Bloomington city council OKs symbolic amendment supporting police, adopts 2021 budget on 7–1 vote

On Wednesday night, Bloomington’s city budget got just seven votes of support from the nine-member city council.

In the approved budget, general fund expenditures for 2021 decreased to around $95 million, from around $99 million in 2020.

Nothing significant changed from the time the budget was first proposed in mid-August. The budget assumes a new engineering department, but that will require some future legislative action by the council.

Over the objections of some councilmembers, the new transportation demand management (TDM) position will have the economic and sustainable development department as a home, instead of the planning and transportation department.

The number of budgeted sworn police officers stayed the same as in the mid-August proposal—100, which is down from the 105 that are authorized this year. But on Wednesday night, the theoretical maximum was explicitly set at 105 through an amendment to the police and firefighter salary ordinance.

Matt Flaherty, one of four first-term councilmembers, cast votes against the salary ordinance that covers most city employees and against the basic appropriation ordinance. Those are two of the six pieces of legislation that make up the annual budget package.

About his dissent, Flaherty said, “I don’t feel like I’ve impacted this budget at all, in part because of the procedural shortcomings in how we approach budgeting and the fact that we don’t have a defined structure for collaboration and compromise.”

City council president Steve Volan was absent.

A highlight from the 2021 appropriation ordinance included a reduction in funding for sworn police officers, compared to 2020 budgeted numbers, from 105 to 100. The funding that would have paid for five police officers is allocated instead to non-sworn positions, which would be a mix of social workers, neighborhood resource specialists, and a data analyst.

A amendment sponsored by councilmembers Susan Sandberg and Sue Sgambelluri revised the salary ordinance covering police officers and firefighters to include a statement saying, “The maximum number of sworn officers within the Police Department for the year 2021 shall be set at 105.”

Because the amendment to the salary ordinance did not change the dollar amounts of any appropriations—those are made in a separate ordinance—Sandberg called the amendment “largely symbolic.” The amendment passed on a 5–3 vote, with Flaherty, Kate Rosenbarger and Isabel Piedmont-Smith dissenting. Continue reading “Bloomington city council OKs symbolic amendment supporting police, adopts 2021 budget on 7–1 vote”

Hey, Wait a Minute | Is Bloomington’s annual budget process like slaughtering chickens?

Note: “Hey, Wait a Minute” is an occasional B Square Beacon series that highlights meeting minutes and other documentation of local government meetings in the Bloomington, Indiana area.

The Bloomington city council’s information packet for its Oct. 7 meeting includes some meeting minutes with dates from 2011.

A failed amendment to Bloomington’s chicken keeping ordinance as recorded in the meeting minutes of Dec. 21, 2011. The amendment that was eventually approved struck outright the prohibition against slaughtering a chicken.

Why are the meeting minutes from nine years ago just now in front of the city council for approval? That’s an interesting story, too. More on that later.

Maybe a little more interesting is the range of topics reflected in those 2011 meeting minutes.

Slaughtering chickens.

Approval of the 2012 budget.

And more.

On Dec. 21 of that year, the council eliminated a prohibition in city code against the slaughter of a chicken by someone who has a permit to keep a chicken flock under the city’s ordinance.

During the same meeting, an earlier version of the code amendment failed. That version would have added the stipulation that the killing of any chickens be accomplished in a humane manner and that the event be kept out of public view. Continue reading “Hey, Wait a Minute | Is Bloomington’s annual budget process like slaughtering chickens?”

Bumpy road for Bloomington mayor continues with initial debate on final 2021 budget, as city council gets jolted by surprise renaming of department

Two weeks ago, Bloomington’s city council handed mayor John Hamilton a rare if not unprecedented defeat in his nearly half decade as mayor, when it rejected a request for a quarter-point increase to the local income tax. Five of nine councilmembers voted against it.

Bloomington city council: In the last two weeks, eight of nine Bloomington city councilmembers have voted against at least one important request made by mayor John Hamilton. One of those votes—a straw poll on the 2021 salary ordinance covering most of the city’s employees—had no legal significance.

The administration’s rough patch continued on Wednesday when the council gave the 2021 budget legislation a first reading and subjected it to its traditional preliminary straw polls. The package of budget legislation consists of six different ordinances.

