Column: Hey, buddy, let’s talk trash bin math

Before the end of the year, Bloomington residents could be looking at an increased price for their trash pickup by the city’s sanitation division.

City of Bloomington trash cart. Looking north on Washington Street (Oct. 17, 222)

The idea is not just to cover the increased costs for the service. The eventual goal could be to eliminate any general fund support for trash and recycling collection, by making the service pay for itself with fees.

Curbside trash and recycling pickup is a city service that’s now provided just to residences with four or fewer dwelling units, which includes single-family houses.

There is enough money in the recently adopted 2023 budget to continue the general fund support of curbside trash and recycling pickup.

But Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s administration, and at least some councilmembers, want to reduce that support eventually to zero. That’s why sometime before the end of the year, the city council will likely be asked to approve a trash cart rate increase.

To cue up the conversation about trash cart rates, it is important to understand the current monthly rate structure for the three sizes of carts. Continue reading “Column: Hey, buddy, let’s talk trash bin math”

Bloomington budget adopted, AFSCME workers get same pay (for now) as last year

On unanimous votes taken on Wednesday night, Bloomington’s city council adopted the six separate ordinances that make up the 2023 budget.

That meant the council chose not to confront Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s administration in the same way it did last year, when it postponed a vote on the next year’s budget until late October.

Based on their deliberations in late September this year, indications had been that a delay similar to last year’s might have been in the works, especially on the ordinance that sets AFSCME member pay.

Just one councilmember, Jim Sims, had expressed support for that ordinance during late September deliberations. The straw poll results on that occasion showed five councilmembers voting no and three abstaining.

But on Wednesday, the salary ordinance that sets AFSCME pay for 2023 was adopted on a unanimous vote, with the same pay schedule for those workers as for 2022. When the current ongoing collective bargaining negotiations conclude with an agreement, that salary ordinance is supposed to be amended to reflect a pay increase.

City council chambers were filled on Wednesday night with more than 50 AFSCME members who pled with the council to support them in their ongoing contract negotiations. Their current four-year contract expires at the end of the year. Continue reading “Bloomington budget adopted, AFSCME workers get same pay (for now) as last year”

2023 Bloomington budget notebook: Parking cashouts, cop cars

The methods used by city employees to get to work have surfaced in two ways during recent Bloomington city council deliberations on the 2023 budget.

First, for city hall employees, mayor John Hamilton has already implemented a parking “cashout” program for the second half of 2022. It’s supposed to encourage employees to find a different way to arrive at work than driving a car by themselves—by giving them a $250 reward for not purchasing a city hall parking permit.

Parking permits for the city hall lot have historically cost $2 annually.

The parking “cash out” program, for the whole year, is also a part of the 2023 budget, and will reward employees who don’t purchase a parking permit, by giving them a $500 payment.

Second, Hamilton got a push from some councilmembers at the first reading of the 2023 budget, which came on Sept. 28, to allow Bloomington police officers to take their squad cars home.

That would mean a change from the administration’s current policy, which is to allow just those officers who live inside the city limits—or who are part of an on-call response team—to take their squad cars home.

Councilmembers who want to allow police officers to use their squad cars to get to and from work, and for other purposes during off-duty time, see it as maintaining parity with other police departments. It’s part of their ongoing worry about the retention and recruitment of Bloomington police officers.

How many employees are impacted by these programs? Continue reading “2023 Bloomington budget notebook: Parking cashouts, cop cars”

Bloomington’s annual Life Chain demonstration precedes city budget decisions

On Sunday afternoon, a two-mile stretch of 3rd Street in Bloomington, from College Mall Road to College Avenue, was punctuated by clusters of people every block or so, holding signs reading “Stop Abortion Now,” “Abortion Kills Children,” or other similar statements.

It was Bloomington’s edition of the National Life Chain demonstration, which is an annual event that started in 1987.

This year’s demonstration against abortion comes in the wake of the US Supreme Court Dobbs v. Jackson decision handed down in June, which overturned the 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade. Soon after that ruling, Indiana’s state legislature passed SB1, which prohibits most abortions in the state.

The local demonstration also comes during during the run-up to decisions on the city of Bloomington’s 2023 budget, which includes a $2,500 reimbursement for expenses that a city worker might pay in connection with travel out of the state to obtain abortion services.

Also a part of the city’s 2023 budget proposal is a $100,000 allocation to fund an emergency reproductive health care grant program. The city council will hear a first reading this Thursday of a $100,000 appropriation that would fund the emergency reproductive health care grant program starting this year.

About the reimbursement for travel expenses, local Life Chain spokesman Eric Rasmusen wrote in response to an emailed B Square question: “I, of course, think the city should not fund abortions, but really they’re just grandstanding—$2,500 to travel to Illinois?” Continue reading “Bloomington’s annual Life Chain demonstration precedes city budget decisions”

With some grumbles, $30K approved by Monroe County commissioners for Bloomington Economic Development Corporation

At its Wednesday meeting two weeks ago (Sept. 21), Monroe County commissioners approved an agreement that makes a $30,000 contribution to the Bloomington Economic Development Corporation (BEDC).

