Column: Looking ahead to local government news in 2023 like a goose landing on a half frozen pond

A week ago, up at Miller-Showers Park, a flock of Canada geese banked overhead and came in for a landing on the southernmost stormwater detention pond.

The surface was half frozen, because a couple days before the temperature had dropped to –8 F.

As elegant as geese appear in flight formation, on landing they do not make a picture of grace. They sort of wobble along the final approach, webbed feet akimbo, before mostly crashing into the water.

But they were, of course, unscathed. They started cruising around, dabbling for whatever aquatic plants were under the surface.

That’s somewhat like how local government works: It’s elegant and smooth in theory, but when it lands on some particular topic near you, it might look a little clumsy. You might get splashed.

Where will Bloomington’s area local government land in 2023? Here’s a roundup of spots that is surely not exhaustive. Continue reading “Column: Looking ahead to local government news in 2023 like a goose landing on a half frozen pond”

Bloomington to pay $500,000 less for western part of city hall building

In mid-July, Bloomington’s redevelopment commission (RDC) gave initial approval to a $9.25 million deal to purchase CFC’s portion of the Showers building—which houses city hall in the eastern part of the building, in addition to CFC offices in the western part.

But that price has now dropped by a half million dollars.

At its regular meeting on Monday, the RDC approved an amendment to the purchase agreement that knocks the price down to $8.75 million. The address of the building is 320 W. 8th St.

Bloomington was able to negotiate a price reduction, according to a memo provided in the RDC’s meeting information packet, “[b]ased on renovation cost estimates produced by the consultants assisting with due diligence.”

During the due diligence phase for the purchase agreement, the city has brought in architects and public safety construction experts, to estimate the cost to convert the space to a police and fire administrative headquarters.

The plan would consolidate in the same building as city hall two additional facilities: the police headquarters on 3rd Street; and the fire administrative headquarters at 4th and Lincoln streets. Continue reading “Bloomington to pay $500,000 less for western part of city hall building”

Dropped cell phone snagged from storm drain by Bloomington utilities workers

When The B Square approached Bloomington city hall late Friday afternoon, Bloomington resident Daniel Fritz was lying prone in the gutter of Morton Street.

Standing on either side of him were two yellow-vested city of Bloomington utilities (CBU) workers—Robert Jackson and Matthew Dunn. Fritz’s face was pressed right up against the grate of a storm drain.

After a couple of quick questions, the scene was sussed out.

Fritz was looking down into the void to see where his iPhone had been a minute before. Jackson and Dunn had just extracted it from the bottom of the drain. Continue reading “Dropped cell phone snagged from storm drain by Bloomington utilities workers”

Showers building purchase update: Bloomington RDC OKs $68K in due diligence contracts

The city of Bloomington’s hoped-for purchase of the western portion of the Showers building, where city hall is located, took an incremental step forward on Monday.

In connection with due diligence work in advance of the $9.25-million purchase from CFC Properties,  Bloomington’s RDC has approved three contracts totaling $67,800. The unanimous approvals came at the RDC’s regular meeting on Monday.

Approved at Monday’s meeting were: a contract with BCA Environmental for environmental analysis ($2,800); a contract with Tabor/Bruce Architecture & Design for investigation of the building’s mechanical systems ($15,000); and a contract with Springpoint Architects for a public safety evaluation ($50,000). Continue reading “Showers building purchase update: Bloomington RDC OKs $68K in due diligence contracts”

$9.25M expansion of municipal footprint in Bloomington city hall building gets initial OK

Last Friday, the city of Bloomington announced that its $9.25 million offer to purchase the western part of the former Showers furniture building, had been accepted by CFC Properties. City hall occupies the eastern part of the building.

Friday’s announcement was followed on Monday by an initial approval of the deal by the city’s redevelopment commission.

Monday’s action by the five-member RDC sets the stage for closing the deal no later than Jan. 31 in 2023, deputy mayor Don Griffin said at Monday’s meeting.

Various stages of due diligence are supposed to be completed over the next 60 days, including environmental inspections. That due diligence work is set to start immediately, Griffin said.

During the due diligence period, the city will also bring in architects and public safety construction experts, to estimate the cost to convert the space to a police and fire administrative headquarters, Griffin said. The city hopes to relocate to the Showers building two facilities: the police headquarters on 3rd Street; and the fire administrative headquarters at 4th and Lincoln streets.

Both of those headquarters saw heavy damage during the June 2021 downtown flood. The fire headquarters station is temporarily housed at 4th Street and College Avenue. The idea is to move about 10 administrative fire department positions to the Showers building—not to operate a fire station out of the location, according to Bloomington fire chief Jason Moore.

During Monday’s RDC meeting, some details of the negotiations that led to the provisional deal were revealed, along with a possible reason why it is the RDC that is the purchaser, and not the city of Bloomington’s general government.

Also getting some analysis was a breakdown of the 60,000-square-foot portion of the building that the city would be purchasing, and how that amount of space stacks up against the current police and fire headquarters area. Continue reading “$9.25M expansion of municipal footprint in Bloomington city hall building gets initial OK”

$9.25M real estate deal pending, could put HQs for Bloomington police, fire in same building as city hall

The view is from the west of the Showers building. The pink outline shows the portion of the building that Bloomington has made an accepted offer to purchase from CFC Properties. The image is from the Pictometry module of Monroe County’s property lookup system.

In a Friday mid-morning news release, the city of Bloomington has announced that it made a $9.25 million offer to purchase the 64,000-square-foot portion of the Showers building that is currently owned by CFC Properties. CFC has accepted the offer, according to the release.

CFC Properties and the city of Bloomington are currently neighbors in the Showers building.