On the salary ordinance that covers most of the city’s roughly 750 employees, the straw poll tally was just 3–6 in favor.

Sticking points include the departmental placement of a new transportation demand management position and the the creation of a new, independent engineering department.

Also making for a big bump in the budgeting road is the swapping out of five sworn police officer positions for two additional social workers, two neighborhood resource specialists, and a data analyst. That would reduce the number of authorized sworn officers from 105 to 100. Only 95 of those positions are currently filled.

Those points of concern were already evident in mid-August during the council’s departmental budget hearings and in the written questions submitted by councilmembers to the administration.

On Wednesday night,  what might have caused some councilmembers to be more frank about their dissatisfaction with various aspects of the budget proposal was a surprise revelation during the meeting. The administration intends to delete the word “transportation” from the name of the planning and transportation department.

The set of councilmembers voting against the local income tax increase or against the straw poll on the salary ordinance includes eight of the nine local legislators. Dave Rollo was the only councilmember who didn’t vote against at least one of the two.

Rollo is in his 18th year of service on the council, which makes him the longest serving of current councilmembers.

Wednesday’s votes were made in the council’s guise as the committee of the whole, so they were just recommendations, or “straw polls” as councilmembers call them. The vote on final budget adoption is not scheduled until Oct. 14.

The possibilities for changes to the final budget between now and mid-October are limited, because the dollar amounts have already been advertised. They can be reduced, but not increased, except upon recommendation of the mayor. Continue reading “Bumpy road for Bloomington mayor continues with initial debate on final 2021 budget, as city council gets jolted by surprise renaming of department”

Analysis | Bloomington’s final 2021 budget proposal: Six of city’s proposed 11.1 new positions are for parking services

The final version of the 2021 budget proposal from Bloomington mayor John Hamilton was released on Friday as a part of the city council’s Sept. 30 meeting information packet.

In the packet, a memo from the head of the city’s human resources department highlights one significant difference between the narrative about the budget presented in mid-August and the budget that the council will be asked to adopt.

That difference is the addition of a half dozen new parking services positions compared to last year, at a total cost of $398,870. They’re being added in connection to the planned opening of two new parking garages next year.

The six new parking services positions make up more than half of the 11.1 total new positions in the 2021 budget across the city’s whole organization.

The 1.6 positions that were a prominent part of the administration’s mid-August “belt-tightening” narrative about the budget are general fund positions. One is for a transportation demand management employee. The other 0.6 fraction is for human resources.

An additional 3.5 dispatcher positions are funded out of the public safety local income tax. The dispatch center is a joint effort between the city and the county. Those positions were mentioned specifically as a part of the written narrative from the police department in mid-August.

The six parking services positions don’t seem to have been a part of the administration’s mid-August narrative about new positions in the 2021 budget. Narrative aside, what about the numbers?

Were the parking services positions included in the dollar figures for the mid-August 2021 budget proposal, or weren’t they?

Responding to a request for clarification from The Square Beacon, the mayor’s office said on Monday, “The parking services positions were included in the dollar amounts associated with the mid-August budget proposal.”

Continue reading “Analysis | Bloomington’s final 2021 budget proposal: Six of city’s proposed 11.1 new positions are for parking services”

From police, to parking, to public works, to bidets: Bloomington 2021 budget Q&A flush with facts

Late August marked the conclusion of a four-night series of city council hearings on Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s proposed 2021 budget. Shortly after that, councilmembers submitted written questions to city staff.

In the second week of September, staff responses to councilmember questions were posted in a Q&A document on the city’s budget web page.

Whether the concerns expressed in the written questions or during the budget hearings will result in changes to the budget won’t be known for sure until the final budget is presented to the city council on Sept. 30.

A vote to adopt Bloomington’s city budget is set for Oct. 14. Continue reading “From police, to parking, to public works, to bidets: Bloomington 2021 budget Q&A flush with facts”

Income tax estimates from state for Monroe County, Bloomington 2021 budgets: Up 9.3 percent compared to last year

Tuesday’s news from Indiana’s state budget agency (SBA) can be analyzed by local governments in Monroe County  as at least OK.

The SBA’s estimated distribution of local income tax revenue to Monroe County governments is about 9.3 percent higher for 2021 than it was for 2020.