The BEDC is a nonprofit that works to promote retention, development, and attraction of jobs.

The $30,000 agreement with the BEDC featured a rare non-unanimous vote by county commissioners, even if none of the three cast a vote in opposition.

Abstaining from the vote was president of the board of commissioners Julie Thomas.

Thomas indicated that she does not see how the payment improves Monroe County government’s clout with the BEDC.

Monroe County government already pays the BEDC $10,000 a year for memberships in the organization, so Thomas thinks county government already has “a seat at the table.”

But the two votes in favor, from Lee Jones and Penny Githens, were enough to approve the agreement with the BEDC. Continue reading “With some grumbles, $30K approved by Monroe County commissioners for Bloomington Economic Development Corporation”

2023 Bloomington budget notebook: Built-in padding of 50 percent or more?

Why is the city of Bloomington allowing $1,400,000 for a single item in the 2023 budget that has for the last three full calendar years averaged about $990,000 in actual cost?

That’s basically what city councilmember Matt Flaherty wanted to know last Wednesday night.

Table: Prior actuals versus 2023 budget for general fund support of sanitation

Department Fund Account
Description 19 Actual 20 Actual 21 Actual 22 OK’d  23 Propsd
 16-Sanitation General  539010 Fund Transfer $985,625 $1,009,620 $978,492 $1,519,146 $1,419,146

Flaherty was focused on a particular item in the budget that he eventually wants to eliminate completely—a transfer from the general fund to the sanitation fund. The transfer supports curbside waste collection service.

But that focus revealed a pattern.

At Wednesday’s committee-of-the-whole meeting, Flaherty reported he’d reviewed the numbers for that fund transfer over the last four years—budgeted versus actual. And he’d discovered that on average for a four-year period the city had over-budgeted that general fund transfer to sanitation by about $550,000 every year, or by more than 50 percent.

Flaherty wanted to know why the city was “padding” the general fund support for the sanitation fund by that much. Continue reading “2023 Bloomington budget notebook: Built-in padding of 50 percent or more?”

2023 Bloomington budget notebook: Trash talk, cart fees, general fund

Some Bloomington residents could soon see significant increases in their trash collection fees.

But trash cart fees are laid out in city code, separate from the city budget.

So the city council’s upcoming decisions on the city’s 2023 budget will not affect trash collection fees.

Any decision to increase trash cart fees would come later in the year, in the form of a separate ordinance change enacted by the city council.

And Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s proposed 2023 budget does not assume any increase in trash cart collection fees. Continue reading “2023 Bloomington budget notebook: Trash talk, cart fees, general fund”

Initial talk: Bloomington city council balks on 2023 budget, likely looking for better employee pay before late October vote

“Rather than have a transformative budget, I would like a budget that is fair and equitable to our city employees.”

On Wednesday night, that’s how Bloomington city councilmember Dave Rollo summed up his thoughts on mayor John Hamilton’s proposed 2023 budget.

Rollo’s choice of words was not accidental—Hamilton has pitched his budget as “transformative.”

There’s no question the dollar figure is bigger. Hamilton’s $129.4-million budget proposed for 2023 is $22.4 million more than last year, fueled by $16 million in additional revenue from a 0.69-point increase in the local income tax.

Rollo and several of his city council colleagues don’t think the proposed 5-percent increase in employee base compensation is enough to retain and recruit city employees.

The rate of inflation measured between December 2020 and December 2021 was 7.5 percent. From August 2021 to August 2022, it was 8.1 percent.

Faced with high inflation many city employees are leaving for better-paying jobs. From August 2021 through July of 2022, 122 city employees have left the city for one reason or another. That’s 35 percent more than the 90 employees who left the year before.

And it’s in the neighborhood of double the 66 departures from August 2019 to July 2022 and the 69 departures in the year before that. Of the 42 employees who have completed an exit survey this year, 19 have said their new position offers a higher salary.

So on Wednesday at the council’s committee-of-the-whole meeting, the tally for the council’s straw poll vote was 0–6–3. That means not one of nine councilmembers was willing to say they’d support the mayor’s budget when it comes time for the actual vote on adoption, which is set for Oct. 12. Continue reading “Initial talk: Bloomington city council balks on 2023 budget, likely looking for better employee pay before late October vote”

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”

Bloomington 2023 budget notebook: Compensation, scooters, fire stations, trash fees, coins for parking

The hour was close to 11:30 p.m. on Thursday when Bloomington’s city council wrapped its fourth night of departmental budget presentations in a row, each starting at 6 p.m.

Over the four days, the council racked up a total of 17 hours and 40 minutes worth of meeting time.

That intense burst of activity will be followed by the submission of written followup questions by city councilmembers to the administration. Based on past practice, answers to those questions will eventually be released, sometime before the 2023 budget ordinances get a first reading in front of the city council.

The first readings are currently set for a little more than three weeks from now, on Sept. 28.  The city’s 2023 budget is currently set for adoption by the council on Oct. 12. Continue reading “Bloomington 2023 budget notebook: Compensation, scooters, fire stations, trash fees, coins for parking”