On Wednesday night, Bloomington’s city council gave final approval to the six ordinances that make up the 2024 city budget.
The council’s votes on the six pieces of legislation were nearly unanimous except for the sole dissent of Steve Volan on a couple of items. Volan dissented on the salary ordinance for police officers and firefighters. He also dissented on the basic appropriation ordinance and tax rates for the city’s budget. Finally, he abstained on the salary ordinance for elected officials.
At previous meetings leading up the budget vote, Volan had advocated for a salary increase for the city clerk that was greater than the one the council settled on, which was an increase from $64,773 to $87,000. Some other councilmembers also wanted the city clerk’s pay increase to be higher, but supported the salary ordinance, which also covers the pay for the mayor ($138,031) and councilmembers ($21,153).
Volan’s dissent on pay for police officers and firefighters came after his lack of success in persuading any of his colleagues to join him in supporting an amendment to reduce the number of budgeted sworn officers in Bloomington’s police department from 105 to 95, and to use the savings to increase pay for the remaining 95 officers.
The amendment relied on the idea that the department currently has just 84 sworn officers, and Volan does not think prospects are good for hiring anywhere near 21 additional officers in the coming year. Volan’s proposed amendment failed on a 1–8 vote.
Another amendment proposed by Volan appeared on a path to a 1–8 vote, except that it was eventually withdrawn. The amendment to the basic city budget would have cut expenditures of money that formerly sat in two different CRED (Community Redevelopment Economic District) funds, but was moved to the general fund as required under state statute, when the districts expired.
Volan objected to the idea that the money had not been expended before the districts expired. He also objected to the fact that at least some of the money now appears to be slated to be spent on projects outside of the original CRED districts.
Energetic back-and-forth between Volan and Bloomington mayor John Hamilton unfolded in connection with the amendment, as Volan asked Hamilton how the council could know that the money would be spent in the way that Hamilton had described.
Not including the budgets for city of Bloomington utilities or Bloomington Transit, the total for 2024 came to $145,923,471. Of that total, $66,511,579 was in the general fund.
Sworn police officer pay
By way of background, even though Bloomington’s budget has, for several years included an appropriation for up to 105 sworn police officers, the current number of officers employed by the department is just 84.
That reflects the department’s relative lack of success in attracting new applicants as well as retaining those who are already working in Bloomington. A key factor is pay. The most recent collective bargaining agreement with the police union included a 13% increase in the first year, which was an attempt to make Bloomington police pay more competitive with that of law enforcement agencies in the immediate area.
Volan laid out some numbers. Adding the value of benefits to the $68,000 that first-year police officers receive comes around $86,000, Volan said. If the allocation of $860,000 for 10 positions were instead distributed to the remaining 95 positions, that would roughly work out to an increase of $9,000 per officer, Volan said.
Volan characterized the resulting pay as competitive with that of Monroe County sheriff’s deputies.
“Why are we funding 20 positions that we know we can’t fill, and just paying overtime?” Volan asked.
When Volan asked Wednesday night how much overtime was paid in the police department, it was not a data point that anyone in the Hamilton administration had at their fingertips. Based on numbers in the city’s online financial system, in 2022 a total of $846,964.48 was paid out in overtime in the department (including all employees, not just sworn officers). In 2023, the year-to-date number for overtime pay is $1,192,735.04
During deliberations, councilmember Matt Flaherty drew out the fact that Volan’s strategy of paying the existing officers more would, by itself, not reduce the amount of overtime hours.
Reducing overtime hours would require adding officers. And adding officers at the higher pay rate would require additional funding. Sustaining the higher level of pay for additional officers was a concern cited by councilmember Isabel Piedmont-Smith.
Volan reported that the police union representation was supportive of the amendment, only if the result was increasing the salaries specified in the collective bargaining agreement, not if it were used to pay one-time bonuses. That’s consistent with what The B Square heard from union sources.
Flaherty did not see the amendment as necessary. The administration has the option of using the budgeted money in the way Volan was hoping, even without Volan’s proposed amendment, Flaherty said.
