Analysis: 2024 edition of Bloomington city council will be different, by a little or a lot

In 2023, elections will be held for 11 Bloomington city offices—mayor, clerk, and the nine seats on the city council.

The image links to a dynamic version of the new Bloomington city council district map, which allows zooming in and out.

After the 2023 city elections, the composition of the nine-member Bloomington city council, which will be sworn in to start 2024, is sure to be different by at least one member. But it could be more.

That’s based on the fact that it’s not possible to serve or to run as mayor and city councilmember at the same time.

Also in the mix are new city council district boundaries, and a somewhat easier path to the ballot for candidates who want to run independent of a political party.

City council president Susan Sandberg has announced she’s running for mayor, which means she’s not running for city council.

To file an official declaration, Sandberg like other candidates in the municipal election, will have a 30-day window that starts Jan. 4, 2023, 118 days before the May 2, 2023 primary. Sandberg’s committee paperwork has already been filed. Continue reading “Analysis: 2024 edition of Bloomington city council will be different, by a little or a lot”

Bloomington sewer, stormwater rate increases get city council OK

Approved by Bloomington’s city council on Wednesday night were increases to sewer (wastewater) and stormwater rates. Not affected are drinking water rates.

Stormwater rates will increase from $5.95 a month to $7.50 a month for about a 26-percent increase. That works out to $18.60 more a year. [($7.50 – $5.95) * 12] The stormwater rate increase will take effect in January 2023.

On the sewer side, the increases are in two phases, the first in January 2023 and the second two years later, starting in January 2025.

For the sewer monthly service charge, the first bump is from $8.19 to $9.17 and then to $9.72. From the current rate to the Phase II rate, that’s an 18.6-percent increase. [$8.19/($9.72 – $8.19)]

For the sewer usage rate, the first bump is from $7.99 per 1,000 gallons to $8.95, then to $9.49 in the second phase. From the current rate to the Phase II rate, that’s about an 18.7-percent increase. [($9.49 – $7.99)/ $7.99]

Based on past B Square reporting, an average city of Bloomington utilities (CBU) customer who lives inside the city uses 3,300 gallons of sewage service a month.

Comparing current rates to what the rates will eventually be under Phase II, an average inside-the-city customer would see an annual sewer bill increase from $414.68 to $492.44.

The votes on the rate increases were unanimous. Continue reading “Bloomington sewer, stormwater rate increases get city council OK”

Parks board, city engineer: Collaboration, consultation, or supervision on trail closures?

As currently drafted, a proposed new Bloomington parks policy would spell out how temporary and emergency closures of trails are implemented by the board of park commissioners—in “collaboration” with the city engineer.

On Tuesday, at its regular monthly meeting, the adoption of that policy was tabled by the board.

The presentation of the proposed new policy came from Tim Street, who is director of park operations. He described the policy as stemming from the closure of The B-Line early in the year, due to the hazard posed by the Johnson’s Creamery smokestack. The smokestack has now been partially demolished.

The board tabled the adoption of the new policy after park commissioner Jim Whitlach, who’s an attorney, questioned the use of the word “collaboration” to describe the activity to be undertaken between the board of park commissioners and the city engineer.

Whitlach said he would prefer that the policy make clear that it’s the board that makes the decision. So Whitlach said the policy should say the board decides not in “collaboration” with, but in “consultation” with the city engineer.

A counterpoint to Whitlach’s position came during public commentary from Bloomington resident Greg Alexander, who has, in his capacity as a member of the city’s traffic commission, for the last few months pushed the issue of the engineer’s role in making decisions about public right-of-way like The B-Line Trail. Continue reading “Parks board, city engineer: Collaboration, consultation, or supervision on trail closures?”

Negative stamp on rezone for jail by Bloomington plan commission, could still win city council’s OK

The Monroe County government’s planned construction of a new jail on an 87-acre parcel in the southwest corner of Bloomington hit a snag on Monday night.

By a 6–3 vote, Bloomington’s plan commission supported the planning staff’s recommendation to send a negative recommendation to the city council about Monroe County government’s request for a rezone of the 87 acres, so that a jail could be built there.

The county government’s request would change the zoning of the land from mixed-use employment (ME) to mixed-use institutional (MI). Use of the property as a jail would not be allowed under ME, but could be allowed under MI.

