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?”

New Bloomington city council districts: Vote put off at least until Oct. 6

After more than two hours of deliberation on Wednesday, the Bloomington city council postponed until Oct. 6 further consideration of new boundaries for city council districts.

The council’s special meeting, now set for Oct. 6, coincides with the Democratic Party’s Vi Taliaferro Dinner—an annual fundraiser that is scheduled to start at the council’s usual meeting time of 6:30 p.m.

That’s why the all-Democrat council voted 9–0 to convene its special meeting for Oct. 6 at 5 p.m. The council set a time limit of one hour.

The council’s annual calendar had already called for a committee meeting on Oct. 6—which is a Thursday, instead of the usual Wednesday. The one-day shift avoids a conflict with Yom Kippur, which falls on Wednesday. The council canceled that committee meeting in favor of the one-hour special meeting.

On Oct. 6, the council could vote to adopt the new map that has been recommended by Bloomington’s redistricting advisory commission.

Another option would be to reject the map, and send the matter back to the five-member redistricting commission with the reasons for the council’s rejection.

Or the council could again postpone any decision. Continue reading “New Bloomington city council districts: Vote put off at least until Oct. 6”

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”

Public buses outside Bloomington: City council goes on record in support, if county govt pays extra cost

Winning unanimous approval from Bloomington’s city council on Wednesday night was a resolution  that expresses support for the extension of Bloomington Transit (BT) bus service outside the city limits, to Daniels Way.

The route shown in purple was proposed as part of the recommendations from Foursquare Integrated Transportation Planning in June 2019 to optimize Bloomington Transit’s routes.

The turn off 3rd Street to Daniels Way is about three quarters of a mile west of the city limits. New bus service north on Daniels Way, to make a loop around Ivy Tech, Cook Medical, and other employers, would mean extending the route something like a mile and a half.

Wednesday’s resolution expresses intent for the council eventually to make the necessary approvals for service outside the city, but itself has no legal impact.

The resolution’s sole sponsor on the city council, Steve Volan, sees the resolution as “removing a source of doubt for the mayor and for all of our county colleagues” about the city council’s willingness to do “its part” to make public bus service outside the city limits possible.

Under state law, to do “its part,” the city council would have to approve any extension of public bus service outside of city limits. Continue reading “Public buses outside Bloomington: City council goes on record in support, if county govt pays extra cost”

Column: New Bloomington city council districts should get a vote on Sept. 21, but probably won’t

Last Wednesday, Bloomington’s redistricting advisory commission voted to recommend a set of new population-balanced districts for the city council, which would be used starting with the 2023 city elections.

This Wednesday morning (Sept. 7), the advisory commission is set to take a vote on the report that will be forwarded to the city council for its consideration.

Based on its current schedule, the city council could—if it set its collective mind to it—take a vote to adopt or reject the new map and report as soon as the regular council meeting that is set for Sept. 21.

But under the city’s redistricting ordinance, the council could wait almost six weeks, until Nov. 1, to adopt or reject the advisory commission’s map.

Still, the current lull—between last week’s departmental budget presentations and the first reading of the final 2023 budget set for Sept. 28—makes for a perfect time for the city council to give the recommended map an up-or-down vote. Continue reading “Column: New Bloomington city council districts should get a vote on Sept. 21, but probably won’t”

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”

Column: Quorum issue for Bloomington city council highlights need for objective study of procedures

Attendance at Bloomington city council committee-of-the-whole meetings, chronological from left to right.
Attendance at Bloomington city council work sessions, chronological from left to right.
Percentage of votes at council meetings (regular and special sessions, not including committee-of-the-whole meetings) for which councilmembers were present. For this chart, abstentions are counted as present for the vote.

This past Wednesday, Bloomington’s city council failed to achieve a quorum for its committee-of-the-whole meeting.

For the nine-member council, a quorum is five. But only four councilmembers showed up: Susan Sandberg, Jim Sims, Dave Rollo, and Ron Smith.

In practical terms, the lack of a quorum just meant that the four councilmembers could not take an advisory vote on the one agenda item, which was the historic designation of the Bethel AME church.

