2024 budget notebook: Monroe County council looks to do more for lower-paid workers

Monroe County council on Oct. 3, 2023 clockwise from left: Cheryl Munson, Marty Hawk, Geoff McKim, Kate Wiltz, Jennifer Crossley, Peter Iversen, and Trent Deckard.

At its work session on Tuesday night, the Monroe County council took up some leftover issues from its deliberations on the 2024 budget—salaries towards the upper end of the scale,  as well as those at the lower end.

Towards the higher end of county compensation, though not at the very top of the scale, are the salaries for elected officials like auditor, assessor, clerk, coroner, commissioners, county councilors, recorder, surveyor, and treasurer.

The county council settled on increasing the salaries of elected officials by 8.5 percent, compared to 2023. That’s the same percentage increase that other county workers will receive.

The council also agreed on Tuesday that for some jobs on the lower end of the county’s salary grid, they would increase the pay by 55 cents an hour—on top of the 8.5 percent increase that other employees will receive. Those lower-paid jobs are classified as COMOT (computer, office machine operation, technician) in the county’s salary grid. Continue reading “2024 budget notebook: Monroe County council looks to do more for lower-paid workers”

$8M in construction bids awarded for Bloomington technology center, more to come

Ahead of the scheduled ceremonial groundbreaking on Thursday, about $8 million in construction contracts have been awarded to build a technology center in Bloomington’s Trades District, which is part of a certified technology park in the downtown.

It was Bloomington’s redevelopment commission (RDC) that approved the construction contracts, at its regular meeting on Monday. At a special meeting last Wednesday, the RDC had approved an extra $3.8 million in funding for the center, which now has a budget of  about $12.8 million.

Wednesday’s special meeting had already been put on the calendar, before the opening of bids last Tuesday, in case the bids came in higher than budgeted, and they did.

Awarded at Monday’s meeting were the contracts for bid package #1 (site work), and for the bid packages #2 (general trades) and #4 (roofing).

The $1,248,142 contract for site work went to E&B paving. The contracts for general trades and roofing were awarded to Building Associates, Inc. for a total of $6,746,000. Continue reading “$8M in construction bids awarded for Bloomington technology center, more to come”

Analysis: Bloomington OKs public offering of Hopewell land with apparent mistake in description

At its regular Monday meeting, Bloomington’s redevelopment commission (RDC) approved a public offering of property south of 1st Street opposite the location of the former IU Health hospital.

Responding to a question raised by The B Square, about the accuracy of the textual description of the three separate pieces of land, the board amended their motion on the offering before adopting it.

The new motion required city staff to add a map—one that is labeled numerically for each of the three parcels.

Based on the map that the board asked to be added, it might be possible to tell exactly what land the city is putting up for sale.

But an apparent mistake in the textual description was allowed to remain. Continue reading “Analysis: Bloomington OKs public offering of Hopewell land with apparent mistake in description”

Life Chain demonstration against abortion gives Bloomington annual test of its ‘digital divide’

On Sunday, the reaction to the annual Life Chain demonstration against abortion, from motorists along Bloomington’s 3rd Street, could be measured in the difference between the digits of the human hand—a thumb turned up in approval, versus the middle finger turned skyward in scorn.

That’s what one local organizer of the event, Carole Canfield, calls the annual “digital divide” that is provoked by the demonstration.

It’s part of a national Life Chain demonstration, which is an annual event that started in 1987.

Clusters of people, in some cases families, were gathered along 3rd Street heading west into town, holding signs reading “Stop Abortion Now,” “Abortion Kills Children,” “Adoption: Loving Option,” and other similar statements. Continue reading “Life Chain demonstration against abortion gives Bloomington annual test of its ‘digital divide’”

Monroe County pay raises: Final discussions appear mostly done, but not for elected official salaries

About four hours into a meeting last Tuesday, Monroe County council president Kate Wiltz was looking to wrap up a topic that was leftover from discussions of the 2024 budget—pay increases for elected officials.

The elected positions under discussion are: auditor, assessor, clerk, coroner, commissioners, county councilors, recorder, surveyor, and treasurer.

Wiltz announced, “I would entertain a motion on what we should do with elected officials and their chief deputies, with respect to 2024.”

In the Nat U. Hill room of the Monroe County courthouse, where the county council meets, Wiltz’s invitation was met with about 20 seconds of silence.

“All right. Wow. We have to do something,” Wiltz said.

