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”

Election equipment for Monroe County passes logic, accuracy test

Monroe County’s election equipment, manufactured by Hart InterCivic has passed the logic and accuracy test mandated under state statute.

The test was conducted with help from Bob and Lori White, with B&L IT Services, which is a contractor the county uses for logistics and technical support in connection with elections.

The test took place at 9:30 a.m. on Monday at the old Johnson Hardware building at 7th and Madison streets, aka Election Central.

After a test deck of 22 ballots was fed into each of the three machines, and the machines tallied up the results, every candidate in every race received 4 votes. That meant the devices selected for testing passed with 100 percent accuracy. Continue reading “Election equipment for Monroe County passes logic, accuracy test”

Monroe County 2023 budget notebook: Councilors mull $2K one-time retention bonus

In 2023, Monroe County employees could see a $2,000 quarterly retention bonus, paid out quarterly.

The screen grab from the CATS broadcast links to the video recording, cued up to the start of the discussion about the potential $2,000 one-time bonus.

That’s in addition to the 5-percent COLA (cost-of-living adjustment) that their draft budget already includes.

The working number for the total 2023 Monroe County budget is in the ballpark of $90 million.

Here’s the back-of-the-napkin math some councilors did on Thursday: $2,000 times about 600 employees equals about $1.2 million more.

None of that is certain.

The next steps in the county’s budget process include a public hearing on Oct. 4 and a vote that is set for Oct. 18.

Discussion of the $2,000 retention bonus came on Thursday (Sept. 15), after five nights of budget hearings that stretched across two weeks. Monroe County councilors wrapped up the budget hearings with a discussion of employee compensation. Continue reading “Monroe County 2023 budget notebook: Councilors mull $2K one-time retention bonus”

Photos: Protesters mourn effective date of Indiana’s law prohibiting most abortions

On the evening before the effective date of SB1, Indiana’s new law that prohibits most abortions, around a hundred people gathered on the southeast lawn of the Monroe County courthouse in an event that was billed as a vigil to mark the occasion.

Attending Wednesday evening’s event (Sept. 14) and addressing the crowd were county and city officials as well as leaders of nonprofit groups. Continue reading “Photos: Protesters mourn effective date of Indiana’s law prohibiting most abortions”

Delayed: Bloomington plan commission hearing on rezone for possible future site of Monroe County jail

An expected hearing next week on Monroe County government’s request for a rezoning of 87 acres in southwest Bloomington has been put off until October.

The reason for the delay was a failure by Monroe County government to post the required signs at the property, 21 days before the hearing.

The site is the hoped-for location of the new jail that Monroe County is looking to build, in order to meeting constitutional standards.

The rezoning, from mixed-use employment (ME) to mixed-use institutional (MI), was expected to be heard by the Bloomington plan commission next Monday (Sept. 12).

But that hearing has been put off until October 10. In the vocabulary used by the plan commission the hearing has been “continued” until the regular monthly meeting in October.

Bloomington and Monroe County officials have confirmed to The B Square that the hearing was put off a month, because the required signs were not posted at the property at least 21 days before the hearing. Continue reading “Delayed: Bloomington plan commission hearing on rezone for possible future site of Monroe County jail”

Potential convention center deal: City, county leaders meet, agree to meet again

On Wednesday at noon, the possible expansion of the county convention center was the topic of a meeting of Monroe County and Bloomington officials.

The gathering at the county courthouse included county commissioners, some county councilors, city councilmembers and the mayor’s office.

It was the first time that representatives from all four groups had sat at the same table on that topic since early March of 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

After about 45 minutes of conversation, the group had not made much progress, but agreed it was worth another meeting.

The city wants to get a deal done by the end of September. So “sooner rather than later” was the city’s wish for a next scheduled meeting.

One twist that emerged on Wednesday was the possibility that a convention center deal between the city and the county could hinge on Bloomington’s approval of a rezone for land that the county wants to use for construction of a new jail.

At the table were: Mary Catherine Carmichael (Bloomington’s director of public engagement); Susan Sandberg and Sue Sgambelluri (president and vice president of the Bloomington city council); Lee Jones, Julie Thomas, and Penny Githens (Monroe County commissioners); and Cheryl Munson Geoff McKim (Monroe County councilors). Continue reading “Potential convention center deal: City, county leaders meet, agree to meet again”

Monroe County awards $151K in community service grants

Community service grants to 25 organizations totaling $151,220 were approved by Monroe County councilors at their Tuesday evening work session.

The community service grants, which have been made annually since 2008, are named after a former county councilor, the late Sophia Travis.

