Photos: Protesters mourn effective date of Indiana’s law prohibiting most abortions

On the evening before the effective date of SB1, Indiana’s new law that prohibits most abortions, around a hundred people gathered on the southeast lawn of the Monroe County courthouse in an event that was billed as a vigil to mark the occasion.

Attending Wednesday evening’s event (Sept. 14) and addressing the crowd were county and city officials as well as leaders of nonprofit groups. Continue reading “Photos: Protesters mourn effective date of Indiana’s law prohibiting most abortions”

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”

Monroe County awards $151K in community service grants

Community service grants to 25 organizations totaling $151,220 were approved by Monroe County councilors at their Tuesday evening work session.

The community service grants, which have been made annually since 2008, are named after a former county councilor, the late Sophia Travis.

This year’s total figure is about 11.5 percent more than last year’s.

That’s more than the 5-percent increase in revenue from the property tax levy that local governments will see for 2023. An increase to the Sophia Travis grant funding that is greater than the property tax increase was something county councilor Cheryl Munson had championed when last year’s awards were made.

Munson is chair of the five-person committee that makes recommendations on the grant awards. Also serving on the committee this year were Munson’s colleagues Trent Deckard and Jennifer Crossley, as well as two community members, Jean Capler and Joshua Johnson.

By dollar amount this year, the top five awards went to: New Hope for Families ($11,480); Boys & Girls Clubs of Bloomington ($9,400); The Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce Foundation ($9,240); Girls, Inc of Monroe County ($7,700); Big Brothers Big Sisters of Monroe County ($7,400). A complete table of year’s awards, and the projects they will fund, is included below. Continue reading “Monroe County awards $151K in community service grants”

Monroe County says no to rezone, would have allowed farm to have short-term rental use

In a rare split vote, Monroe County commissioners have denied a request for the rezoning of some property east of the city of Bloomington.

The owner had requested a rezone, in order to use a farmhouse located on 19-acres as an Airbnb—that is, a short-term rental.

The specific proposal from Jason Voorhies was to change the zoning from Estate Residential 2.5 to Agricultural/Rural Reserve, which would have allowed use of the property as a tourist home/cabin.

The zoning change came with a commitment by Voorhies to apply for a historic preservation overlay. According to the Indiana State Historic Architectural and Archaeological Research Database (SHAARD), the existing farmhouse and associated barn structures are listed as “contributing.” That’s a designation that means the property met the basic requirement of being pre-1970, but that it is not historic enough to stand on its own as “outstanding” or “notable.”

Part of the case Voorhies tried to make to commissioners was that the income from the property’s use as a short-term rental would help him to rehabilitate and maintain the farmhouse and two barns.

Wednesday’s vote by the three commissioners was not unanimous. Lee Jones voted yes while Penny Githens and Julie Thomas voted no. But as the appointee from the board of county commissioners to the plan commissioner, Thomas had voted for the rezone at that group’s June 21 meeting.

The plan commission’s recommendation was in support by just a 5–4 margin. Joining Thomas on that vote were: Jerry Pittsford, Dee Owens, Amy Thompson, and Bernard Guerrettaz. Voting against the recommendation on the plan commission were Trohn Enright-Randolph, Geoff McKim, Jim Stainbrook, and Margaret Clements.

As Thomas put it last week, when commissioners first heard the request, “I did vote yes, on the original petition, but I am nothing if not protean and willing to change my mind based on facts and data presented to me.” Continue reading “Monroe County says no to rezone, would have allowed farm to have short-term rental use”

Bloomington’s initial convention center pitch: County transfers property, city pays debt, gets hotel tax

The initial potential term sheet that has been floated by the city of Bloomington for the acquisition of the Monroe County convention center is now public.

The key points of the proposal include the transfer of the convention center at 3rd Street and College Avenue to the city of Bloomington—as well as other property that has been purchased by the county government with proceeds from the innkeeper’s tax.

The city wants to acquire the convention center, in order to purse an expansion of the facility independent of the county, because the joint venture between the two governments was stalled even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Under the terms, the county would also have to support an annual transfer from the county to Bloomington, or its property manager, the proceeds from the county’s 5-percent innkeeper’s tax. The tax is overseen by a five-member convention and visitors commission, which is appointed by county government. It’s the innkeeper’s tax that is used by the county to make the payments on the existing debt on the convention center.

As part of the term sheet, Bloomington would pay off the existing debt, which is about $2.5 million. The only other direct compensation for any real estate would be for property that the county has acquired using “non-convention center-dedicated funds.” That appears to be synonymous with “funds other than innkeeper’s tax revenue.”

