Private letter from Bloomington city council to mayor influenced proposed 2024 budget

A response on Thursday to a records request made by The B Square a month earlier, shows that Bloomington’s 2024 proposed budget was influenced by a private letter to Bloomington mayor John Hamilton, with apparent wet signatures from all nine city council members.

The letter asked that the mayor increase the salary for the city council’s administrator/attorney from a 2023 salary of $94,089 to $104,089 in 2024. That’s a 10.6-percent increase, or more than twice the 5-percent increase called for in the mayor’s proposed budget for all other non-union employees.

The city council’s argument is based on the idea that the city council’s administrator/attorney should be paid on par with the director of city of Bloomington utilities, the police chief, the fire chief, the head of public works, and the city’s corporation counsel, among other positions described as “department heads” in the city’s employee manual.

The letter also asks that the council’s administrator/attorney position receive another additional significant increase in 2025.

But any increases to the council staff salary budget for 2025 would depend on the decision by the next mayor, which is almost certain to be Democratic Party nominee Kerry Thomson. She’s unopposed on the Nov. 7 ballot. In general terms, under state law, the city council can reduce but not increase the mayor’s proposed budget amounts.

Before the city council’s Aug. 28 departmental budget hearing, there was no discussion by councilmembers at public meetings leading up to that hearing, about their desire that the administrator/attorney receive a substantial pay raise in 2024, beyond the standard cost-of-living increase for all employees. Continue reading “Private letter from Bloomington city council to mayor influenced proposed 2024 budget”

Tasers for Bloomington police: Department prepares for pilot program on less lethal weapon

In a Sept. 5, 2023 news release, the Bloomington police department (BPD) announced that officers would soon be piloting the use of electronic control weapons, commonly known as tasers.

For Bloomington police officers, the tasers will be added to pepper spray and collapsible batons as options that are less lethal than a gun.

On Sept. 19, at the most recent meeting of Bloomington’s five-member board of public safety, BPD deputy chief Scott Oldham said that he does not expect the tasers to be deployed for the pilot before the start of 2024. It will take some time for an officer to be certified to train other officers in the use of tasers, and then additional time to train officers, Oldham said.

While the board of public safety was briefed on the decision to add tasers to the set of less lethal options for BPD officers, the board did not have decision making authority on deployment of tasers.

Tasers were discussed with the board at its June and July monthly meetings this year.

But the board’s feedback can be traced to a year before that, when board member Isak Asare asked Bloomington police chief Mike Diekhoff about the department’s planned pilot program. Continue reading “Tasers for Bloomington police: Department prepares for pilot program on less lethal weapon”

Skirmishing over “garbage” between homeowner, city of Bloomington set for next week

For more than a year, and probably much longer, the city of Bloomington has been trying to convince Joe Davis to take a more conventional approach to his South Washington Street house and yard.

But Davis describes himself as an “unconventional guy.” Parked in the backyard with building materials stacked on them are a truck, and a van with a trailer. The county’s online property lookup system has aerial imagery showing the two vehicles sitting in the backyard at least as far back as 2014.

Davis has old bathtubs arranged around the place as catchment basins, and a compost pile.

Davis describes the place as an active building site, where he’s been working to renovate the house. He bought the place in 2009 for $65,000. He has described how the house was damaged by fire before he bought it and had sat abandoned for two years.

During that period all the pipes burst because there was no heat, the wiring was stolen and homeless people were living, Davis has said.

Where Davis sees an “organic building site,” the city sees a raft of code violations.

So next Tuesday’s meeting of Bloomington’s board of public works marks the start of another chapter in the saga of attempts to enforce city code against Davis’s property. Continue reading “Skirmishing over “garbage” between homeowner, city of Bloomington set for next week”

Monroe County council heads towards goal of 8.5-percent raises for employees in 2024

Based on the deliberations among county councilors on Wednesday night, Monroe County employees will likely receive 8.5-percent raises in 2024 compared to their pay this year.

But no final decisions were made. The council did undertake some adjustments to get closer to the goal of 8.5-percent raises.

There’s still some dust that needs to settle on the provisional adjustments to the 2024 budget that were made by the council on Wednesday. And the final vote on the budget won’t come until Oct. 17, after a first reading on Oct.10.

The formal public hearing on the county budget is about weeks away, on Oct. 3. Continue reading “Monroe County council heads towards goal of 8.5-percent raises for employees in 2024”

Election 2023, Holiday 2024 roundup: Solar Eclipse Day to be a county holiday, along with election days

At Wednesday morning’s meeting of Monroe County commissioners, the routine approval of county employee holidays for the following year included a bright spot.

There will be one extra day compared to last year: April 8, 2024, which is Solar Eclipse Day.

On that day, the narrow band of the full solar eclipse will pass right over Monroe County. It’s the kind of rare event that has the local tourism sector buzzing.

At the most recent meeting of the convention and visitors commission, Visit Bloomington executive director Mike McAfee said up to a quarter million visitors or more are expected in the Bloomington area to view the solar eclipse. “It’s going to be wild,” he said.

On Wednesday, commissioner Penny Githens said part of the thought behind making the day of the eclipse a county holiday is to reduce the amount of traffic out on the road. “We’re expecting a certain amount of gridlock,” Githens said.

Commissioner Julie Thomas added, “Everything will be packed full of visitors…and anything we can do to alleviate traffic is probably going to be helpful at this point.”

Another difference between the 2023 holiday schedule  and the schedule for next  year, is that both election days in 2024—primary and general—will be explicitly designated as holidays.

For 2023, there are two flexible days that county employees can use to take off and vote in the municipal elections, but they’re not tied to the date of elections. They are called “floating holidays.”