That’s not a complete surprise. A big impact from the COVID-19 pandemic on income tax revenues to Indiana local governments is not expected to be felt until 2022. That’s when distributions of local income taxes (LITs) will be based on the tax collected on income earned in the pandemic year of 2020.

Still, in late summer this year, local governments were drawing up initial budgets for 2021 with some caution baked in. Even though the 2021 LIT distributions are based on taxes collected on income earned in 2019, there was some concern that the ability of wage earners to pay those taxes this year might have been be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. That concern looks like it has been somewhat relieved by Tuesday’s estimates from the SBA.

But based on the SBA estimates, the increased amount of revenues that Bloomington can likely factor into its 2021 plans will not be enough to tip the balance from a deficit budget to one where revenues exceed expenses.

Responding to a query from The Square Beacon, city communications director Yael Ksander said that “[T]he allocation for the City would still not equal the amount of deficit spending the 2021 budget proposes.”

Planned expenditures won’t be affected by Tuesday’s SBA estimates, Ksander said. “The 2021 expenditure budget will not be revised in light of these new estimates. This additional revenue would simply diminish the level of deficit spending.” Less deficit spending means the city will won’t have to tap as much in reserves as it had planned. Continue reading “Income tax estimates from state for Monroe County, Bloomington 2021 budgets: Up 9.3 percent compared to last year”

Monroe County to Bloomington: “We respectfully write to implore you to postpone any vote on the tax increase.”

Responding to a proposal to increase Monroe County’s local income tax by a quarter point, from 1.345 percent to 1.595 percent, the county council voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve a letter to the Bloomington city council that questions the timing of the move.

The county council’s letter asks Bloomington’s legislative branch “to devote substantially more time to collaborating with the mayor and the full local income tax council membership to most effectively plan and consider this proposed income tax rate increase.”

The city council has scheduled its vote on the proposal for Sept. 16, after an initial city council discussion that is set for Sept. 9. The county council wanted city councilmembers to receive the letter in time for their Sept. 9 deliberations.

The city council is responding to a request by Bloomington mayor John Hamilton to consider increasing the income tax by a quarter point, after proposing a half-point increase on New Year’s Day.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is a reason given by Hamilton for reducing the amount of the increase. Hamilton has also refocussed the intended expenditures for the additional revenue to eliminate additional funding for public transit, among other changes.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is one reason that the county council’s letter gives for not considering a tax increase of any amount at this time: “Monroe County residents are experiencing a global pandemic with no end in sight. The negative impacts of COVID-19 are real and continue to weigh heavily on all residents in recent weeks and months.”

The letter continues, “Some of Monroe County’s largest employers have announced plans for personnel furloughs, and wage cuts due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. In addition, many small local businesses have had to make the difficult choice to close permanently, or lay off staff indefinitely, causing a loss of income to a significant number of Monroe County residents and families.”

The letter wraps up the point about the COVID-19 impact by saying, “During such uncertain times, when evidence of stress and depression are all around us, and hitting us too close to home, it would be unwise to add to the stress our residents face by increasing their tax burden without a manifest and widely supported plan for its use.”

A city council vote on Sept. 16 could enact the tax increase on all Monroe County residents, if it achieves either a 9–0 or 8–1 majority. That’s based on the voting weights assigned to individual representative to members of the tax council. Continue reading “Monroe County to Bloomington: “We respectfully write to implore you to postpone any vote on the tax increase.””

Analysis | From transit, to climate, to basic services: A changing trajectory for Bloomington’s income tax proposal

An op-ed written by Bloomington’s mayor, Democrat John Hamilton, published Friday morning in The Herald-Times, tries to make a case for Bloomington’s city council to enact a quarter-point increase to the local income tax.

The Friday morning op-ed by the mayor resurfaced the idea of a quarter-point local income tax increase, after a six-week period of public silence on the part of city councilmembers.

That six weeks is measured from July 16, when Hamilton re-introduced the topic of a local income tax increase, after first announcing the idea on New Year’s Day—as a half-point increase.

Even if the headline to Hamilton’s op-ed reads, “We all have a decision to make,” it’s elected representatives, like city councilmembers, who will take the deciding votes.

Adding a quarter point (0.25) to the local income tax rate would generate about $4 million for Bloomington and a little more than $4 million for Monroe County and Ellettsville governments.

