Bloomington park commissioners give initial OK to issue $5.8M in bonds for transportation projects

At a special meeting on Wednesday, Bloomington’s board of park commissioners kicked off a process to issue $5.8 million worth of bonds to fund several projects.

map of the city of Bloomington with green highlights showing proposed bond projects
The dotted line for the Dunn Street project indicates the portion of the proposed path that has challenging terrain. The rest is relatively flat.

Most of them are non-motorized transportation projects. The one clear exception is a $25,000 project to replace gasoline-powered with electric-powered equipment.

At Wednesday’s meeting, director of park operations Tim Street gave some examples of the type of hand-held equipment that could be replaced: weed eaters; mowers; backpack blowers; hedge trimmers; and chainsaws.

Street also said the department is looking to buy some battery-powered riding lawn mowers and to test them out by giving them heavy use.

The parks bonds are half of a general obligation bond package that Bloomington mayor John Hamilton unveiled two weeks ago, along with $17 million worth of projects that could be funded with a local income tax increase.

The resolution adopted by the park commissioners includes the projects in Exhibit A. About those projects, the resolution states: “The Board preliminarily finds that it is necessary for the public health and welfare and will be of public utility and benefit to proceed with the Projects.”

Final approval by the board of park commissioners is expected on April 26. That’s when Wednesday’s resolution says a public hearing will take place.

Between now and April 26, the parks bonds are supposed to be introduced at the city council’s April 6 meeting, discussed at the city council’s April 13 committee meeting and voted up or down on April 20.

Here are the verbatim descriptions of the projects attached to the resolution that was approved Wednesday on a 4–0 vote by park commissioners:

Parks Bond Project List (in priority order for city administration)

  • Replace various gas-powered equipment with electrically-powered equipment
  • Replace missing sidewalk on Rogers St. by Switchyard Park
  • Addition of protected bicycle lanes along Covenanter Drive (from College Mall to Clarizz Blvd)
  • Construction of North Dunn Street multiuse path (from the SR 45/46 Bypass to Old SR 37)
  • Griffy Loop Trail dam crossing and community access\ improvements
  • Implementation of West 2nd Street modernization, including new signalization and protected bicycle lanes (from Walker Street to BLine trail)
  • Construction of a pathway to connect Lower Cascades Park to Miller Showers Park (Phase 6)

The Dunn Street project just covers design, not construction, but the city has hopes that a state grant might help fund the actual construction, according to planning services manager Beth Rosenbarger.

The $5.8 million for the parks bond total is at the limit for a “controlled project” under state law. In 2017 the threshold for controlled projects was raised from $2 million to $5 million plus a growth quotient each year.  The amount above $5 million reflects the growth quotient.

They’re called “controlled projects” because any greater general obligation bond issuance would be under the control of potential remonstrators, who could push the issue to a referendum.

The projects in the current parks bond proposal are listed out with a minimum and maximum range. At $8.5 million, even the sum of the minimum ranges exceeds $5.8 million. That means the projects could be winnowed down by the city council and possibly reprioritized.

Controller Jeff Underwood told the park commissioners on Wednesday that he estimates the increased property tax rate to pay the debt service on the bonds at 3.3 cents. Bloomington’s current general fund property tax rate is about 61 cents.

For a property with an assessed value of $250,000, subtracting the $45,000 homestead deduction leaves $205,000. The supplemental deduction of 35-percent on that remainder leaves $133,250 as the net assessed value.

So an extra 3.3 cents of tax on that net assessed value ($133,250*.00033) would work out to $43.97 more in property taxes per year.

A frequent point that has been made by Bloomington resident Greg Alexander during public commentary at various meetings concerns the management of multi-modal path projects—like those that are included in the current parks bond proposal. Alexander contends that such path projects should be led by transportation and engineering staff, not parks staff.

Why are such projects funded through bonds issued by the board of park commissioners?

At least part of the reason is related to statutory debt limits.

Controller Jeff Underwood told park commissioners on Wednesday that the city generally has a debt limit equal to 2 percent of the adjusted value of taxable property in the city. [IC 36-1-15-6]

But the park bonds don’t count toward that limit. [IC 36-10-4-35]

If it’s possible to analyze the project as related to parks and recreation, then it might be viewed as the city’s strategic financial advantage to issue bonds through the parks board, because that leaves the debt capacity available for other types of projects.

