Column: Looking ahead to local government news in 2023 like a goose landing on a half frozen pond

A week ago, up at Miller-Showers Park, a flock of Canada geese banked overhead and came in for a landing on the southernmost stormwater detention pond.

The surface was half frozen, because a couple days before the temperature had dropped to –8 F.

As elegant as geese appear in flight formation, on landing they do not make a picture of grace. They sort of wobble along the final approach, webbed feet akimbo, before mostly crashing into the water.

But they were, of course, unscathed. They started cruising around, dabbling for whatever aquatic plants were under the surface.

That’s somewhat like how local government works: It’s elegant and smooth in theory, but when it lands on some particular topic near you, it might look a little clumsy. You might get splashed.

Where will Bloomington’s area local government land in 2023? Here’s a roundup of spots that is surely not exhaustive.

Elections: Bloomington 2023 city elections. The first day to vote early in the primary elections for city offices is just about three months away—April 4.

The Democratic Party’s field of candidates for mayor will be at least three: Don Griffin, Susan Sandberg, and Kerry Thomson. And the city council candidate field is also starting to get fleshed out. Incumbent at-large councilmember Jim Sims has announced he is not seeking reelection.

But the first day anyone can file paperwork declaring a candidacy for mayor, clerk, or city councilmember is Wednesday, Jan. 4. Previously reported filings by some candidates have just established a campaign committee.

The deadline for declaring a candidacy for a major party’s nomination is Feb. 3. That means in a little over a month, the candidate fields for the Democratic Party’s primary will be set. It is probably unlikely that the Republican Party will see candidates in Bloomington’s city elections this year, but of course nobody can say that for sure.

Primary election day is May 2.

Elections: Monroe County 2024 elections. As soon as the city primary elections are wrapped up, it wouldn’t be surprising to see some jostling start for the Monroe County 2024 elections.

In 2024, all three at-large county council seats are up for election. Now serving in those seats are Democrats Cheryl Munson, Geoff McKim, and Trent Deckard. Also up for election in 2024 are two of the three county commissioner seats—District 2 and District 3.  The incumbents for those seats are Democrats Julie Thomas, and Penny Githens, respectively.

City-County Collaboration: Addressing county jail facility shortcomings? Possibly a topic for 2023 city election campaigns, as well as 2024 county election pre-campaigns, will be how different candidates would approach the failing county jail facility.

But it is current decision makers who will have to sort out how to move forward, after Bloomington’s city council, at its final meeting of the year, unanimously denied a request from county commissioners to rezone some land so that a new jail could be built there.

The 14-member community justice reform committee (CJRC) that is trying to respond to studies delivered by a consultant 18 months ago might decide at least to review and assess an initial decision to construct a new jail facility, as opposed to rehabbing the existing jail.

When Bloomington’s city council rejected the rezone request, some councilmembers called for the inclusion of some city officials as a part of the CJRC. So adding members to the CJRC could be a step taken by county commissioners early in the year.

But the county commissioners will not hold their first meeting of the year until Jan. 11. The CJRC has its next meeting set for Jan. 9.

City-County Collaboration: Expansion of convention center? Another topic that is ripe for 2023 city election campaigns will be how different candidates would approach the currently stalled city-county collaboration on the expansion of the Monroe Convention Center.

Probably one of the first orders of business for the city council  in 2023 will be to consider the override of a late-year mayoral veto of a city council resolution. The resolution called on county commissioners and the mayor to work out the details of an interlocal agreement for commissioners to enact an ordinance to establish a capital improvement board (CIB).

The mayor’s preference is to set up a 501(c)(3) to handle the governance of the convention center expansion.

General Assembly: Sunset of food and beverage tax? One of the reasons there’s some urgency attached to making some progress on the convention center expansion is that last year the state legislature introduced, but did not further consider, a law that would sunset food and beverage taxes across the state.

It’s the food and beverage tax, enacted by the county council in 2017, that is supposed to pay for the convention center expansion. The ability of a county council, to impose a 1-percent food and beverage tax on prepared food and drink sold in the county, is enabled by state law.

A concern for Bloomington area leaders is that state legislators this year will follow through on sunsetting food and beverage taxes across the state, having seen that Bloomington is not using the tax for the purpose it was intended.

Projects in other places, where bonds have been issued based on the food and beverage tax revenue, would still be safe, because the bond obligation would keep the tax in place. No bonds have yet been issued in connection with the planned Monroe Convention Center expansion. Issuing bonds for the Monroe Convention Center expansion seems to be at least a few months away, even with an optimistic timeline.

Newly elected Republican state representative Dave Hall (District 62) told The B Square this past week, he’s not aware right now of any specific plans for legislation on the food and beverage tax in the upcoming session.

General Assembly: Change to local income tax council voting scheme? One tax topic that newly elected Republican state representative Dave Hall (District 62) could speak about with some confidence involves a bill of his own that he will be filing.

Hall’s bill would make the county council the one elected body that is authorized to enact a countywide income tax. Currently, Bloomington’s city council gets a percentage of the vote that is equal to Bloomington’s proportion of the county’s population, as does Ellettsville’s town council. Under the current scheme, the county council gets the leftover percentage of votes not taken by Bloomington and Ellettsville.

One way to think about Hall’s bill is that it would give the county council a proportion of the votes equal to the percent of the county’s population that is represented by the county council—which is 100 percent.

