Bloomington council delays 2022 budget vote until Oct. 27: Will mayor concede on police, climate?

On Wednesday, when a decision was scheduled on the 2022 Bloomington budget, the city council chose to recess its meeting without voting, less than 90 minutes after it was called to order.

The recess came when it became apparent that the mayor’s budget did not have majority support on the nine-member council to pass that night.

Some councilmembers, like Dave Rollo, say that in order to support the 2022 budget, it has to include a re-opening of the collective bargaining agreement with the police union and a $5,000 base pay increase for sworn officers.

Other councilmembers, like Isabel Piedmont-Smith, say that in order to support the 2022 budget, it has to include an appropriation for a new job at the city—director of climate action.

That’s not an exhaustive list of all the changes councilmembers say they want to see, before they’ll vote to adopt the 2022 budget.

In any case, councilmembers want Bloomington mayor John Hamilton to make further revisions to the roughly $107 million budget, before they take it up again in two weeks. That amount does not include the budgets for Bloomington Transit (BT) and city of Bloomington utilities (CBU).

Before recessing its meeting, the council approved two of the appropriation ordinances that are part of the six-ordinance package of legislation that makes up the annual budget. Getting unanimous approval were the budgets for BT and city of Bloomington utilities CBU.

On Oct. 27, in addition to the appropriation ordinance for the basic city budget, the council will still have on its agenda three salary ordinances—one for police and fire, one for other city employees, and one for elected officials. Continue reading “Bloomington council delays 2022 budget vote until Oct. 27: Will mayor concede on police, climate?”

Bin there done that: Bloomington council OKs garbage fees retroactively, preps for report

At its regular Wednesday meeting, Bloomington’s city council ratified garbage collection fees that expired nearly a year ago, on Nov. 1, 2020.

Sanitation worker uses a mechanical arm to empty a Bloomington solid waste cart. Screengrab from city of Bloomington video.

In the future, the council won’t have to worry about fees expiring. That’s because on Wednesday, the council eliminated the city code’s entire “sunset” clause for the fees.

The sunset clause was added as an amendment, when the council adopted the 2017 ordinance that set the fees for the new system of refuse carts.

The clause was intended to trigger a review of rates, after sufficient data had been collected by public works staff from the new system.

Wednesday’s action did not raise garbage collection rates.

Based on March 22, 2017 meeting minutes, the council was supposed to undertake a rate review last year with an eye towards possibly providing a rebate to residents who generate less garbage.

Based on the meeting minutes, it appears that the debate on the exact date of the sunset clause lasted about an hour. The initial date proposed was July 1, 2019, but public works director Adam Wason said if there were to be a sunset date, he’d prefer Nov. 1, 2020. Wason said the later date would allow more data to be collected.

On Wednesday, the ordinance passed by the city council was approved at the same meeting on the same day when it was first introduced, which required and received a unanimous vote.

Under state law, the council is able to ratify the authorization of the fees retroactively, according to assistant city attorney Larry Allen.

City council president Jim Sims said the public works department is scheduled on Oct. 20 to deliver the report that the department would have given last year. That seemed to help head off extensive council discussion of solid waste issues, which came up during the council’s hearings on the public works departmental budget. Continue reading “Bin there done that: Bloomington council OKs garbage fees retroactively, preps for report”

Bloomington city council enacts law intended to prevent long meetings

On a 7–2 vote at its regular Wednesday meeting, Bloomington’s city council enacted an ordinance that is intended to prevent its meetings from lasting longer than five and a half hours, or going past midnight.

Dissenting were council president Jim Sims and Susan Sandberg. The ordinance was authored by councilmember Steve Volan.

When it was first introduced on Sept. 1, the ordinance had wording that could be interpreted as putting an automatic end to city council meetings after five and a half hours or at 11:59 p.m., whichever comes first.

The wording on first introduction also allowed any single councilmember to cause a meeting to be adjourned after five and a half hours or at 11:59 p.m., whichever comes first.

On Wednesday, Volan offered the council two mutually exclusive possible amendments.

One amendment made explicit the automatic termination of meetings when either of the the time points were reached.

The other alternative required at least two councilmembers in order to force an end to a meeting—one to move for adjournment and another to second the motion.

That’s the amendment that the council adopted for the ordinance that it eventually passed.