Councilmember Jim Sims disputed the wording in Volan’s amendment, which described the vacant sworn officer positions as “unfillable.” Sims pointed to the newly created and now filled position in the human resources department that is supposed to target recruitment of police officers. Sims indicated that this approach should be given a chance to work.
Bloomington mayor John Hamilton was not ambivalent about the amendment. When asked for the administration’s perspective at Wednesday’s meeting, Hamilton began, “We oppose this amendment.” Hamilton continued, “We do not believe it is appropriate to reduce the funded positions of 105. We continue and have kept that goal in place and continue to pursue it.”
Later Hamilton told Volan, “We certainly agree that it’s difficult to hire police officers right now. That’s true across the country. It’s true here.” Hamilton added, “We’re working very hard to do it. I don’t think this amendment will help us.”
Volan’s quick rejoinder: “Clearly. Thank you.”
Former CRED funds
Proposed by the Hamilton administration, after the initial 2024 budget was first released, was about $20 million in additional spending, using some ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) money as well as two different CRED (Community Redevelopment Economic District) funds.
The CRED money was returned by the state to Bloomington from ordinary taxes paid by businesses in the geographic area for the purpose of infrastructure investments to promote economic development, with revenue overseen by Bloomington’s industrial development advisory commission (BIDAC).
When the CREDs recently expired—and after the BIDAC terminated the districts and dissolved itself—the unspent CRED revenue was transferred to the general fund. That’s where it’s supposed to go under state law.
The amount of CRED money left unspent was $17.3 million, compared to the total of $22 million that the state of Indiana transferred into it. The amount unspent is nearly 80 percent of the total.
The infrastructure projects in Hamilton’s spending package include: downtown and garage enhancements; greenways; matching money for the federal “Safe Streets for All” program; sidewalk improvements; traffic signal modernization and replacement; street pavement for buses and bikes.
Housing projects include: support for affordable home ownership; homeless and very low income support; and workforce rent.
When the council was asked in April to approve the use of $3 million in former CRED funds to support the Trades District technology center project, Volan complained that the administration has, over the years, not used very much of the money that accumulated in the CRED funds for its intended purposes. The other source of Volan’s complaint concerns the requirement that CRED money be spent in the geographic area of the CRED district.
In April, Volan abstained from the vote on the $3 million for the technology center saying he could not vote for or against it.
On Wednesday, Volan proposed an amendment to the basic appropriation ordinance for the city’s budget that eliminated $9,975,000 in proposed appropriations of former CRED funds.
Volan’s proposed amendment got a response from the administration in the form of a memo that was sent to the council an hour before Wednesday’s meeting started.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Volan quizzed deputy mayor Larry Allen about some of the maps in the memo that, to Volan’s eye, proved that the proposed use of the former CRED money was for projects outside the area of the former CRED districts.
Until his recent appointment as deputy mayor, Allen was the assistant city attorney who provided legal counsel to the Bloomington redevelopment commission (RDC). On Wednesday, Allen drew on the same principle that the city uses to justify spending of the tax increment finance (TIF) money that is overseen by the RDC. That’s the idea that the project might not sit geographically inside the TIF district, but it can be analyzed as “serving” the TIF district.
Councimember Matt Flaherty drew out the fact that the CRED districts no longer exist, and that there are no extra legal requirements attached to the money, which is now just like any other general fund money.
Flaherty asked Allen: “So the CRED districts no longer exist—is that right?” Allen replied, “That’s correct.”
Flaherty followed up: “And the money that’s in the general fund can be used for any legal purpose for monies that appear within the general fund—is that right?” Allen again replied, “That’s correct.”
Volan wound up withdrawing his amendment, when it was clear it had no traction with his colleagues on the council.
But the withdrawal did not come before Volan highlighted a general issue that relates to major expenditures planned by the administration and approved by the city council. Volan asked Allen, “I would just like to ask generally, how will this council know, once these projects are funded, that [the administration] will follow what is in this memo?” Volan added, “How would you suggest that we expect to find out how the money was spent?”