The four councilmembers still heard the presentation from the city’s historic preservation program manager, and comments from the public.

The lack of quorum did not mean the church’s historic designation was delayed. That item will still appear on the city council’s Wednesday, Aug. 17 agenda, but without a committee recommendation.

But as Wednesday’s gathering was wrapping up, councilmember Jim Sims remarked on the lack of quorum.

He started by noting who else was in the room: “I probably shouldn’t say anything, but I just got to say, we’ve got people from the public that have come here to share their voices, staff that is here to make a presentation. We’ve got a couple of historic preservation commissioners here.”

Sims added: “I personally think it’s a bit of a disservice that we don’t have at least five people here on this council as a quorum to conduct proper business.”

Sims was right to say something. But I think it’s time for the city council to do something. Continue reading “Column: Quorum issue for Bloomington city council highlights need for objective study of procedures”

Monroe County looking to build new jail in SW Bloomington, $10M real estate deal gets initial OK

If Monroe County builds a new jail, where will it be located? The answer to that question came Wednesday morning.

A $10.02 million purchase agreement for an 87-acre piece of land at the northeast corner of I-69 and West Fullerton Pike was approved on a unanimous vote of the three Monroe County commissioners at their regular Wednesday meeting.

The land sits inside Bloomington in the southwest corner of the city.

The land deal is part of a plan to replace the jail currently located in the justice center building at 7th Street and College Avenue in downtown Bloomington. County officials hope to have the deal done by year’s end.

The impetus to replace the jail includes long-standing challenges identified in two reports from consultants delivered a year ago. Continue reading “Monroe County looking to build new jail in SW Bloomington, $10M real estate deal gets initial OK”

Bloomington city council redistricting notebook: What might have been 10 years ago?

Bloomington’s redistricting advisory commission will meet for a second time on Monday (July 25), in the McCloskey Room at city hall, starting at 7:30 p.m.

To preview the commission’s meeting, The B Square took a look back to the council’s work a decade ago, which is the last time the city council districts were redrawn.

The boundaries have to be reconsidered every 10 years in the context of the decennial census. If the census shows that the populations of the districts are out of kilter, the boundaries are supposed to be redrawn to balance things out.

Ten years ago, it was the at-large councilmembers who formed a committee to review potential new maps. That means it was Andy Ruff, Timothy Mayer and Susan Sandberg who confronted the redistricting task.

The map that was adopted in 2012 served to define the council districts for the 2015 and 2019 municipal elections. Whatever map the council adopts this year, sometime before Dec. 31, will serve as the district map for the 2023 elections.

The B Square was able to locate online some records of those meetings.  Those records show that the committee considered several possible maps, other than the one that was eventually adopted by the council that year. Continue reading “Bloomington city council redistricting notebook: What might have been 10 years ago?”

Johnson’s Creamery developer pitches swap of alley location, city council puts off decision

Just this week, a plot twist has emerged in connection with the potential future development of the northern part of the 7th Street parcel where the Johnson’s Creamery building sits.

The twist: Peerless Development has added a corresponding offer to its request for an alley vacation

Now, Peerless says it is willing to dedicate a new public alley on the property, just south of the existing alley. The vacation, combined with the new dedication, would amount to moving the existing alley a bit to the south.

Peerless wants the existing alley to be vacated, in order to build a 51-unit apartment complex north of the old creamery building, right next to the B-Line Trail, off 7th Street. Bloomington’s plan commission approved the site plan for the new development in October 2021. But that approval was contingent on getting a greenlight from the city council for the vacation of the east-west alley—because part of the proposed new building would sit in the right-of-way.

The creamery’s historic smokestack stands in the existing alley. It is subject to a partial demolition order  from the city, based on an engineering study.

At its Wednesday meeting, Bloomington’s city council responded to the offer to move the alley, instead of just vacating the existing public right-of-way, by putting off a decision on the alley vacation.

What the council did procedurally was to table the question. The vote on tabling was 6–2, with Dave Rollo and Jim Sims dissenting. Kate Rosenbarger was absent. Continue reading “Johnson’s Creamery developer pitches swap of alley location, city council puts off decision”