Bloomington budget notebook 2024: City council questions, staff answers

In the city council’s information packet for this Wednesday’s (Sept. 27) special meeting, Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s administration  has provided responses to several questions  from councilmembers about the proposed 2024 budget

Screenshot of one page of the ordinance with the basic city ordinance.

The special meeting is the occasion of the formal first reading of the 2024 budget.

Right after the special council meeting, a committee-of-the-whole meeting will be convened, when councilmembers will discuss each of the half dozen ordinances that make up the budget package.

The committee-of-the-whole meeting will also be a chance for the public to weigh in on those ordinances.

The six ordinances include three that are focused just on salaries—one ordinance each for: police officers and firefighters; non-union and AFSCME employees; and elected officials. The other three ordinances set the tax rates and appropriations for: the basic city budget; city of Bloominton utilities; and Bloomington Transit.

The six ordinances making up the 2024 budget are scheduled for a final adoption vote on Oct. 11.

The administration’s answers to city council questions run 43 pages. Councilmembers submitted the questions in writing after the departmental budget hearings at the end of August.

The B Square has parsed the table of questions and answers into a shared Google Sheet, so that the questions can be viewed by department, by councilmember, or filtered based on keywords.

Six councilmembers submitted a total of 85 questions. No questions from councilmembers Kate Rosenbarger, Susan Sandberg, or Ron Smith are included in the document.

The questions range from topics like the “parking cashout” program to the total amount of debt carried by the city.

The “parking cashout” program was designed so that employees at city hall could receive a lump sum payment, instead of purchasing a $2 annual parking permit to park in the city hall lot when they drive to work.

The administration had implemented the program only after being pushed to do so over a few years, by councilmembers Steve Volan, Matt Flaherty, Isabel Piedmont-Smith, and Kate Rosenbarger.

Piedmont-Smith asked why the “parking cashout” had been canceled. The administration’s response indicated that in the first year of a pilot program, just 17 city hall employees participated in the program and received the $250 “cash out” for 2022. The next year the amount was doubled to $500, but that again resulted in just 17 participants.

The city is instead planning to implement a program that allows any city employee, not just those at city hall, to demonstrate they commuted to work by walking, bicycling, riding the bus or carpooling, in order to receive incremental rewards that can total up to $500 a year.

Sue Sgambelluri asked about the amount of debt per capita that Bloomington carries. The answer from the controller’s office was about $238.7 million in total direct debt. Bloomington is middle-of-the-pack for debt per capita, among Indiana cities with the largest population, according to the administration’s answer.

That ranking squares up with the latest figures from the state’s DLGF (Department of Local Government Finance) Gateway.

Here’s what those numbers look like for the 25 largest cities in Indiana (except for Indianapolis):

3 thoughts on “Bloomington budget notebook 2024: City council questions, staff answers

  1. Tippecanoe and Monroe counties, being relatively small communities with large student populations, are often statistically anomalous. For many years they were the two counties with the lowest unemployment rates, not because their economies were particularly robust, but because full time students are excluded when calculating the potential labor force. Yet many students do work and their jobs, derived from unemployment insurance payroll data, were included in Local Area Unemployment Statistics.

    Between the dorms and the Greek houses IU houses about 20,000 students. No property tax is paid by IU. Large numbers of students don’t work and don’t pay the Local Income Tax. I wonder how big an effect effect this has on Bloomington’s ability to service the debt, and whether per capita debt might be a misleading metric for college towns like Bloomington and West Lafayette.

    1. Statistics are indeed different in those counties (witness the recent misleading kerfuffle about the poverty rate) but the right thing to do is just consider other comparisons, such as debt/total property value or debt/sales revenue volume.

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