Purchase agreements for land with several quarry holes, at the northwest corner of the interchange of SR-46 and I-69, were approved by county commissioners at their regular Wednesday meeting.
The purpose of the land acquisition is to establish the location as a kind of outdoor limestone museum that celebrates Monroe County’s heritage of high quality limestone, and the role the limestone industry has played in local history.
About the purchase agreements, with two different landowners, president of the board of commissioners Julie Thomas said, “This is really something that should be in the hands of Monroe County government. And I really look forward to seeing where we go with this next, and what we can make out of this.”
For the 14.89-acre property owned by Kathy Francis, the purchase agreement is for $175,000. For the 14.57-acre property owned by the Yates Trust, the agreement is for $195,000. The money is coming from a 2019 general obligation (GO) bond.
The seven-member county council, the county’s fiscal body, still needs to approve the purchase agreements, even though the money is already approved. That’s because the expenditure involves land acquisition.
On Thursday, convention and visitors commissioner Mike Campbell delivered to his colleagues an update on Monroe County’s innkeeper’s tax revenues. The news was not as bad as over the summer.
Another bright spot on Thursday for the five-member convention and visitors commission (CVC) related to a different revenue source—the countywide food and beverage tax. The CVC approved a quarterly debt payment of $159,000 from a fund that holds food and beverage money.
The FABTAC recommended that up to $300,000 of the county’s share of food and beverage tax revenues could be used to service the debt from past renovations and land acquisition for the convention center.
Monthly revenues from innkeeper’s tax, a 5-percent charge on lodging in the county, hit their COVID-19 pandemic low point in June. That’s when the $48,541 collected in 2020 was just 16.8 percent of the $288,525 that was collected in June 2019.
The $189,306 that has been collected through the first two months of 2021, is 65.2 percent of the $290,290 in innkeeper’s tax revenue that was collected in January and February last year, Campbell reported.
At its regular Tuesday meeting, Monroe County councilors approved a $300,000 appropriation of food and beverage tax revenue to help make debt payments in connection with the county’s convention center.
The debt covers renovations and land acquisition that have already been made. It’s not related to the planned future expansion of the center, which is still part of city and county plans—even if it has been on hold during the pandemic year.
Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s state of the city address, given on Feb. 25, mentioned the convention center expansion as a question: “What is the future for the convention center and its planned expansion?”
The money approved by the county council on Tuesday will cover a bit under two of the $159,000 quarterly debt payments. The county’s food and beverage fund balance, as of the first of the year, was more than $600,000.
At their Wednesday meeting, Monroe County commissioners decided to send a request to the local food and beverage tax advisory commission (FABTAC) that they be able to use “any and all” of the county’s share of food and beverage tax proceeds for existing convention center debt and management expenses.
Historically it has been innkeeper’s tax revenues that have been used to pay the convention center debt service. But innkeeper’s tax revenues have have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Food and beverage revenues are also down due to the pandemic, but not by as much.
“The way we handle grease at the [Dillman Road wastewater treatment] plant, it’s actually discharged into a lagoon where it is oxidized in the sun.”
That was city of Bloomington utilities (CBU) director Vic Kelson talking to the Bloomington city council on Wednesday about the grease that about 600 local restaurants clean out of their traps and are allowed to haul to the city’s wastewater treatment plant south of town.
The item on the city council’s agenda was a change to the ordinance on the FOG (fats, oils, and grease) program, which requires restaurants (food service establishments) to use grease traps to keep it from clogging up the city’s sanitary sewer system. The ordinance change was approved unanimously.
Monroe County Convention center looking southwest at the corner of College Avenue and 3rd Street. Sept. 4, 2019 (Dave Askins/Beacon)
A public input session on the future of the Monroe County convention center has been set for Monday, Nov. 16, at 6 p.m. It will be conducted by video conference.
President of the county board of commissioners Julie Thomas made the announcement at the end of the board’s regular Wednesday morning meeting.
When The Square Beacon touched base with county council president Eric Spoonmore, he said, “It’s a good idea,” to have a meeting on the topic. Spoonmore added that it’s important to reach out to Bloomington officials to make sure they are included in the meeting.
A week ago Friday, the Monroe County council wrapped up a series of four budget work sessions in as many days.
On the docket for Friday were the funds related to the county’s convention center.
The recovery of the area’s tourism industry from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has already begun, but it will be gradual. It will follow a U-shaped trend, not a V-shaped pattern, according to Mike Campbell, who serves on the county’s 5-member convention and visitors commission.
Campbell sits on the board in his capacity as the associate director of the Indiana University Memorial Union.
Campbell gave projections for the county’s 5-percent innkeeper tax based on numbers that show a recovery starting to take shape. Revenues are expected to rebound from a low of about $49,000, reported in June this year. That was just 17 percent of the total for June in 2019, which was about $289,000.
Already on the books are increases in July and August to 40 percent and 60 percent of revenue for those same months last year. Based on September’s numbers so far, Campbell thinks the now-projected $155,000 figure for September will be hit. It won’t be until August of next year, however, when the revenues are forecasted to be back to previous levels.
Hamilton delivered remarks to the city council on Monday night for the first night of a four-day series of departmental budget hearings, which wrap up on Thursday.
If the focus is narrowed just to the general fund, the picture looks the same as last year, with a couple of caveats.
Proposed for this year is $48.69 million which is a 4.1 percent increase, compared to last year’s $46.76 million. But adjusting for a $2 million package of “Recover Forward” initiatives and a decrease in property tax cap expenditures of $193,772, the proposed budget works out to a zero percent increase (out to two decimal places).
At its regular meeting on Wednesday morning, the three-member board of Monroe County commissioners approved the 10th and probably final round of grants as part of its program to give relief to businesses and nonprofits that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
That brought the total amount awarded by the county to right around $400,000, distributed to over 30 different entities involved in tourism-related enterprises.
The total amount of tax proceeds recommended by the food and beverage tax advisory commission (FABTAC) for the purpose COVID-19 relief by the county was $400,000.
One of the awards given by commissioners on Wednesday morning was a $10,000 loan to a previous grant recipient, Trailhead Enterprises. The money, which will pay for an air-conditioning unit, is supposed be paid back by Aug. 1, according to county attorney Margie Rice.
The other two grant awards on Wednesday went to Rising Star Gymnastics for $25,000 and The WonderLab Museum of Science, Health & Technology for $65,000.