As the Nov. 7 date for municipal elections approaches, Monroe County employees are grinding through the standard preparations for the process that is fundamental to a working democracy. Continue reading “Election 2023, Holiday 2024 roundup: Solar Eclipse Day to be a county holiday, along with election days”

Back on board Bloomington buses: Ridership boost in August 2023 compared to pre-pandemic numbers

At its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday night, Bloomington Transit’s five-member board approved a total of $2.8 million in spending.

The three big approvals broke down like this: a contract with Foursquare ITP for an east-west high-frequency transit corridor feasibility study ($450,000); a contract with ETA Transit for computer-aided dispatch and automatic vehicle location information technology ($850,000); and a purchase order from Gillig LLC for eight dual port charging stations for electric buses ($1.5 million).

But those three items had all been long in the works. None were unexpected.

Providing at least a mild, and pleasant, surprise was the monthly ridership report from planning and special projects manager Shelley Strimaitis.

The weekday ridership on fixed-route BT buses is now around 90 percent of pre-COVID pandemic levels, Strimaitis reported. Continue reading “Back on board Bloomington buses: Ridership boost in August 2023 compared to pre-pandemic numbers”

Bloomington looks to ban billboards: Even if outdoor ad firm wins current legal case, sign could be nixed

Last Monday, Bloomington’s plan commission heard a proposal from mayor John Hamilton’s administration to amend the city’s zoning code for signs.

The amendment would effectively make all billboards in Bloomington disappear by 2031. That includes the one off Kinser Pike next to the SR 45/46 bypass, which is currently subject to litigation.

Last year, after the billboard’s owner, Lamar Outdoor Advertising, converted the billboard face to a digital display, Bloomington cited the company for violation of the UDO’s regulations on electronic reader boards.

Lamar is fighting the citation. Even if Lamar wins the court case, the company could eventually have to take down the billboard—if the amendment to the city’s unified development ordinance (UDO) is eventually approved by the city council. Continue reading “Bloomington looks to ban billboards: Even if outdoor ad firm wins current legal case, sign could be nixed”

Farmers notebook: Bloomington’s People’s Market helps Farm Aid get fed

This Saturday at First United Church on E. 3rd Street, the People’s Market looked pretty much like it does every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

On one side of fellowship hall, vendors had their tables set up—with cinnamon buns, arepas, tamales, jam, pulled pork, and other ready-to-eat fare.

Towards the side of the room next to the kitchen, CSA shares were lined up on a table, ready for pickup by people who had ordered them in advance.

Setting Saturday apart from an ordinary market day was 500 pounds of cheese from Twilight Dairy, which was sitting on the kitchen work tables.

The Chile Woman (aka Susan Welsand) told The B Square that the cheese had been requested by the organizers of Farm Aid. A crew was grating the blocks into shreds, because that’s how Farm Aid wanted it. Continue reading “Farmers notebook: Bloomington’s People’s Market helps Farm Aid get fed”

Bloomington moves to dismiss 2 of own lawsuits as legal tactic to push annexation trial ahead

Ten days ago, the city of Bloomington lost an argument in court, to move ahead with the standard judicial review of annexation for two areas west of town.

The shading on the map reflects a 1-dot-per-person plot based on the population of census blocks as measured in the 2020 decennial census.

Two days later, on Sept. 7, the city of Bloomington filed a motion to start the process to appeal the ruling of special judge Nathan Nikirk, out of Lawrence County.

Nikirk had ordered 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.

The related constitutional litigation is actually a consolidation of seven separate lawsuits, one for each of the annexation areas.

In addition to the appeals process, the city of Bloomington has now started another procedure that could lead to faster scheduling of a standard annexation trial for the two areas. The idea is to take a step towards quick resolution of the related constitutional litigation—but just for Area 1A and Area 1B.

On Wednesday, Bloomington’s legal tactic was to file a motion to dismiss its own lawsuits for Area 1A and Area 1B, over the constitutional question of waivers.

The idea is that if the special judge Kelsey Hanlon out of Owen County were to grant Bloomington’s motion for dismissal of the Area 1A and Area 1B constitutional cases, and agrees to reconsolidate just the five remaining lawsuits, that would satisfy the condition of Nikirk’s Sept. 7 order. Continue reading “Bloomington moves to dismiss 2 of own lawsuits as legal tactic to push annexation trial ahead”

Bloomington council votes down proposed law against camping, storing property in right-of-way

Voted down on Wednesday by Bloomington’s city council, with just two votes in favor, was an ordinance that would have explicitly prohibited camping, storing personal property, or blocking the public right-of-way, among other things.

Supporting the ordinance were Sue Sgambelluri and Susan Sandberg. Abstaining was Dave Rollo. The other five councilmembers who were present all voted against it. Ron Smith was absent.

Rollo said he was inclined to bring a motion to table the ordinance. Councilmember Jim Sims said he was inclined to put off a vote, but if it came down to a vote that night, he would vote no.

A basic concern for those who opposed the ordinance was that it punishes the unhoused population, without offering a solution for storing their belongings in a place other than the public right-of-way.

Councilmember Matt Flaherty’s sentiments reflected the views of others, when he said that crafting a better ordinance “will take months of community engagement and outreach and collaboration between the executive and legislative branch and the whole community to arrive at a solution.”

Flaherty added, “So I don’t think this is honestly well suited for just tabling or postponing and bringing back with a few clarifications, in a few weeks time.” Rollo said it was clear that there would not be majority support for tabling, so he did not make that motion. Continue reading “Bloomington council votes down proposed law against camping, storing property in right-of-way”