Allen responded by saying, “One [way] is you see the results.” Allen added, “And I think that that’s a fair question to ask, in terms of the future budget presentations—to come back and say: This was the pledge last year, how were these funds spent?”
Hamilton also took the chance to respond to Volan’s question. “We think it’s a good idea, in the budget process itself, for the council to say: Show us the performance of the budget.”
With Hamilton now at the mic, Volan confronted the mayor about the Miller-Showers gateway project, for which the council approved the bonds in 2018. Volan noted that his vote of dissent against the bond package that included the gateways had been the only one. At the time, the gateway projects were supposed to include four entryways into the city, but that had been reduced to just one—at Miller-Showers, Volan said.
Volan asked Hamilton, “Why should I believe that the next project you’re proposing now is going to be funded, when this was changed? Do you see what I’m asking?”
Hamilton pointed to the fact that “circumstances change.” Once a design is completed, Hamilton said, it can be discovered that the project will cost more than expected. In that case, it’s necessary to “pivot,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton told Volan, “We’re happy to report on those kinds of things, which we do frequently, and happy to do that more.”
Volan replied, “I guess my point is that this is not sufficient accountability. But thank you.”
|CFRD||+ FTE(s)||After Hours Ambassador||1||$87,998.77|
|Council||+ FTE(s)||Legal Research Assistant||0.2||$14,718.99|
|Engineering||+ FTE(s)||Administrative Assistant||0.5||$32,409.66|
|Engineering||New position||Traffic Engineer||1||$107,722.66|
|Fire||+ FTE(s)||3 Community EMT / Community Paramedic||3||$253,462.71|
|Fire||New position||Assistant Chief of Operations||1||$108,949.73|
|HAND||New position||Program Specialist – Intake & Eligibility and Environmental Reviews||1||$79,196.62|
|HR||New position||Human Resources Coordinator||0.8||$44,606.92|
|ITS||New position||Assistant Systems and Network Administrator||1||$87,998.77|
|ITS||New position||GIS Technician||0.75||$62,965.96|
|Parks & Recreation||+ FTE(s)||Laborer||1||$73,428.76|
|Parks & Recreation||New position||Digital Content Coordinator||1||$84,487.57|
|Parks & Recreation||New position||Special Projects/Data Analyst Manager||1||$87,998.77|
|Pub Works – Animal||+ FTE(s)||Administrative Assistant||0.25||$15,898.79|
|Pub Works – Animal||+ FTE(s)||Administrative Assistant||0.25||$14,142.40|
|Pub Works – Animal||+ FTE(s)||Administrative Assistant||0.2||$11,785.33|
|Pub Works – Animal||New position||Adoption Coordinator||1||$79,196.62|
|Pub Works – Street||New position||Sidewalk Supervisor||1||$81,144.84|
|Pub Works – Parking||+ FTE(s)||Parking Enforcement Officer||2||$140,065.31|
|Pub Works – Street||+ FTE(s)||Laborer||5||$367,143.82|
|Pub Works – Street||+ FTE(s)||Crew Leader||1||$75,684.45|
|Pub Works – Street||+ FTE(s)||Motor Equipment Operator||1||$74,924.11|
|Utilities -Enviro||New position||MS4 Inspector||1||$84,487.57|
|Utilities -Finance||New Position||Purchasing Specialist||0.75||$70,032.65|
|Utilities – T&D||+ FTE(s)||Heavy Equipment Operator||1||$83,845.48|
|Utilities – T&D||+ FTE(s)||Laborer/Utilities Specialist||2||$162,165.79|
|Utilities – T&D||+ FTE(s)||Laborer||0.75||$40,290.44|
|Utilities – T&D||New position||Engineering Field Tech (Canine Team)||1||$81,144.84|
|Utilities – T&D||New Position||Custodian||0.5||$44,320.26|