Possible timing for the city council’s action would include a first reading at a special meeting on Sept. 9. That could be followed a week later by a second reading and final vote on Sept. 16.

Hamilton’s op-ed attempts an argument for quick city council action  by raising the specter of possible future moves by Indiana’s Republican-dominated General Assembly: “The state legislature may well reduce or eliminate our ability to accomplish new revenues by next spring (they already changed the voting requirements earlier this year).”

For Hamilton, the preservation of essential government functions is an important reason for the tax rate increase. That’s based on the final sentence of his op-ed: “This prudent, proposed investment is needed to meet the daunting challenges that we face in common, and to sustain the basic services on which we all depend.”

The timing issue, when combined with one stated purposes for the tax increase, makes for a pitch that goes something like this: The city council needs to act now, in case the state legislature takes away Bloomington’s ability to pay for basic services.

Two separate issues stand out as dubious in connection with that pitch. One is the question of urgency. The other is the question of purpose. Continue reading “Analysis | From transit, to climate, to basic services: A changing trajectory for Bloomington’s income tax proposal”

Committee gets more perspective on police as Bloomington city council weighs 2021 budget proposal to swap out sworn officers

A Wednesday night meeting of the Bloomington city council’s standing committee on public safety put some new information about Bloomington’s police department in front of the four-member group.

Committee member Isabel Piedmont-Smith told Bloomington police chief Mike Diekhoff, who was on hand to answer questions, “I was shocked. I was shocked that BPD sometimes uses no-knock warrants.”

Wednesday’s committee meeting, chaired by council vice president Jim Sims, came in the context of Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s 2021 budget proposal. The 2021 budget proposes to swap five authorized sworn officer positions for two social workers, two neighborhood resource officers, and a data analyst. The final version of the budget gets presented on Sept. 30.

Piedmont-Smith’s shock was a reaction to the police department’s written answers to questions from committee members. The department’s answers had been given to the committee earlier in the day.

The committee questions included this one: “Does BPD ever serve warrants or for any reason enter homes without knocking?” The written response led off with a simple acknowledgment: “Yes, but they are rare.”

The written response also includes a description of the constraints on no-knock warrants: They’re subject to judicial review, and must get an approval that’s separate from the application for a warrant. They’re supposed to be used only in situations where waiting for someone to answer the knock would be futile or dangerous to the officers serving the warrant.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Piedmont-Smith asked Diekhoff: “Can you guarantee me that a situation like Breonna Taylor cannot happen in Bloomington?”

Continue reading “Committee gets more perspective on police as Bloomington city council weighs 2021 budget proposal to swap out sworn officers”

Monroe Fire Protection District presents “massive” budget to county council

On Tuesday night, Monroe Fire Protection District (MFPD) chief Dustin Dillard presented a 2021 budget to the county council that weighed in at just shy of $12 million.

That’s better than three times the 2020 adopted budget, which totals around $3.7 million. But as Dillard put it, “It’s impossible to compare the current district to the 2021 budget without expressing the scale of this operation.”

The budget for 2021 is way bigger for a couple of reasons. First, it reflects a consolation of three departments—MFPD with the fire departments in Van Buren and Bloomington townships. Van Buren and Bloomington townships were approved last year by the board of county commissioners to join MFPD starting in 2021 after following a process that the commissioners had laid out.  It was the same process that Washington and Benton townships are following this year.

Until they join the MFPD in 2022—assuming their membership is approved by county commissioners later this year—the plan is for Washington and Benton townships to contract with MFPD for fire protection service. So MFPD’s 2021 budget includes the contracts with Washington and Benton townships.

That means MFPD will be adding five townships worth of geography to its coverage area. According to Dillard, in 2021 MFPD will serve nearly 45,000 Monroe County citizens, 19,000 housing units, covering 317 square miles, or 77 percent of Monroe County.

The other reason the budget is bigger is that it reflects more than just a consolidation of departments. The 2021 budget includes 13 additional full-time and 20 additional part-time firefighters. Eight of the 13 full-time positions will be in place on Jan. 1, 2021 and the additional five will be added in the second half of the year, Dillard said.

Dillard summed it up this way: “In addition to merging the three together, we have more on top of that, that really make for a massive budget.” Continue reading “Monroe Fire Protection District presents “massive” budget to county council”