Bloomington Transit board OKs budget for presentation to city council, plans for limited replacement of Rural Transit service

Bloomington Transit’s 2024 budget, as adopted by the board at its meeting last Tuesday, is about $280,000 more than the draft presented a month ago by BT general manager John Connell.

At around $26.6 million, it’s still less than this year’s $35-million budget, which included significant amounts for acquisition of new buses.

The other notable topic of discussion at Tuesday’s board meeting was the city council’s action, taken the previous week, to give BT the legal authority to operate outside the city limits of Bloomington anywhere in Monroe County.

Still to be negotiated are interlocal agreements between BT and other entities, so that BT can provide service to non-city residents who previously were served by Rural Transit. Under the ordinance, the interlocal agreements have to be “equitable in relation to the level of support city residents already provide to the Bloomington Public Transportation Corporation.”

The additional amount in the board’s adopted budget, compared to the draft presented a month ago, includes two more positions—a maintenance supervisor position, and an IT specialist. The additional budgeted amount also includes paying for a lobbyist to support BT’s efforts to get federal discretionary funds for additional land, as well as building improvements. Also in the additional budgeted amount is money for rebranding BT.

The additional $280,000 bumped the amount in the draft expenditure budget from $26,325,361 to $26,607,394.

That’s the amount that will be presented to the city council during departmental budget hearings a little over a week from now, on Tuesday, Aug. 29. It’s the city council that exercises final budgetary approval for BT, even though it is a separate corporation.

The vote on 2024 budget by the five-member BT board was 5–0 in favor, which included the vote of former deputy mayor and former candidate for mayor Don Griffin. He was appointed by Bloomington mayor John Hamilton starting Aug. 1, according to the city’s onboard information system.

Griffin replaces Marilyn Hartman, whose term ended July 31 this year, and whose board service started in 2017, according to onboard. Other BT board members are: James McLary, Doug Horn, Kent McDaniel, and Nancy Obermeyer

Part of the revenue in BT’s 2024 budget is provided by an agreement with Indiana University, to allow university affiliates to board BT buses without paying an individual fare. The value of the agreement approved by the board last Tuesday is $1,191,440.

There will be a little less revenue from Indiana University in 2024, because BT will no longer be fueling and cleaning IU campus buses. That service generated about $94,000 in revenue for BT in this year’s budget.

But at Tuesday’s meeting, Connell said that washing and refueling IU campus buses was a break-even proposition for BT. And BT struggled to hire enough wash crew members, Connell said, which made it a high-risk, low-reward type of proposition. That’s why BT stuck that provision from the IU agreement, Connell indicated.

When Connell presents the BT budget to the city council on Aug. 29, one there’s one big question councilmembers will likely have: How is BT planning to spend the roughly $4 million in annual local income tax (LIT) revenue that the city of Bloomington has allocated to BT? That’s about a quarter of the $16 million the city of Bloomington receives, as a result of the increase to the LIT enacted by the city council in 2022.

Here’s the breakdown of BT’s planned 2024 expenditures, based on Bloomington’s LIT allocation:

2024 planned LIT expenditures by Bloomington Transit
Amount Description
$200,000 two staff positions (marketing and development; and grants and procurement)
$200,000 microtransit (late nite Uber/Lyft subsidy)
$300,000 Sunday service
$75,000 fare subsidy
$2,494,746 land acquisition
$600,000 architecture, engineering for Grimes Lane HQ
$0 Green Line (east-west express route) will complete Phase I and II studies
$3,869,746 Proposed 2024 LIT Projects Total

It was the prospect of establishing an east-west express connection across town—which BT is branding as the Green Line—that helped persuade city councilmembers to allocate roughly $4 million of LIT revenue to BT every year. Connell noted that there’s not anything explicitly to support the Green Line in the 2024 budget, but pointed to the land acquisition as related to the Green Line.

Connell said that operating the Green Line means adding buses to BT’s fleet. Adding buses to the fleet means more space is needed to store and maintain them. More space could come from acquiring more land. That’s why about $2.5 million is included in the 2024 budget—to provide the local match for a potential federal grant that would pay for part of the land acquisition.

Potential federal grants to support land acquisition and remodeling of the Grimes Lane facility are also the impetus for the $100,000 that Connell has put in the 2024 budget for a lobbyist.

At Tuesday’s meeting, board members had words of congratulations for Connell about the city council’s action the previous week, which gives BT the legal authority to operate countywide.

Connell stressed that BT’s intent is to replace only those Rural Transit trips that Rural Transit can no longer legally provide as of Jan. 1, 2024. Those are trips that start and end inside the urban area of Monroe County as defined by the U.S. Census.

Connell noted that the work of negotiating the “equitable” interlocal agreements is yet to come—and that needs to be done before Jan. 1, 2024. That is when Rural Transit will no longer have the legal authority provide about 30-35 trips a day, due to enforcement of a existing federal funding rule.

Who should be at the table when the negotiation of the equitable agreements take place, was the topic of comment from the public mic at the end of Tuesday’s meeting. Weighing in for consideration of affected riders was Stone Belt board member Jason McAuley.

McAuley gave an example of the kind of Rural Transit passengers who currently get service from Rural Transit. McAuley told the BT board that Stone Belt has a client who has been working at Nick’s for 20 years, who lives in Ellettsville. About that client, McAuley said, “He is going to need you guys to step up to help him get to that job.”

About that Nick’s employee, McAuley said, “He provides services, and he’s working in a labor market where everybody’s looking for workers. That’s what we’re encouraging.” It’s part of Stone Belt’s “employment first” approach, where they encourage their clients to be self determined, McAuley said.