This year’s total figure is about 11.5 percent more than last year’s.

That’s more than the 5-percent increase in revenue from the property tax levy that local governments will see for 2023. An increase to the Sophia Travis grant funding that is greater than the property tax increase was something county councilor Cheryl Munson had championed when last year’s awards were made.

Munson is chair of the five-person committee that makes recommendations on the grant awards. Also serving on the committee this year were Munson’s colleagues Trent Deckard and Jennifer Crossley, as well as two community members, Jean Capler and Joshua Johnson.

By dollar amount this year, the top five awards went to: New Hope for Families ($11,480); Boys & Girls Clubs of Bloomington ($9,400); The Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce Foundation ($9,240); Girls, Inc of Monroe County ($7,700); Big Brothers Big Sisters of Monroe County ($7,400). A complete table of year’s awards, and the projects they will fund, is included below. Continue reading “Monroe County awards $151K in community service grants”

Monroe County says no to rezone, would have allowed farm to have short-term rental use

In a rare split vote, Monroe County commissioners have denied a request for the rezoning of some property east of the city of Bloomington.

The owner had requested a rezone, in order to use a farmhouse located on 19-acres as an Airbnb—that is, a short-term rental.

The specific proposal from Jason Voorhies was to change the zoning from Estate Residential 2.5 to Agricultural/Rural Reserve, which would have allowed use of the property as a tourist home/cabin.

The zoning change came with a commitment by Voorhies to apply for a historic preservation overlay. According to the Indiana State Historic Architectural and Archaeological Research Database (SHAARD), the existing farmhouse and associated barn structures are listed as “contributing.” That’s a designation that means the property met the basic requirement of being pre-1970, but that it is not historic enough to stand on its own as “outstanding” or “notable.”

Part of the case Voorhies tried to make to commissioners was that the income from the property’s use as a short-term rental would help him to rehabilitate and maintain the farmhouse and two barns.

Wednesday’s vote by the three commissioners was not unanimous. Lee Jones voted yes while Penny Githens and Julie Thomas voted no. But as the appointee from the board of county commissioners to the plan commissioner, Thomas had voted for the rezone at that group’s June 21 meeting.

The plan commission’s recommendation was in support by just a 5–4 margin. Joining Thomas on that vote were: Jerry Pittsford, Dee Owens, Amy Thompson, and Bernard Guerrettaz. Voting against the recommendation on the plan commission were Trohn Enright-Randolph, Geoff McKim, Jim Stainbrook, and Margaret Clements.

As Thomas put it last week, when commissioners first heard the request, “I did vote yes, on the original petition, but I am nothing if not protean and willing to change my mind based on facts and data presented to me.” Continue reading “Monroe County says no to rezone, would have allowed farm to have short-term rental use”

Convention center notebook: Monroe County commissioners react to Bloomington pitch by putting appraisal of property on agenda

“I think it only makes sense to go into negotiations armed with knowledge.”

That was county commissioner Julie Thomas’s commentary on Wednesday morning about the possibility of getting an appraisal of county-owned real estate in downtown Bloomington.

Her comment came at the end of Wednesday’s work session, which followed the regular meeting of the three commissioners. The approval of a contract for the appraisal of county real estate in downtown Bloomington will likely appear on next Wednesday’s (Aug. 17) regular meeting agenda.

Possibly getting the county’s property appraised comes as a reaction to a proposal from the city of Bloomington, to transfer the real estate connected with the convention center to the city. That means the existing building, as well as other property the county has acquired as part of a planned center expansion. Continue reading “Convention center notebook: Monroe County commissioners react to Bloomington pitch by putting appraisal of property on agenda”

2023 budget notebook: Monroe County council recommends 5% pay raise for planning purposes

Monroe County employees could be looking at a 5-percent increase to their pay in 2023, while inflation is running a few points higher than that.

At their Tuesday night meeting, Monroe County councilors voted unanimously to recommend for current budget planning purposes that a 5-percent cost-of-living adjustment be made to county employee compensation.

That’s the amount that will be used by staff as they draft the 2023 county budget.

Tuesday’s vote to recommend a 5-percent increase came after county board of commissioners president Julie Thomas reported to the council that the commissioners support an increase that’s nearly double that amount—9.5 percent.

The figure supported by commissioners is based on comparing the June 2021 to June 2022 consumer price index (CPI), as calculated by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics for the midwest region.

It’s the county council’s typical approach to look at the December-to-December numbers for the previous year. Comparing December 2021 to December 2020, the current CPI shows a 7.5-percent increase. Continue reading “2023 budget notebook: Monroe County council recommends 5% pay raise for planning purposes”