The purchase, which would be made by Bloomington’s redevelopment commission (RDC), still depends on approval from Bloomington’s city council, according to the news release.

The agenda for the RDC’s next meeting is set for July 18.  The city council’s next meeting is scheduled for July 20. As of mid-morning on Friday, the agendas for those meetings have not yet been posted

The Showers building currently has three occupants: Bloomington’s city hall on the eastern half; Monroe County government in the northern part; and CFC Properties on the western side.

According to the news release, Bloomington is looking at consolidating its police and fire headquarters in the additional Showers building space. The police headquarters on 3rd Street was damaged in the June 2021 flood, as was the fire department headquarters on 4th Street. The fire department is currently operating the downtown station out of the  former Bunger & Robertson building at 4th and College, which is four blocks west of the flood-damaged fire station.

According to the city’s news release, the RDC will conduct due diligence on the property, before a purchase is finalized—including environmental assessment, building inspection, remodeling options, land survey, and review of existing leases and contracts. Continue reading “$9.25M real estate deal pending, could put HQs for Bloomington police, fire in same building as city hall”

Column: Should city lawmakers regulate employee parking rates or focus on legislating land use?

Because it operates under Indiana state law, the city of Bloomington’s local government is divided along familiar lines—between legislative and executive branches.

But when it comes to policy on parking prices for city hall employees, that division is not easy to discern.

The distinction is hard to see, because on the question of regulating employee parking permit pricing for the city hall lot, city councilmembers have veered into the executive lane.

For a couple of years, Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, didn’t yield to the council. But last fall, as a part of the 2022 budget negotiations, Hamilton agreed to set up a pilot “parking cash-out” program for city hall employees.

The idea behind the “parking cash-out” program is to reward city employees who work in city hall but who don’t park in the lot. If they’re not parking in the lot, then they’re arriving at work in some way that is consistent with the city’s climate change and sustainability goals.

Under this year’s pilot program, an employee pays $200, instead of the old $2 nominal fee—but gets reimbursed by the city for the $200 cost. Employees who choose not to purchase a permit can instead request a taxable $200 “stipend.”

It’s not surprising that Hamilton’s administration has not been eager to try “parking cash-out” for its employees. That’s because the city of Bloomington’s circumstances—as the owner of the parking spaces in question—are different from those that apply in classic “parking cash-out” programs.

Further, by distracting themselves with city personnel issues that are beyond their knowledge and responsibility, city councilmembers have avoided addressing policies over which they have actual legislative control. Continue reading “Column: Should city lawmakers regulate employee parking rates or focus on legislating land use?”

Annexation update: Electronic access at city hall for public hearing, city releases waiver data, Area 7 likely out

In a news release issued on Monday, the city of Bloomington announced that it will provide electronic access at city hall to a public hearing on annexation that is being continued this week on Wednesday starting at 6 p.m.

The city has also released its data on annexation remonstrance waiver dates, in response to a records request from The B Square, made under Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act.

[Updated at 4:59 p.m. on Aug. 10: The mayor’s office has issued a news release recommending the removal of Area 7 from the proposed annexations. Area 7 is the northernmost of the eight areas proposed for annexation. Area 7 had already received three city councilmember votes in opposition, when the annexation ordinances were amended in mid-May to update them from the 2017 process.]

[Updated at 4:07 p.m. on Aug. 11: Van Buren Township office will be open at 5:30 p.m., if anyone would like to comment to the Bloomington city council, according to township trustee Rita Barrow. The office is now located across the road from the fire station in a white building. 2123 S Kirby Rd. 812-825-4490]

The continued public hearing this week will be convened on the Zoom video-conferencing platform.

According to Monday’s news release, computers at city hall will be available for use by residents who are “interested in watching or participating in the meeting who might otherwise be without internet capability.”

The news release continues, “City staff will also provide guidance to those who join the meeting at city hall about using online tools to make a comment during the public hearing.”

According to the news release, “Visitors may use computers set up in the city hall atrium, or watch the meeting on monitors in the adjacent council chambers.”

The electronic access provided by the city for this Wednesday’s continuation of the public hearing could be analyzed as an attempt to address some criticism heard by city officials last week.

That criticism came after the cancelation of the in-person component of last week’s public hearing. City representatives suggested that the public could get access to the electronic meeting by visiting the Monroe County Public Library and using the computing resources there. Continue reading “Annexation update: Electronic access at city hall for public hearing, city releases waiver data, Area 7 likely out”

Bloomington city hall opens in limited way on Tuesday, mask wearing promoted by #WearItBtown

Bloomington’s city hall, closed to the public since the third week of March, will re-open in a limited way next Tuesday, the day after Memorial Day.

The city’s mayor, John Hamilton, gave a reminder about the limited re-opening at Friday afternoon’s weekly press conference. Local leaders give updates on COVID-19 issues every Friday at 1:15 p.m. through an event live-streamed on the city’s Facebook page.

Hamilton stressed that the city is still encouraging residents who need to do business with the city to take advantage of services by phone or the city’s website, if possible.

Among the new protocols at city hall is a requirement that visitors wear a face covering. For people who don’t have one, a free mask will be provided. Continue reading “Bloomington city hall opens in limited way on Tuesday, mask wearing promoted by #WearItBtown”

Bloomington city hall now officially closed due to COVID-19

In a press release issued late Tuesday afternoon, the city of Bloomington announced that city hall, on Morton Street in downtown, is now closed to visitors.

The move is part of several measures being taken on the local, state and national levels to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic virus.

Bloomington’s closure of city hall is based on Indiana governor Eric Holcomb’s order, issued on Monday, that orders citizens to stay at home and that government activity be limited to “essential government functions.” Continue reading “Bloomington city hall now officially closed due to COVID-19”