On Wednesday night, Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s roughly $107 million budget for 2022 was approved on a unanimous vote of the city council.
Two weeks ago some city councilmembers had threatened to vote against it.
After expressing discontent with the mayor’s 2022 budget at their Oct. 13 meeting, and before voting on it, councilmembers had recessed their meeting until this Wednesday.
Approval of next year’s budget came five days ahead of a statutory deadline, which makes Nov. 1 the last day it can be adopted.
Under state law, if the deadline for adoption had been missed, Bloomington would have had to get through 2022 with the same tax rate and levy as specified in the 2021 budget. That would have meant $1.2 million less in general fund revenue than was called for in Hamilton’s 2022 budget.
Hamilton’s 2022 budget fell short of councilmember expectations in two areas—police pay and climate action.
But in remarks explaining their support for the budget, councilmembers pointed to some positive movement on Hamilton’s part that they discerned in the administration’s news release from the day before.
Tuesday’s news release raised two topics on which the council and mayor have not agreed: police pay and climate action.
On Wednesday, there was enough movement by Hamilton on those two areas that councilmembers were willing to support it.
On police pay, there will be no reopening of the current collective bargaining agreement with the police union, one year ahead of the normal cycle, to increase current base pay by $5,000. That had been the specific request from the council.
The interest among councilmembers for implementing an increase to base pay for police is based on the challenges that Bloomington’s police department faces in retention and recruitment. The department is authorized for 105 sworn officers, but currently has just 89 on its force.
Councilmember Susan Sandberg said at Wednesday’s meeting that as of Nov. 10 that number would drop to 88—when another officer will leave Bloomington’s police force to work for another law enforcement agency
But Tuesday’s news release from the mayor gave an assurance that the collective bargaining negotiations for the new 2023 agreement, which have begun this week, will start with a $5,000 base pay increase. Pointing to that commitment, when she described her support for the 2022 budget, was councilmember Sue Sgambelluri.
Sgambelluri said, “For the first time, we saw a statement in writing that the administration will not only provide a $5,000 retention bonus over the next 14 months, but it will also seek the base increase in salary beginning in 2023 that many of us had argued for.”
Their votes in support of the 2022 budget could be based in part on increased confidence that they’ll be able to track the police collective bargaining negotiations better than in years past. At the start of Wednesday’s meeting, they appointed Sandberg as the council’s observer during the collective bargaining sessions.
It’s under a provision of the city code that the city council can have someone at the sessions as an observer. In years past it has been one of the council’s support staff who has attended the collective bargaining sessions.
Some discussion among councilmembers unfolded on Wednesday about whether their representative could have a speaking role and how much of the information they learned during the bargaining sessions could be shared publicly.
Responding to council questions, council administrator Stephen Lucas stressed that the council’s representative should not speak for the full council. City attorney Mike Rouker added that it would be just the two sides—the police union and the administration—that engaged in the back-and-forth, not the council’s attendee.
Sandberg has been one of the strongest advocates on the city council for better police pay.
Councilmember Steve Volan asked Sandberg: “I recognize your strong political opinion here, and I share many of your concerns.” Volan continued, “Do you have any concern about basically, even inadvertently, intervening in what is supposed to be a negotiation between these two independent parties?”
Sandberg responded, “I have no feelings that I could not be anything other than a fair observer. I have looked at all the ground rules. And I will certainly abide by all of them.”
Volan abstained on the vote to appoint Sandberg as the council’s representative.
On the climate front, Tuesday’s news release describes an additional staff position within the economic and sustainability department (ESD). But there was no announcement of a position at the level of a climate action director, as some councilmembers wanted.
Councilmember Piedmont-Smith drew out the fact that the Form 1 budget document included in the council’s meeting information packet had not been changed to reflect the needed transfer from a sanitation budget line to an ESD budget line. That documentation will be provided to the city council later, according to city controller Jeff Underwood.
Councilmember Matt Flaherty expressed disappointment in the fact that it was not a higher level position, but called the creation of an additional ESD job encouraging. Flaherty said, “We do need to increase capacity to administer and implement the climate action plan we’ve adopted, which is a very busy and detailed plan. And I think the additional role in ESD will help us get there, we need programmatic support.”
Also a part of the mayor’s Tuesday news release was the announcement of a pair of $5-million bonds—one to benefit the general fund and the other to benefit parks. Hamilton will ask for city council approval of the bonds in the first half of next year. The bonds would fund various sustainability initiatives.
In connection with the bonds, Sgambelluri asked about the existing level of debt carried by the city. Underwood pegged the outstanding principal at around $153 million, which translates to about $1,800 per capita, based on a population of 85,000, Underwood said. Adding $10 million would raise the per capita debt load to $1,918.
Underwood told Sgambelluri that Bloomington’s per capita numbers are not among the highest of cities in the state.
That squares up with numbers from Indiana’s department of local government finance (DLGF), which maintains a dataset of debt for cities including per capita figures. DLGF uses the 2010 population figure of 80,000 and includes outstanding interest and lease, as well as outstanding principle, in its calculations.
Adding in those factors makes Bloomington’s per capita debt about $3,200 according to the DLGF. Bloomington ranks in the middle of the pack—54th out 122 cities on the DLGF list—for debt per capita. Carmel “leads” the way with a per capita debt figure of $18,200.