The same information is included in The B Square’s [Shared Google Sheet] Numbers in parens reflect the Hamilton administration’s priority ranking.

Table: GO Bonds Sorted by Category and Cost 
Bond Type Item Min Estimate Max Estimate
Parks GO Bond (7) Cascades Phase 6 -path/connection to Miller Showers Park $3,200,000 $3,200,000
(3) Covenanter Drive Protected Bicycle Lanes (College Mall to Clarizz Blvd) $2,400,000 $2,880,000
(6) W. 2nd Street Modernization, Protected Bike Lanes (Walker St to B-Line) $1,500,000 $1,500,000
(4) N Dunn St Multiuse Path (45/46 Bypass to Old SR 37) $800,000 $960,000
(5) Griffy Loop Trail dam crossing and community access $375,000 $375,000
(2) Replace missing sidewalk on Rogers St. by Switchyard Park $200,000 $200,000
(1) Replace gas powered equipment with electric equipment $25,000 $25,000
Parks GO Bond Total $8,500,000 $9,140,000
Public Works GO Bond High Street Multiuse Path, Intersection Modernize (Arden Dr to 3rd St) $2,500,000 $5,000,000
Energy efficiency retrofits for all City buildings $1,000,000 $3,000,000
City fleet vehicle hybrid/ electrification fund $1,200,000 $2,200,000
Citywide LED conversion of street lights $1,500,000 $2,000,000
Sidewalk projects (TBD) $300,000 $1,000,000
Downtown ADA Curb Ramps (e.g., W Kirkwood and Indiana Ave) $500,000 $1,000,000
Create green waste yard at Lower Cascades Park $400,000 $500,000
Citywide traffic signal retiming $42,500 $425,000
GPS for city fleet $250,000 $250,000
Public Works GO Bond  Total
$7,692,500 $15,375,000
TOTAL $16,192,500 $24,515,000


2 thoughts on “Bloomington park commissioners give initial OK to issue $5.8M in bonds for transportation projects

  1. Astute point: “If it’s possible to analyze the project as related to parks and recreation, then it might be viewed as the city’s strategic financial advantage to issue bonds through the parks board, because that leaves the debt capacity available for other types of projects.”

    Bonds are a way to attempt an end-run around reasonable financial controls to insure prudent stewardship of property tax dollars. Past time for Council to put the brakes on over reach spending. Fund the police, take strategic steps to transition to electric power, enhance efficient building energy usage, and provide critical sidewalks especially in under-served areas. But call a halt to the amenity-driven vanity projects.

    1. ‘Vanity project’… interesting. I had thought of it more as a military-industrial-congressional complex sort of analogy, think of it as the consultant-contractor-banker/lawyer/politician complex. It’s almost as if the banker/lawyer/politician got all of the consultants and contractors into a room and asked them ‘What do you want for Christmas boys and girls?’ and then had to tell them that he couldn’t possibly market half of that stuff as liberal feel-good solutions but he’d do the best he could. Getting the funding is tricky, as discussed above. But he’s working on it.

      I am as generous as the next guy, I suppose, and I am very much in favor of real solutions to issues like racial equity and global warming. But the problem is that when the banker/lawyer politician runs for his daddy’s congressional seat, or whatever the next rung on the ladder happens to be, and the consultants and contractors just happen to – out of the blue – make a campaign contribution to the said banker/lawyer/politician it just doesn’t look right. I think the technical term for this is ‘appearance of impropriety’. I know the hearts of the contractors and consultants are pure and as much as I support the idea of the politician developing his full potential as a banker/lawyer somewhere else, I would nonetheless hate to see the contractors’ and consultants’ good names sullied by such an appearance, so I too am hoping that the Council will demur at the prospect of playing ‘congressional’ in the military-industrial-congressional complex analogy.

      And I am troubled by a report from an individual who used the public comment period two Council meetings ago. He indicated that a bike path that had been promised years ago has not yet materialized and that this is supposedly ‘in process’ with the Parks Department being the responsible party.

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