After lead paint fallout, Bloomington fire chief sets policy on controlled burning of a house: “We will not be doing that in the future.”

Another controlled burning of an “acquired structure” like the house at 1213 High Street on Bloomington’s east side will not take place while Jason Moore is the city’s fire chief.

In this B Square file photo from July of 2021, fire chief Jason Moore addresses the new class of firefighter recruits.

Burning the High Street house to the ground on Friday Nov. 5—after three previous days of live fire training inside the house—caused a plume of lead-based paint chips and ash to cover a portion of the neighborhood to the west.

At Tuesday’s regular meeting of Bloomington’s board of public safety, Moore described the balance of benefits from the training compared to the risk. “We did receive some very valuable training out of this, but it’s not worth the risk,” Moore said.

The fire chief continued, “So I can assure everyone that as the chief of the department, we will not be doing that in the future.”

Immediately after the conflagration caused the lead-contaminated plume to settle on his neighborhood, councilmember Dave Rollo started mulling city legislation against such training fires.

On Tuesday, Moore addressed those city councilmembers, including Rollo, who were tuned in for the board of public safety meeting, which was held as a Zoom video-conference. “With or without that legislation, I can assure you that we do not intend to conduct another controlled burning in an acquired structure again,” Moore said.

The board’s Tuesday meeting was also a chance for Moore to give some updates on the extent of the hazard, progress on the clean up, the cost of the work, and some specific direction to residents.

Some of the information provided by Moore at Tuesday’s board meeting was included in a Monday news release or on a page on the city’s website dedicated to the lead ash fallout from the Nov. 5 controlled burn on High Street. Continue reading “After lead paint fallout, Bloomington fire chief sets policy on controlled burning of a house: “We will not be doing that in the future.””

Bloomington residents get some updates on leaden ashfall from fire department training

Keep children and pets away from the ash and burned paint chips that fell out of the smoke plume from a fire that Bloomington’s fire department set at 1213 High Street on Friday.

That’s the advice that local health officials gave last Friday about the ash from the plume.

It’s the same advice that was relayed by the fire department in a news release this Wednesday.  On Friday, the fire department burned the house to the ground, after conducting a week-long series of training exercises involving smaller fires, each of which were extinguished.

The ash and burned paint chips are now confirmed by independent tests to contain lead. That’s consistent with the testing that’s been done on pieces of trim from the vintage 1951 house that was burned.

The light breeze on Friday took the ash westward.

Matt Murphy, who lives about two-tenths of a mile west of the burn site, did the first tests for lead, using an over-the-counter kit from 3M. Murphy tested the ash almost immediately after it started landing on his property. He’s a contractor and knew exactly where to buy the kits—Bloomington Paint and Wallpaper. Continue reading “Bloomington residents get some updates on leaden ashfall from fire department training”

Bloomington mayor gets in last word on city council’s resolution about police pay

Despite opposition from mayor John Hamilton’s administration, on Sept. 8, Bloomington’s city council approved a resolution supporting $5,000 more in base pay for police officers.

A “resolved” clause in Res 21-27 says in part that the city council “expresses its support for an increase to salaries for all sworn officers of the Bloomington Police Department by $5,000 and requests that the Mayor and city bargaining team pursue appropriate action to modify the collective bargaining agreement accordingly…”

One of the administration’s objections to the resolution was concern that it could interfere with the collective bargaining process with the police union, which is established under Bloomington city code.

Under Indiana state law, the mayor has to either approve or veto all ordinances or resolutions passed by the city council.

In the case of Res 21-27, which the council approved on Sept. 8 on a 7–1–1 vote, Hamilton signed off on it—that is, he didn’t veto the resolution.

But Hamilton did get in a last word of sorts. There’s an asterisk next to his signature that footnotes a comment from Hamilton:

I sign this document only to affirm that it declares the Common Council’s support for certain matters. There are several factual statements in the WHEREAS clauses that are not accurate, including in the third clause.

Continue reading “Bloomington mayor gets in last word on city council’s resolution about police pay”

Arts groups cheer Bloomington mayor’s news on Waldron: “While the pandemic has stalled us, it has not killed us.”

A Saturday rally on the courthouse square in downtown Bloomington, to support city government funding of the arts, had a celebratory feel.