That means the ordinance as enacted does not require an end to meetings after five and a half hours or at midnight. It just gives any two councilmembers the option of ending a meeting at those time points. Meetings will be able to continue past those times without remark or action by councilmembers. Continue reading “Bloomington city council enacts law intended to prevent long meetings”

Column: Bloomington city council needs to shift out of park, into legislative gear

Bloomington’s city councilmembers want mayor John Hamilton’s administration to make policy choices that are consistent with the community’s values. And they want to see those choices reflected in the annual budget.

Otherwise put, Bloomington’s city council is like any other city council in America.

It’s a reasonable and normal expectation for the legislative branch of local government that the budget will be a reflection of local community priorities.

And that’s why the annual budget is the most important legislation considered by the city council every year.

But the budget is not the only piece of legislation that the city council could take up in the course of a calendar year. The legislative body does not need to wait for the administration to propose the annual budget or any other law.

Bloomington’s city council has, on occasion, proven that it’s aware of its own ability to originate new local laws.

For example, when some councilmembers determined that prohibiting turns on red lights at several additional downtown intersections would improve pedestrian safety, they initiated a traffic ordinance and worked with the city staff to get the details right. It was enacted as local law by the city council in early April.

But shifting itself out of park and into legislative gear is not an approach that appears to be favored by the council.

And that’s too bad.

On the upside, during budget season, some councilmembers seem to have sorted out a good answer to this question: What’s the clearest way to signal to the mayor what a majority of city councilmembers think? Take an actual vote. Continue reading “Column: Bloomington city council needs to shift out of park, into legislative gear”

Rumblings among Bloomington city council members about voting against 2022 budget

Climate action, non-motorized transportation, and police pay are current sticking points between Bloomington’s city council and mayor John Hamilton, as the 2022 city budget process builds towards a mid-October council vote.

At their committee-of-the-whole meeting on Wednesday, Bloomington city council members reviewed each of the legislative items that collectively make up the annual budget.

Three appropriation ordinances cover different pieces of the city’s finances—the city’s basic budget, city of Bloomington utilities, and Bloomington Transit. The other three items are salary ordinances for different categories of employees—police and fire; other city employees; and elected officials.

The final 2022 budget, which reflected just a few adjustments since the departmental hearings in August, totals around $107 million.

Based on the straw polls they took on Wednesday, some councilmembers will be voting against the appropriation ordinance for the basic budget—unless they see some concessions from Bloomington mayor John Hamilton.

Those concessions would need to be made between now and Oct. 13—that’s when an adoption vote is scheduled. Continue reading “Rumblings among Bloomington city council members about voting against 2022 budget”

Bloomington mayor gets in last word on city council’s resolution about police pay

Despite opposition from mayor John Hamilton’s administration, on Sept. 8, Bloomington’s city council approved a resolution supporting $5,000 more in base pay for police officers.

A “resolved” clause in Res 21-27 says in part that the city council “expresses its support for an increase to salaries for all sworn officers of the Bloomington Police Department by $5,000 and requests that the Mayor and city bargaining team pursue appropriate action to modify the collective bargaining agreement accordingly…”

One of the administration’s objections to the resolution was concern that it could interfere with the collective bargaining process with the police union, which is established under Bloomington city code.

Under Indiana state law, the mayor has to either approve or veto all ordinances or resolutions passed by the city council.

In the case of Res 21-27, which the council approved on Sept. 8 on a 7–1–1 vote, Hamilton signed off on it—that is, he didn’t veto the resolution.

But Hamilton did get in a last word of sorts. There’s an asterisk next to his signature that footnotes a comment from Hamilton:

I sign this document only to affirm that it declares the Common Council’s support for certain matters. There are several factual statements in the WHEREAS clauses that are not accurate, including in the third clause.

Continue reading “Bloomington mayor gets in last word on city council’s resolution about police pay”

Budget notebook: Final 2022 Bloomington budget released, $1,000 “retention pay” for police in 2021

Screenshot of a proposed amendment to the 2021 fire and police salary ordinance, to be given a first reading at the Bloomington city council’s Sept. 29 meeting.

The final 2022 budget, on which the Bloomington city council will be expected to take action in mid-October, was released late Friday afternoon.

It’s possible to find among the documents in the meeting information packet for Sept. 29 an additional $5,000 in pay for police officers.

But that figure does not mean a $5,000 increase in base pay this year, as called for in a city council resolution approved on Sept. 8.

