2023 Bloomington budget notebook: Built-in padding of 50 percent or more?

Why is the city of Bloomington allowing $1,400,000 for a single item in the 2023 budget that has for the last three full calendar years averaged about $990,000 in actual cost?

That’s basically what city councilmember Matt Flaherty wanted to know last Wednesday night.

Table: Prior actuals versus 2023 budget for general fund support of sanitation

Department Fund Account
Description 19 Actual 20 Actual 21 Actual 22 OK’d  23 Propsd
 16-Sanitation General  539010 Fund Transfer $985,625 $1,009,620 $978,492 $1,519,146 $1,419,146

Flaherty was focused on a particular item in the budget that he eventually wants to eliminate completely—a transfer from the general fund to the sanitation fund. The transfer supports curbside waste collection service.

But that focus revealed a pattern.

At Wednesday’s committee-of-the-whole meeting, Flaherty reported he’d reviewed the numbers for that fund transfer over the last four years—budgeted versus actual. And he’d discovered that on average for a four-year period the city had over-budgeted that general fund transfer to sanitation by about $550,000 every year, or by more than 50 percent.

Flaherty wanted to know why the city was “padding” the general fund support for the sanitation fund by that much. Continue reading “2023 Bloomington budget notebook: Built-in padding of 50 percent or more?”

2023 Bloomington budget notebook: Trash talk, cart fees, general fund

Some Bloomington residents could soon see significant increases in their trash collection fees.

But trash cart fees are laid out in city code, separate from the city budget.

So the city council’s upcoming decisions on the city’s 2023 budget will not affect trash collection fees.

Any decision to increase trash cart fees would come later in the year, in the form of a separate ordinance change enacted by the city council.

And Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s proposed 2023 budget does not assume any increase in trash cart collection fees. Continue reading “2023 Bloomington budget notebook: Trash talk, cart fees, general fund”

Initial talk: Bloomington city council balks on 2023 budget, likely looking for better employee pay before late October vote

“Rather than have a transformative budget, I would like a budget that is fair and equitable to our city employees.”

On Wednesday night, that’s how Bloomington city councilmember Dave Rollo summed up his thoughts on mayor John Hamilton’s proposed 2023 budget.

Rollo’s choice of words was not accidental—Hamilton has pitched his budget as “transformative.”

There’s no question the dollar figure is bigger. Hamilton’s $129.4-million budget proposed for 2023 is $22.4 million more than last year, fueled by $16 million in additional revenue from a 0.69-point increase in the local income tax.

Rollo and several of his city council colleagues don’t think the proposed 5-percent increase in employee base compensation is enough to retain and recruit city employees.

The rate of inflation measured between December 2020 and December 2021 was 7.5 percent. From August 2021 to August 2022, it was 8.1 percent.

Faced with high inflation many city employees are leaving for better-paying jobs. From August 2021 through July of 2022, 122 city employees have left the city for one reason or another. That’s 35 percent more than the 90 employees who left the year before.

And it’s in the neighborhood of double the 66 departures from August 2019 to July 2022 and the 69 departures in the year before that. Of the 42 employees who have completed an exit survey this year, 19 have said their new position offers a higher salary.

So on Wednesday at the council’s committee-of-the-whole meeting, the tally for the council’s straw poll vote was 0–6–3. That means not one of nine councilmembers was willing to say they’d support the mayor’s budget when it comes time for the actual vote on adoption, which is set for Oct. 12. Continue reading “Initial talk: Bloomington city council balks on 2023 budget, likely looking for better employee pay before late October vote”

Cataloging scooter parking violations: Bloomington to use temp agency for initial staffing of 2 positions

Shared electric scooters that are parked so they block ADA ramps and sidewalks in Bloomington will soon be systematically documented and moved out of the way by two temporary workers.

In action taken on Tuesday, the city’s three-member board of public works approved a contract with Express Employment Services that is supposed to pay two workers $15.75 an hour for around 25 hours a week. The total cost of the city’s payments to Express can’t be more than $15,500.

The parking services division, within the department of public works, will administer the pilot program, which is supposed to be evaluated at the end of the year.

A temp agency is being used just to get the new workers on the job as quickly as possible, with an eye towards bringing the same people on board as temporary city employees soon after that.

The jobs are posted on the city’s own job board.

The program to document blockage of ADA ramp and sidewalk access, and move the scooters out of the path is being launched more than three years after the city council enacted its scooter ordinance.

Bloomington’s local law allows shared use electric scooter companies to use the public right-of-way for their operations, in exchange for a licensing fee of $10,000 a year, and a payment to the city of 15 cents per ride.

Currently licensed to do business in Bloomington are Bird, Lime, and VeoRide.

Continue reading “Cataloging scooter parking violations: Bloomington to use temp agency for initial staffing of 2 positions”

Fiber network with 1-Gigabit internet service likely to start construction work in Bloomington next week

As soon as next week (Oct. 4, 2022), residents of the area south of Indiana University’s campus could start seeing new crews working in Bloomington’s public right-of-way to install fiber optic connections.

At its regular meeting on Tuesday this week,  the city’s board of public works is set to approve a request from AEG (Atlantic Engineering Group)  to work in the public right-of-way installing high-speed internet fiber underground as well as between utility poles.

