure that all decisions made by department heads at all layers of government, all departments of government, take climate as a chief concern and a chief guiding factor of mitigating and preparing for climate change.”
The motion to recess the meeting until Oct. 27 at 6:30 p.m. was made by Sandberg. It passed on an 8–1 vote, with Volan dissenting.