A jail is a “conditional use” under MI zoning.

That means even if the city council were to approve the rezone, Monroe County government would still have to go through the conditional use approval process in front of the city’s board of zoning appeals.

On Monday, a staff attorney for the county, Jeff Cockerill, told the plan commission that Monroe County had a purchase agreement for the land, contingent on approval of a rezone—but that agreement expires at the end of the year.

After this Wednesday, the city council’s calendar for the rest of the year has two more regular meetings.

There’s now a 10-day timeframe for planning director Scott Robinson to certify the outcome of the plan commission’s Monday recommendation to the city clerk. That would set up Monroe County government with enough time to hit the deadline for submission of the materials to the city council office for the council’s Dec. 7 meeting, when the rezone could get a first reading.

That could set the table for the city council to approve the rezone, when it would get a second reading at the council’s final meeting of the year on Dec. 21. Continue reading “Negative stamp on rezone for jail by Bloomington plan commission, could still win city council’s OK”

Sandberg sets tone for 2023 mayoral campaign with kickoff: “We should restore before we do more.”

On Wednesday, the day after Election Day, current Bloomington city council president Susan Sandberg filed amended paperwork to convert her campaign organization from a mayoral exploratory committee to a campaign committee.

And on Sunday afternoon, Sandberg, a Democrat, kicked off her campaign for mayor with a gathering of about 60 people in one of the indoor shelters at Karst Farm Park.

Another declared candidate for Bloomington mayor in 2023, Democrat Kerry Thomson, will be kicking off her campaign this coming Thursday. Bloomington mayor John Hamilton, also a Democrat, has not yet publicly announced if he will seek re-election to a third term.

Karst Farm Park is a Monroe County government facility, Sandberg acknowledged in her opening remarks. And it was chosen for the kickoff with a specific intent, she said: “One of the things that I know I can bring to the table is a much better working relationship with our colleagues in Monroe County.”

Sandberg’s statement was a reference to the strained relations between Hamilton and the county commissioners. Policy issues where the friction between the two layers of government has been evident include a stalled collaborative effort on the convention center expansion and the location of a new county jail.

On Wednesday this past week, county commissioners invited the mayor to make the next move after voting to establish a capital improvement board to govern the new convention center expansion, contingent on the city council and the mayor’s agreement to its terms.

On the question of the jail location, for this Monday’s (Nov. 14) second city plan commission hearing on a requested rezone by the county government, to allow for jail construction in the southern part of the city, the city planning staff recommendation is now against the rezone. For the first hearing, the planning staff had not given a staff recommendation either way.

Better city-county relations are just one plank of Sandberg’s campaign platform which includes: affordability; safety; collaboration; and basic services. Continue reading “Sandberg sets tone for 2023 mayoral campaign with kickoff: “We should restore before we do more.””

6.6K ballots missed in first vote totals from Monroe County: Added numbers make for tiny margin in District 62 House race

Based on revised numbers from the Monroe County election division, Dave Hall’s (R) margin over Penny Githens (D) in the Indiana District 62 State House race has shrunk from 1,509 as reported on election night, to 37.

District 62 includes portions of Monroe, Brown, and Jackson counties.

On Wednesday morning, Monroe County election staff added the votes from 6,642 additional ballots to Monroe County’s totals.

Monroe County revised unofficial 2022 general election vote totals 

Here’s the county-by-county breakdown for the District 62 House race based on the freshest numbers, which were sent to The B Square around 10 a.m. on Thursday Wednesday morning.

Candidate Monroe Brown Jackson Total Pct
Dave Hall 7,893 4,204 878 12,975 0.5007139
Penny Githens 10,608 2,189 141 12,938 0.4992860

The new numbers were also reported to the Indiana Secretary of State’s office and are now reflected in the SOS election results website. Continue reading “6.6K ballots missed in first vote totals from Monroe County: Added numbers make for tiny margin in District 62 House race”

2023 Bloomington city council elections: Guenther won’t pursue at-large seat

In a news release issued on Monday, Andrew Guenther announced his intent to end his exploratory committee, which he formed in mid-June to make a bid for Bloomington city council in 2023.

Photo included with Guenther’s June news release.

Guenther is quoted in the release saying, “After careful consideration of my current schedule, obligations, and personal health, I cannot in good conscience continue my campaign for Bloomington city council.”