The feeling was based on the boost that arts groups heard in remarks from Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, which were delivered on Thursday.

Thursday’s announcement from Hamilton committed to several of the recommendations in a task force report on the use of the old city hall building at 4th and Walnut streets. The report had been released two weeks earlier (May 6).

The building, which is known as The Waldron, is short for the John Waldron Arts Center. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is part of the Courthouse Square Historic District.

Earlier this year, Ivy Tech let the building’s ownership revert back to the city.

Hamilton delivered his Thursday remarks inside the lobby area of The Waldron. One of Hamilton’s announcements that drew applause was the investment of $515,000 in needed infrastructure repairs to the building.

That’s an amount that includes not just the $264,000 in “critical” infrastructure needs listed in the task force’s report, but also $251,000 in “lower priority” items that some in the arts community consider to be essential.

Saturday’s rally, organized by Arts Forward Bloomington, was announced on Monday. The mayor’s Thursday event was announced the following day. Continue reading “Arts groups cheer Bloomington mayor’s news on Waldron: “While the pandemic has stalled us, it has not killed us.””

Bloomington to restart 2017 annexation process

Bloomington’s mayor John Hamilton used a 10:30 a.m. live-streamed video on Wednesday to announce the resumption of the city’s 2017 plans for annexation.

Image links to high resolution .pdf file.

The live-streamed announcement lasted under five minutes.

Based on city website material now posted on the topic of the resuscitated annexation effort, the same seven chunks of land that were proposed in 2017 for annexation will be under consideration now.

According to a press release issued during Hamilton’s announcement,  Bloomington’s city council is scheduled to review the updated fiscal plans related to the proposed annexations at a May 12 session.

Adoption of the annexation ordinances is anticipated sometime in September, according to the release.

Annexed areas would likely become part of the city at the beginning of the year 2024, according to Hamilton.

Clearing the way for the resumption of annexation plans was a 3–2 Indiana Supreme Court ruling in mid-December last year.

In 2017, the state legislature had passed a law, as part of the biennial budget that year, that had the effect of suspending Bloomington’s annexation process, which was then in progress.

Bloomington filed a lawsuit, arguing that the state legislature’s law was unconstitutional  and prevailed in the narrow decision handed down by Indiana’s highest court last year.

May 12 would normally be a night for committee meetings for the city council. Consideration of annexations would almost certainly be a committee-of-the-whole meeting. Continue reading “Bloomington to restart 2017 annexation process”

COVID-19 impact: 2021 budget previewed by Bloomington mayor shows more expenses than revenues

Single Bar Barchart of City Budget 2021 preview
Re: the gray bar. A detailed breakdown of proposed major categories of expenses has not yet been released for the proposed 2021 Bloomington budget.

Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s proposed 2021 budget will be presented by city department heads next week in four sessions that will take place over successive nights, starting Monday.  [Updated at 1:22 p.m. on Aug. 17, 2020. The proposed budget has now been posted to the city’s website.]

During Friday’s media preview of his proposed budget for next year, Hamilton reflected on this year’s numbers compared to the four budgets he presented in his first term as mayor. “This is my first non-balanced budget,” Hamilton said, “meaning the expenses are higher than the projected revenues.”

Controller Jeff Underwood was on the conference call, so Hamilton was quick to clarify, “in case Jeff falls out of his chair” that the city has sufficient revenues plus reserves to pay for the budget.

Hamilton is proposing to spend $4 million of reserves, in order to maintain basic services and to pay for a collection of initiatives to stimulate the local economy that he is calling “Recover Forward.” The first phase of that set of initiatives was approved by Bloomington’s city council last Wednesday as a roughly $2 million appropriation. Continue reading “COVID-19 impact: 2021 budget previewed by Bloomington mayor shows more expenses than revenues”

Opinion | Recovering four words: true and equal partnership

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This Square Beacon file photo is from a joint meeting of city and county officials on the convention center expansion that took place in 2019.

Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, gave a speech last week on Thursday, released in a Facebook video, that revealed the basic approach the city will take to spur a local recovery from the economic impact of COVID-19. It’s a program the mayor is calling “Recovering Forward.”