AEG will be working for Hoosier Networks, the company formed by Paris-based Meridiam to do business locally. When construction is complete, the network is supposed to provide 1-Gigabit service to at least 85 percent of Bloomington.

Other providers have previously been granted access to work in Bloomington’s public right of way to install broadband connections. Continue reading “Fiber network with 1-Gigabit internet service likely to start construction work in Bloomington next week”

Column | Lake Monroe: A neighborhood where Bloomington gets its drinking water

From his yellow kayak floating along the shore of Lake Monroe, local birder David Rupp alerted me and five other paddlers: A great blue heron was sitting high in a tree on a dead branch.

Great blue herons are big, blue-gray, long-beaked wading birds—they’re commonly seen standing in the water. I don’t think to look in a tree.

As a professional guide, Rupp has a better eye for birds than most people. Even using binoculars, aided by Rupp’s precise description as he pointed at the tree, the great blue was hard to pick out.

But Rupp had spotted the bird just minutes after our small flotilla launched from the Pine Grove boat ramp.

Without being asked, Rupp gave us an insider tip: As soon as he’s out on the water, he always checks that dead tree branch to see what might be perched there. Sometimes it’s a great blue heron. Sometimes it’s a bald eagle.

Rupp knows where to look. Because he knows the neighborhood. Continue reading “Column | Lake Monroe: A neighborhood where Bloomington gets its drinking water”

Denied by Bloomington: Request to vacate two strips of right-of-way where parts of buildings stand

If a property owner asks the city of Bloomington to give up some public-right-of-way, the city’s default answer is no.

On Wednesday, Bloomington’s city council hewed to that basic standard, when eight of nine councilmembers voted against Solomon Lowenstein’s request for vacation of two strips of land.

The property is in the northeast part of the city, just south of 11th Street near the B-Line Trail.

The proposal got just one vote of support, from Ron Smith.

The historical background goes back around 100 years. More recently, in 2014, the city council considered, but ultimately denied ,a package of vacation requests, that also included Lowenstein’s. The vote eight years ago was 3–4, with two councilmembers absent—Steve Volan and Dave Rollo.

Why did Lowenstein, then as now, want the city to give up some land that is owned by the public? Continue reading “Denied by Bloomington: Request to vacate two strips of right-of-way where parts of buildings stand”

New Bloomington city council districts: Vote put off at least until Oct. 6

After more than two hours of deliberation on Wednesday, the Bloomington city council postponed until Oct. 6 further consideration of new boundaries for city council districts.

The council’s special meeting, now set for Oct. 6, coincides with the Democratic Party’s Vi Taliaferro Dinner—an annual fundraiser that is scheduled to start at the council’s usual meeting time of 6:30 p.m.

That’s why the all-Democrat council voted 9–0 to convene its special meeting for Oct. 6 at 5 p.m. The council set a time limit of one hour.

The council’s annual calendar had already called for a committee meeting on Oct. 6—which is a Thursday, instead of the usual Wednesday. The one-day shift avoids a conflict with Yom Kippur, which falls on Wednesday. The council canceled that committee meeting in favor of the one-hour special meeting.

On Oct. 6, the council could vote to adopt the new map that has been recommended by Bloomington’s redistricting advisory commission.

Another option would be to reject the map, and send the matter back to the five-member redistricting commission with the reasons for the council’s rejection.

Or the council could again postpone any decision. Continue reading “New Bloomington city council districts: Vote put off at least until Oct. 6”

Bloomington Transit mulls impact of city council resolution on extension of service outside city

The Bloomington Transit (BT) board will be drafting a thank-you letter to the city council for the council’s resolution passed unanimously in early September.

The resolution expressed support for the idea of extending public bus service outside the city limits to Daniels Way, if Monroe County government covers the incremental cost.

And BT general manager John Connell will be giving the board a couple of different alternatives for providing some service out to Daniels Way—which would likely mean a loop around Ivy Tech, Cook Medical, and other employers.

Those are two concrete steps the BT board and Connell settled on after chewing on the topic for a bit at the board’s regular monthly meeting on Tuesday.

But the informal conversation on the subject indicated that BT has a vision that includes more than extending one specific route a mile and a half outside the city boundaries.

The discussion took place as ridership on regular fixed route service is showing signs that it’s starting to rebound from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 178,423 fixed-route rides in August of this year amount to 90 percent of the rides given in August of 2019, which totaled 199,118 rides. Through most of this year, BT had been running between 55 and 60 percent of 2019 ridership. Continue reading “Bloomington Transit mulls impact of city council resolution on extension of service outside city”

Believed armed suspect extracted from Bloomington stormwater system after day-long saga

By around 5:30 p.m. a man believed to have been armed with a rifle was removed from the stormwater culvert near 6th Street and Indiana Avenue on the edge of Indiana University’s Bloomington campus.

It’s the place where the Campus River starts its journey under downtown Bloomington, flowing southwest.

A statement from Bloomington police said, “The suspect has been safely removed from the storm drain and will be transported to an area hospital to be evaluated. ”

That ended a day-long saga that started around 9:30 a.m., about a half mile southwest of 6th and Indiana—south of Seminary Park, along 1st Street between College Avenue and Walnut Street.

[This article has been updated below with additional information from a BPD news release issued shortly after midnight.]

Continue reading “Believed armed suspect extracted from Bloomington stormwater system after day-long saga”