Instead, what Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s administration appears to be proposing is to give officers an extra $1,000 in “retention pay” per quarter, starting in 2021.

There’s five quarters from now through the end of 2022. So an extra $1,000 for each of those quarters would add up to $5,000. Continue reading “Budget notebook: Final 2022 Bloomington budget released, $1,000 “retention pay” for police in 2021″

Bloomington city council OKs annexation on 6-3 votes for all territories, except north area

The outcomes on the remaining annexation votes taken by Bloomington’s city council on Wednesday night unfolded as expected, based on the previous week’s initial session on the topic.

Including Area 1A on the west side of the city, which got an OK last week, seven of the eight proposed areas for annexation were approved, all on 6–3 votes. The three dissenting votes came from Dave Rollo, Susan Sandberg and Ron Smith.

A key argument for the three dissenters was the idea that the city of Bloomington was not in a position to extend some services to the new territory. The specific services causing concern relate to public safety.

The current disparity between the number of sworn officers employed by Bloomington’s department (91) and the number who are authorized (105)—in the context of the 23 to 35 additional officers called for in the fiscal plans—led dissenters to conclude it is unrealistic to think Bloomington could provide public safety services to the new areas.

Those voting in favor cited standard arguments in favor of annexation, including: the idea that annexation is a natural part of the history of cities; that those who own land near municipal boundaries already enjoy several benefits of that proximity, so it’s fair for them to pay city property taxes; and the idea that the remonstrance waivers signed by landowners in exchange for extension of sewer service is a contractual agreement that landowners should expect to fulfill. Continue reading “Bloomington city council OKs annexation on 6-3 votes for all territories, except north area”

1 down, 7 to go: Bloomington city council OKs westside area for annexation, recesses meeting until Sept. 22 for remaining votes

Just one of eight proposed areas for annexation was put to a vote by Bloomington’s nine-member city council on Wednesday night.

Councilmembers voted 6–3 to make Area 1A on Bloomington’s west side a part of Bloomington. Dissenting were Dave Rollo, Susan Sandberg, and Ron Smith.

Before taking votes on the seven other proposed annexation areas, the council recessed its meeting until next Wednesday, Sept. 22 at 6:30 p.m.

The 6–3 split on Area 1A was the same breakdown for Wednesday’s council votes on all but one of the fiscal plans associated with the annexation ordinances.

Also on Wednesday, the same 6–3 split divided the council on a proposal to subtract some territory from proposed annexation Area 2, which lies to the southeast of the city. Rollo and Smith moved an amendment that would have deleted from Area 2 a chunk that looked identical to one Smith had previously proposed to delete at a special Aug. 31 council meeting.

The ordinance adding Area 2 did not get a vote from the council on Wednesday. It will have to wait until next week, along with the other remaining ordinances.

Based on the deliberations so far, it looks likely that next week the ordinances that add six more areas, including Area 2, will get majority support by at least the same 6–3 margin.

The seventh piece of territory, which is Area 7 on the north side, is expected to be voted down unanimously, because Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s administration no longer thinks it needs to be brought into the city of Bloomington.

The unanimous vote to recess the meeting came at 11:21 p.m., which was just short of five hours after the meeting started. Continue reading “1 down, 7 to go: Bloomington city council OKs westside area for annexation, recesses meeting until Sept. 22 for remaining votes”

For now, “free” parking in Bloomington’s new 4th Street garage, due to computer chip shortage

Bloomington’s new 4th Street parking garage opened for use three weeks ago on Monday, Aug. 23.

The opening was announced in a release issued by the mayor’s office the previous week.  It means the city hit its hoped-for opening date of August 2021.

The city has sold 370 monthly permits for the garage. Hourly parking will eventually be charged at 50 cents an hour.

But for now, it’s possible for visitors to downtown Bloomington to park without paying for a space in the new 4th Street garage.

That’s not because the city has adopted a philanthropic approach to parking garages. It’s due to a worldwide supply chain problem, according to the mayor’s office. The metering of time spent in the garage, as well as the customer service portal, run on technology that requires a computer chip from China, where it’s being manufactured.

As soon as the equipment arrives and is installed, the gates will go down, and daily parkers will start getting charged, according to the mayor’s office. Continue reading “For now, “free” parking in Bloomington’s new 4th Street garage, due to computer chip shortage”