The speech prompted a response from county elected officials in the form of a pointed press release issued late this Friday afternoon.

By way of background, the mayor had sketched out the initial part of his recovery plan at a Bloomington city council work session the Friday before. To jump start the effort, the initial part of the plan includes a request to the Bloomington city council for a $2-million appropriation.

Overshadowing the rest of the speech was the mayor’s renewed pitch for an increase to the local income tax, something he’d announced as a goal on New Year’s Day. The amount of the proposed increase last week was reduced—from a half point to a quarter point—compared to the proposal he’d made earlier.

The way the local income tax works is already a point of friction between Bloomington and Monroe County government.

But escaping mention in the local press was this passage from the mayor’s speech:

I’ll note that the City’s recovery investment can and I believe should be in parallel with a similar county government investment in recovery, with their also-healthy financial reserves. I’ve urged our colleagues in county government to expand their support for eviction protection, for our public health system, for the criminal justice system reforms so sorely needed, and for other recovery needs.

That paragraph from the address, among others, piqued the interest of the mayor’s “colleagues in county government”—who wondered why the mayor felt it was his place to urge them to do anything at all.

They wondered even more why the mayor was urging them to do things they believe they’re already doing. Continue reading “Opinion | Recovering four words: true and equal partnership”

Bloomington mayor renews call for local income tax increase, reduces ask from 0.5 percentage points to 0.25; says 2021 budget for sworn police officers will decrease

Bloomington’s mayor John Hamilton has renewed his call, made at the start of the year, for the Bloomington city council to increase the local income tax.

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Screen shot of Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s July 16, 2020 Facebook video. (Image links to video.)

Such a tax would apply to all residents of Monroe County.

The additional revenue from the income tax would still go towards climate action and sustainability initiatives. But the 0.25-percentage-point increase suggested by Hamilton on Thursday is half the 0.5-point increase that Hamilton had proposed on New Year’s Day.

Another highlight from Thursday’s message from the mayor, which could be overshadowed by reaction to the income tax proposal, is an indication that recent calls to “defund the police” have resonated with the mayor at least a certain degree.

From the mayor’s Thursday speech: “Our budget for 2021 will propose significant changes in the police department, including reductions in funding of badged officer positions and increases in non-badged positions…” Continue reading “Bloomington mayor renews call for local income tax increase, reduces ask from 0.5 percentage points to 0.25; says 2021 budget for sworn police officers will decrease”

Column: Bloomington’s city council should increase Jack Hopkins social services budget for 2021

The headline to this column could provoke a reflexive response from longtime Bloomington city councilmembers. As a matter of law, they’ll say, it’s not up to them, but rather the mayor to increase the budget for Jack Hopkins social services.
Annotated R Bar Chart History of Jack Hopkins Funding 2020 Apps

From a legal point of view, I think they might be wrong.

But all nine city councilmembers and the mayor are members of the Democratic Party. So even if they’re right on the legal question, partisanship works in their favor.

Without confronting any of the typical partisan barriers that some cities might face, Bloomington’s elected officials could fund more social services.

At least a 10-percent increase in Jack Hopkins social services funding is achievable for the 2021 budget, even assuming no additional revenue.
Continue reading “Column: Bloomington’s city council should increase Jack Hopkins social services budget for 2021”

Bloomington city council includes memory of BearCat purchase in COVID-19 emergency powers for mayor

Cropped art emergency powers Screen Shot 2020-04-23 at 3.03.54 AM

At its Wednesday meeting, Bloomington’s city council approved an ordinance that gives the city’s mayor and controller more flexibility to act in the context of an emergency, like the current COVID-19 pandemic, without following standard procedures or existing laws.

One of the amendments to the ordinance, adopted unanimously by the city council, inserted a mention of the emergency clause already included in a local law enacted by the council in 2018. The 2018 ordinance imposed a requirement that some fund transfers and some expenditures over $100,000 are subject to city council review.

The 2018 legislation was enacted by the council after the administration’s purchase of a $225,000 Lenco BearCat armored vehicle in early 2018 for the police department’s critical incident response team. The purchase generated considerable controversy. Continue reading “Bloomington city council includes memory of BearCat purchase in COVID-19 emergency powers for mayor”