But on Tuesday, the council left open the question of pay increases for elected officials in 2024. The topic of pay for elected officials will be taken up on the night of the county’s budget hearing, which is set for  Oct. 3 at 5:30 p.m.

If the county council decides to treat elected officials like all other employees, they’ll get an 8.5-percent raise.

Even though the county council did not reach a consensus on pay increases for electeds, they did settle on an approach for some other employee categories that, until Tuesday, had been open questions. Continue reading “Monroe County pay raises: Final discussions appear mostly done, but not for elected official salaries”

Bloomington still looking for annexation trial to start sooner, not later

The city of Bloomington is now executing a two-pronged approach to overcoming a setback in early September, in its effort to get a standard annexation trial moving ahead.

In early September, special judge Nathan Nikirk put off a standard judicial review of the Area 1A and Area 1B annexations, which were approved by Bloomington’s city council two years ago. The areas are located to just to the west of the city boundary.

Nikirk’s Nov. 5 ruling said that the standard annexation trials for Area 1A and Area 1B would be delayed, until Bloomington’s related, but separate litigation—over constitutional questions related to annexation waivers—is resolved. At the time, resolution seemed like a couple years away.

But that separate litigation is now resolved—at least as far as it affects Area 1A and Area 1B. On Sept. 19, special judge Kelsey Hanlon out of Owen County granted Bloomington’s motion for dismissal of the Area 1A and Area 1B constitutional cases, and agreed to reconsolidate just the five remaining lawsuits.

That appears to satisfy the “until” condition in Nikirk’s Sept. 5 order. That is, the separate litigation, as it relates to Area 1A and Area 1B, is now resolved.

With Hanlon’s dismissal now in hand, Bloomington has requested that Nikirk lift his order  on the delay, so that Bloomington can go ahead and make its case to Nikirk for the annexations. Continue reading “Bloomington still looking for annexation trial to start sooner, not later”

August 2023 food inspection reports for Monroe County released by health department

Caption: The image links to a dynamic map of just August 2023 inspections. (The color coding scheme goes like this: Green=Zero violations; Yellow=At least 1 non-critical violation but no critical violations; Red=At least 1 critical violation.)

Monroe County’s health department has released the reports for inspections of food service operations that were conducted in August 2023.

Just under half of the places that were inspected in August 2023 had no violations—30 out of 63.

Recording at least one non-critical violation, but no critical violations were 5 establishments. Recording at least one critical violation were 28 establishments.

Summaries of the inspections completed in August are now available on a list which is published on the health department’s website.

Continue reading “August 2023 food inspection reports for Monroe County released by health department”

High bids: Bloomington adds $3.8M to tech center before construction start, budget now $12.8M

At a special meeting on Wednesday, Bloomington’s five-member redevelopment commission (RDC) approved an additional $3.8 million in funding to construct a technology center.

The 3-story 22,000-square-foot building—which will stand in the southeast corner of the Trades District, just south of The Mill coworking space—is supposed to provide office space for technology companies that are beyond the startup phase.

The additional $3.8 million in TIF (tax increment finance) money adds to $2.1 million of TIF money the RDC had approved two years ago.

When it’s added to the $5.9 million in TIF money, and to the $3 million in former CRED (community revitalization enhancement district) funds, and $310,000 from the city of Bloomington utilities green infrastructure fund, the extra money brings the total local contribution to about $9.2 million.

That’s about 75 percent of the project budget, which now stands at about $12.8 million. The remaining $3.5 million is being covered by a grant from the federal Economic Development Administration (EDA). Continue reading “High bids: Bloomington adds $3.8M to tech center before construction start, budget now $12.8M”

Parking max relaxed by Bloomington: Sporting goods store to replace vacant former Marsh supermarket

By late September next year (2024), an Academy Sports + Outdoor store could be open for business on the east side of Bloomington, north of 3rd Street off Kingston Drive.

The outdoor sporting goods store would operate out of the building that has sat vacant since 2017, when it was home to a Marsh supermarket.

That’s according to Bryan Chandler, president at Eclipse Real Estate, who represented Academy Sports at a special Tuesday night hearing, which was held by Bloomington’s board of zoning appeals (BZA).

What cleared the way for the national big box sporting goods retailer, to put a store at the former Marsh store site, is a variance that was granted by the BZA at the end of Tuesday’s hearing.