Other property that has been acquired by the county for the convention center expansion, like the former NAPA auto parts store at 3rd and Walnut Streets, would simply be transferred to the city, without cash compensation. Continue reading “Bloomington’s initial convention center pitch: County transfers property, city pays debt, gets hotel tax”

Bloomington wants to buy Monroe County convention center for expansion, no numbers given

The city of Bloomington is now interested in purchasing Monroe County’s convention center and possibly other land from the county government, in order to pursue the expansion of the facility.

That’s the message that was conveyed to county commissioners during public comment at the start of their Wednesday meeting, when Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce president Eric Spoonmore told the commissioners that “a viable path forward for convention center expansion” could “involve a transfer of assets from the county to the city.”

Spoonmore said the city of Bloomington is “willing to reasonably compensate the county.” No dollar figures were mentioned by Spoonmore or by deputy mayor Don Griffin, who followed Spoonmore to the public mic.

Griffin wrapped up his remarks in under a minute, saying, “We’re ready to talk. I’m ready to listen. And let’s move forward.”

The expansion project which was supposed to be a joint venture of the county and city governments, has been stalled since early March 2020, before the pandemic hit.  The county and the city were having trouble coming to terms over the selection of members for a capital improvement board, which could provide governance for the expanded convention center.

If the city were the sole governmental entity undertaking the expansion, that work would not require the kind of close collaboration between the city and the county, which up to now has not been achieved. Continue reading “Bloomington wants to buy Monroe County convention center for expansion, no numbers given”

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”

4 new contested races on township level after Dems, GOP fill ballot vacancies for Monroe County

The final lineup of local candidates is still not set for the Nov. 8 general election. But after some ballot vacancies got filled over last weekend, Monroe County now has four more contested races.

The four newly contested races are all for positions on the township level of government—either township board or township trustee.

The trustee is the executive. The township board is a three-member governing body, which has seats that are elected on an at-large basis for the geographic area of the township. A key responsibility of township government is to help the less fortunate cover basics like housing, utility bills, food, clothing and medical expenses—subject to eligibility requirements.

On a map, the townships show up as a roughly 4-by-3 grid laid over the county, except that Benton Township, in the northeast corner, reflects the historical merger of two townships. That means Monroe County has 11 townships, not a full dozen.

Benton Township is also where two of the newly contested races have now emerged—after the respective county chairs filled some of the ballot vacancies.

At a caucus last week,  Republicans gave county chair Taylor Bryant the authority to put candidates on the general election ballot, if no one registered as a candidate for the position in the party’s primary election. Continue reading “4 new contested races on township level after Dems, GOP fill ballot vacancies for Monroe County”

Pandemic notebook: Hospital numbers push Monroe County community spread level to “medium”

Monroe County’s community spread level for the COVID-19 virus has increased from “low” to “medium” as defined by the Centers for Disease Control.

The number of cases per week per 100,000 residents is still below 200, which would put the county in the “low” category. But the latest CDC number for new COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 population is 13.4. That number needs to be less than 10 for a county to stay in the “low” category.

The CDC’s guidance for counties in the “medium” category looks like this:

  • If you are immunocompromised or high risk for severe disease:
    Talk to your healthcare provider about whether you need to wear a mask and take other precautions (e.g., testing)
    Have a plan for rapid testing if needed (e.g., having home tests or access to testing)
    Talk to your healthcare provider about whether you are a candidate for treatments like oral antivirals, PrEP, and monoclonal antibodies
  • If you have household or social contact with someone at high risk for severe disease:
    consider self-testing to detect infection before contact
    consider wearing a mask when indoors with them
  • Stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines and boosters
  • Maintain improved ventilation throughout indoor spaces when possible
  • Follow CDC recommendations for isolation and quarantine, including getting tested if you are exposed to COVID-19 or have symptoms of COVID-19

Continue reading “Pandemic notebook: Hospital numbers push Monroe County community spread level to “medium””

Commissioners update firearms prohibition in some Monroe County buildings

Two more buildings have been added to a codified list of Monroe County facilities where the possession of firearms—licensed or unlicensed—is prohibited.

Already on the list were the courthouse, the justice center, the Curry Building (7th Street), and the old Johnson’s Hardware building (7th Street).

Joining those four are the recently renovated county health services building (7th Street) and the youth services bureau (Adams Street).

The ordinance amendment was approved Wednesday morning by the three county commissioners on a unanimous vote.

What’s the common denominator for the county buildings where firearms are prohibited? They all contain a circuit courtroom of some kind.

Under state law  a local government can prohibit possession of a firearm “in a building that contains the courtroom of a circuit, superior, city, town, or small claims court.” [IC 35-47-11.1-4]

Bloomington’s city council has recently heard public comment, calling on the city’s legislative body to use the same state law to ban firearms at the city’s farmers market.

Continue reading “Commissioners update firearms prohibition in some Monroe County buildings”