General Assembly: Protections for Lake Monroe? Another bill that Hall will be putting forward would add $2 to the entrance fee for Paynetown SRA and Fairfax SRA on Lake Monroe. The revenue would go to the county government, to be used on water quality improvements for Lake Monroe.

Annexation litigation Unlikely to be resolved by the end of 2023 will be the pending litigation over Bloomington’s annexation of several territories. In one of the lawsuits, remonstrators are asking for additional time to collect petition signatures opposing the annexation.

After a hearing in December, the judge ordered both sides to come up with proposed orders by Jan. 6. A ruling on that initial question of more time for petitioning could take a couple more months.

City council: Climate action? Bloomington’s city council has not yet initiated any legislation in connection with the city’s climate action plan, since it was adopted in April 2021.

But at a couple of meetings held by the city council’s climate action and resilience committee in 2022, the group has started to look at legislation to regulate leaf blowers. One of the recommendations in the climate action plan is to enact a gas-powered lawn equipment phase-out ordinance.

City council: Trash fee increase? A highlight of the preliminary budget talks in 2022 was the idea of a trash cart fee increase, to cover all of the cost for curbside trash and recycling collection in the city. Some councilmembers wanted the administration to put a proposal for a trash fee increase in front of council as soon as fall 2022.

But after the 2023 budget was approved, councilmembers didn’t talk about raising trash cart fees. It could be interesting to watch city council campaigns, if incumbents and challengers have to weigh in on raising trash cart fees.

City council: Streets—Stop signs, traffic calming, scooters? Another likely early-year topic for the city council will be issues related to right-of-way infrastructure.

Late last year, councilmember Dave Rollo put on hold his proposed ordinance that would change the city’s approach to both kinds of process for the installation of greenway projects—resident-led and staff-led processes.

The big policy change in Rollo’s ordinance would be that for both kinds of process, city council approval would be required for an installation. Rollo’s ordinance will likely come back sometime in the first part of the year.

At the city council’s final meeting of the year, on Dec. 21, Rollo also said that he wants to revisit the question of several stop signs on 7th Street, which were removed in connection with the construction of the 7-Line bicycle lane. Rollo wants to consider re-installing stop signs for 7th Street traffic.

Other possible action by the city council in connection with traffic and right-of-way includes reconsideration of the city’s scooter laws. On at least a few occasions in 2022, some councilmembers indicated dissatisfaction with the administration’s handling of scooter parking violations—because the vehicles block ADA ramps and sidewalks.

No fines have yet been issued in more than three years, despite an assurance from city attorney Mike Rouker in July 2019, that if the city council enacted the ordinance to allow scooter companies to use the city right-of-way, that the city would issue fines, if parking violations became an issue.

One possibility is for the city council to rescind the enabling ordinance for scooter companies to operate. The board of public works has for now put off consideration of re-upping the annual contracts for three scooter companies—Bird, Lime and Veoride. The administration is still allowing the companies to operate without a current contract in place.

City council: Meeting procedure. In December, councilmember Matt Flaherty expressed some interest in forming a committee to address issues of meeting procedure. This edition of the city council has been plagued by a bitter divide over its legislative process, since it was sworn into office in January 2020.

A central question: After an ordinance is introduced, Should the city council convene a committee-of-the-whole meeting to deliberate on it before taking a vote at a separate meeting to enact the ordinance? Or should the council instead use smaller standing committees for deliberations before a final vote?

City council: Showers building purchase? At its final meeting of the year, on Dec. 21, the city council postponed consideration of the $8.75-million Showers building purchase, which would be made by the Bloomington redevelopment commission, if the council approves the deal.

On Jan. 18, 2023, the council will again take up the question of buying the western part of the Showers building, to serve as the city’s main police station, and fire department’s administrative headquarters.

But before that, on Jan. 3, a committee of four councilmembers will meet to review the administration’s proposal in more detail. The committee consists of Susan Sandberg, Dave Rollo, Isabel Piedmont-Smith, and Steve Volan.

Other topics to keep an eye out for in 2023 include: the development of the former IU Health hospital site (Hopewell neighborhood); possible changes to Bloomington zoning requirements for ground-floor non-residential and non-parking use; Monroe County’s general zoning overhaul; planning for the Bloomington Transit east-west express route; and the opening of the new branch of the Monroe County Public Library.

The B Square will also keep an eye out for pretty birds in public parks—from the majestic red-tailed-hawks and bald eagles, to the clumsy Canada geese.

Happy New Year!

2 thoughts on “Column: Looking ahead to local government news in 2023 like a goose landing on a half frozen pond

  1. “The mayor’s preference is to set up a 501(c)(3) to handle the governance of the convention center expansion.”

    Um – actually, the mayor’s preference is to remove the county from the governing body so that the city has exclusive control. He’s latched onto the untried 501(c)(3) as a means to that end.

    Given King John’s intransigence and lame duck status and barring any sunset legislation from the legislature, it appears that the public that so clearly opposed the tax will have another year before this particular white elephant is forced upon them.

    1. There was no referendum, so we don’t really know how the community feels. We only know what those who testified said, and they certainly were not all opposed. I was there. Since the city proceeds from the food and beverage tax will fund the convention center and the county’s proceeds won’t, perhaps the city should have total control initially with the 501 c3 and then move to the CIB after the governance has been firmly established.

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