Under the terms of the variance, Academy Sports can have 252 parking spaces on the site.

The city’s zoning code would ordinarily place a cap of 169 parking spaces for the 51,268-square-foot building.

The ordinary cap comes from a parking maximum expressed in the city’s unified development ordinance (UDO)—for the use called “retail sales, large”—as 3.3 spaces per 1,000 square feet.

There are already 267 parking spaces on the site, which were available to the Marsh store customers.

The variance says that Academy Sports can keep all but 15 of the 267 spaces, for a total of 252. But there are three conditions attached to the variance. Academy Sports has to install 15 landscape islands in the parking lot. And 26 of the parking spaces have to be provided for ride-share vehicles, not for customers or staff of Academy Sports. Finally, 57 of the parking spaces have to be surfaced with permeable pavers.

On Tuesday night, it took about 90 minutes of deliberations and sorting through the terms and conditions, for the BZA to approve a variance from the city’s maximum number of parking spaces. That came after the board had spent a couple of hours on the topic the week before, at its regular meeting last Thursday (Sept. 21).

The board members voted last week to continue the hearing to this week’s special meeting, at a point when they already seemed inclined to approve some kind of variance. But they wanted to nail down the details of the conditions—and they were running short on time at last week’s meeting.

The need for any variance at all, as well as the planning staff’s recommendation against granting it, was a big source of frustration for the ownership group for the building, which consisted of: Jeff Gould with Crane of Indiana; and David and Eric Kamen, with Bryan Rental.

Even though their previous building tenant, Marsh Supermarkets, had used the building for a similar purpose, because the building had sat vacant for more than 12 months,  any use of the building was considered a new use. The new use made it subject to compliance with the UDO’s newer parking requirements. Those requirements include a maximum of 3.3 parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of building space.

Over the two nights of the hearing, a point that was drawn out was the fact that if the building owners had been trying to lease the building to Academy Sports within 12 months of it becoming vacant, the new parking maximums would not have applied.

Gould and the Kamens were also crunched for time, a constraint they were put under by their current lessee, which is the Kroger Company. The owners had until Oct. 2 to get a deal done, to lease the property to Academy Sports, instead of Kroger.

Kroger had bought the long-term lease at the Marsh bankruptcy auction, Gould told the BZA on Tuesday night. But Kroger did not buy the lease with an eye towards opening a grocery store there. Instead, Gould said, Kroger just wanted to have control of the property as a “defensive mechanism,” to keep competitors out.

Last week, when the BZA was mulling a continuation of the hearing to its scheduled Oct. 19 meeting, the owners protested that it would be too late, given the Oct. 2 deadline that Kroger had set. They characterized the chance to sign a lease with Academy Sports as a unique opportunity.

Bloomington senior planner Eric Greulich countered that the occasion of a new use, which triggers compliance with stricter parking regulations, is also a unique opportunity—for the city and its residents to get the benefits of reduced parking on the site.

At the BZA hearing last week, Greulich talked about the harm that excess asphalt can cause—like excess stormwater runoff and urban heat island impacts. Lots of asphalt doesn’t promote pedestrian accessibility to a building, he said. “Just the presence of asphalt and cars sitting there, goes against many of the goals within our comprehensive plan,” Greulich said.

In the end, BZA members were helped towards a decision to grant the variance by uniformly positive commentary from surrounding businesses and residential neighbors.

They also saw it as a chance to stand up to Kroger. BZA member Tim Ballard put it like this: “Kroger is a monopolistic company, coming in here and really trying to strongarm local business owners and local property owners.”

Ballard continued, “I believe we should fully support and try to support any petitioner, whether big or small, who comes to us this way.”

The vote to grant the variance was unanimous among the four BZA members present on Tuesday—Jo Throckmorton, Tim Ballard, Nikki Farrell, and Barre Klapper. Flavia Burrell was absent.

Bloomington offers police station for sale at minimum price of $3.2M

Bloomington’s current police station on 3rd Street is now officially up for sale—for a minimum of $3.2 million.

Bids for the property can be made starting on Oct. 13, through Dec. 12.

Approving the notice for sale at its Tuesday night meeting was Bloomington’s board of public works.

Deputy mayor Larry Allen was on hand at Tuesday’s meeting. He confirmed that any eventual actual sale of the property would require the approval of Bloomington’s city council. Continue reading “Bloomington offers police station for sale at minimum price of $3.2M”