Bloomington city council critical on first night of 2022 budget hearings: police, parking, sidewalks

On Monday, the first night of departmental hearings on Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s proposed 2022 budget, several city councilmembers conveyed their dissatisfaction about one or more aspects of next year’s financial plan.

Those points of friction included police officer compensation, a parking cashout program for city employees, and alternative transportation funding.

Even though Tuesday is the night scheduled for public safety budgets, Hamilton fielded sharp questions on Monday from councilmembers Dave Rollo and Susan Sandberg about the adequacy of compensation for Bloomington police officers.

Rollo even floated the idea that the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the police union could be reopened to provide higher compensation. The current CBA, approved in late 2019, runs through 2022.

Rollo and Sandberg have concerns about recruitment and retention of police officers. Bloomington currently has 92 sworn officers, which is 13 fewer than the 105 that are authorized.

Rollo doesn’t see the $250,000 pool of retention and recruitment funds in the 2022 budget as adequate.

At one point during Monday’s meeting, Sandberg asked Hamilton, “Do you feel the same sense of urgency that some of us do from having talked to our officers that are currently stressed to a point that I think is almost bordering on a crisis?”

The topic of police staffing levels is certain to be a highlight of Tuesday’s budget hearing, when police chief Mike Diekhoff presents his department’s budget.

Unlike the individual departmental budget presentations, Hamilton’s overview of the budget on Monday was not subjected to an informal straw poll.

The dissatisfaction expressed by the council at Monday’s meeting was not confined to the mayor’s overview.

If the city council’s straw polls had any legal significance, only two of the six departmental budgets presented on Monday would have been approved. The tallies on the straw polls (yes-no-abstain) were: human resources (3–1–5); legal (8–0–1); information technology (4–0–5); council office (6–2–1); controller (4–4–1); and mayor’s office (5–0–4). Continue reading “Bloomington city council critical on first night of 2022 budget hearings: police, parking, sidewalks”

Analysis by Bloomington resident: Sidewalk project funding not equitable, political bias a factor

A report released by Bloomington resident Mark Stosberg late Monday questions the way funding for construction of new sidewalks has been allocated in the city for the last 17 years.

White dots with lines indicate projects recommended for funding by Bloomington city council’s sidewalk committee over the last 17 years. The darker the blue shading, the higher income the area is, based on US Census data. The image links to Bloomington resident Mark Stosberg’s “Sidewalk Equity Audit”

The report concludes that the process a four-member city council sidewalk committee has used  to recommend funding has caused an inequitable distribution of limited resources.

From the executive summary of Stosberg’s report: “The audit found that the current politically-biased process resulted in skewing sidewalk projects towards neighborhoods that were wealthier, less dense and had lower pedestrian demand.”

To fund all the projects on last year’s potential project list would take around $17 million. Using just the roughly $330,000 a year that’s allocated to building new sidewalks with the city council’s program would mean a half-century wait until all those sidewalks are built.

City staff and councilmembers alike have over the last year talked about the need to find more money to pay for new sidewalk construction.

Based on Stosberg’s remarks at a July meeting of the city’s bicycle and pedestrian safety commission (BPSC), the audit helps make the point that if funding is limited, then it’s that much more important to make sure the resources are distributed equitably.

Stosberg is president of the BPSC.  The commission got a preview of a draft version of the report at its October meeting. Other members gave Stosberg some feedback, but the authorship of the report is Stosberg’s.

The idea that the current approach could be a “politically biased process” is conceivable, based on the fact that it’s a four-member city council committee that works closely with staff from different city departments to select the projects for funding recommendations.

Stosberg’s audit uses US Census data on income to identify “a concentration of wealthier census blocks in the southeast part of town.”

About those wealthier census blocks, Stosberg’s report says, “That’s also where the about half of sidewalk committee funded projects landed and significantly overlaps with city council District 4, which has been continuously represented on the sidewalk committee for 17 years.”

Dave Rollo, who represents District 4, has served on the city council since 2003.

Rollo was appointed again this year to the council’s sidewalk committee, along with Kate Rosenbarger (District 1), Ron Smith (District 3) and Jim Sims (at large). Sims is chair of the committee. This year is the first for Smith and Rosenbarger to serve on the committee, because it’s their first year of service on the city council. Continue reading “Analysis by Bloomington resident: Sidewalk project funding not equitable, political bias a factor”