Guenther’s statement continues, “The people of Bloomington deserve better than a part-time councilmember who cannot dedicate themselves fully to serving the public interest.”

Guenther is now a graduate student at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law and in the O’Neill School of Public & Environmental Affairs.

He is former chair of Bloomington’s environmental commission. Guenther has also served on Monroe County’s environmental commission and Bloomington’s board of housing quality appeals.

In 2019 Guenther ran for the District 2 city council seat as a Republican, but lost in the general election to Democrat Sue Sgambelluri. Continue reading “2023 Bloomington city council elections: Guenther won’t pursue at-large seat”

Early voting wraps up in Monroe County, polls open on Election Day at 6 a.m.

Early voting in Monroe County for the Nov. 8 election is now over.

Closing at noon on Monday were the polls at the election operations building at 3rd and Walnut streets in downtown Bloomington.

Voting hours for Election Day, at assigned polling locations throughout the county, extend from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The pace of early in-person voting in Monroe County has increased by a lot in the final week before the Tuesday Nov. 8 election.

The increased early-voting numbers were evident on Monday. For much of the morning, a line of voters wrapped around the north end of the election operations building.

At around 11:45, which was 15 minutes before the polls closed, The B Square counted around 40 people standing in line outside. Sunny skies and a temperature in the low 60s meant the wait was not as unpleasant as it might have been.

The line moved pretty fast. In the four hours of early voting on Tuesday, from 8 a.m. to noon, 977 people were able to cast a ballot. That works out to 244 voters an hour, the highest voter throughput for any day during this year’s early voting period, or for the presidential election in 2020. Continue reading “Early voting wraps up in Monroe County, polls open on Election Day at 6 a.m.”

Column: Let’s put a stop sign on the road to divisive debate club points, greenlight more ped infra money

Last Wednesday, a divided Bloomington city council approved new stop signs on Maxwell Lane at Sheridan Drive, making the intersection an all-way stop.

The council’s deliberations were on brand—mired in meaningless debate club theater. The desire to score debate points distracted from a fundamental challenge—the need to identify more funding for infrastructure that benefits pedestrians.

But there’s an upcoming venue where a need for additional funding pedestrian infrastructure could get aired. Sometime in the next few weeks, the four-member city council sidewalk committee will be conducting its annual review of requests for new sidewalk construction.

The committee will be making recommendations on how to divvy up $336,000, which is the same amount as last year.  But based on 2019 costs, there’s $17 million worth of requests on list for additional sidewalks, which will take a half century to build at the current pace.

I hope the sidewalk committee members take some of their meeting time to start talking about concrete steps the council could take, working with the mayor, to inject more money into pedestrian infrastructure.

Here’s some ideas that could be explored: annually issue $3 million in general obligation bonds targeted for pedestrian infrastructure; tap a portion of the $16 million in CRED (Community Revitalization Enhancement District) fund balances; or use tax increment finance (TIF) revenue, which is overseen by the redevelopment commission. Continue reading “Column: Let’s put a stop sign on the road to divisive debate club points, greenlight more ped infra money”

Bloomington looks finally to put commercial tenants in ground floors of city parking garages

The ground floor commercial space in the city of Bloomington’s two new public parking garages—on 4th Street and in the Trades District—could finally see some tenants, more than a year after construction was completed.

Terms for lease agreements in both parking garages appear on the agenda for Monday’s regular meeting of Bloomington’s redevelopment commission (RDC).

Slotting into the 4th Street space will be Hoosier Networks. That’s the company formed by Paris-based Meridiam to do business in Indiana, as part of deal with the city of Bloomington to build a fiber-to-the-home network in the city.

Hoosier Networks will also be able to lease some temporary space in College Square, which is the former location of the Bunger & Robertson law firm, which the RDC purchased with an eye towards developing the parcel as part of an expanded convention center.  It’s the spot where Bloomington’s downtown fire station has landed temporarily after the June 2021 flooding damaged the fire station at 4th and Lincoln streets.

Taking the Trades District garage space will be the University of California – Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. That’s after the RDC in mid-April had approved terms of a lease with the software company Exclaimer for the Trades District garage space. The Trades District garage ground floor space for lease is still an empty box—it doesn’t look like it ever got built out for Exclaimer.

Continue reading “Bloomington looks finally to put commercial tenants in ground floors of city parking garages”