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Bloomington City Council discusses proposed 2021 ‘rainy day’ budget at hearings



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Bloomington City Council led discussions on the Bloomington Police Department budget Tuesday night in a virtual meeting. Discussions are expected to continue. Illustration by Carson TerBush

Over the past four days of departmental budget hearings, officials overcame laggy video, accidentally muted audio and a zoombombing where a participant drew a penis on top of a presentation. This is the first formal presentation of the city’s proposed budget for 2021.

The $166 million budget is about 4% smaller than the one for 2020, due to the city’s need to recover from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Mayor John Hamilton said this is the first time in many years that the city plans to use reserves while bringing in little revenue.

In a Friday press conference, Hamilton said the city has reserves for more than four months of annual expenses and that he feels confident in his $8 million Recover Forward initiative to get Bloomingtonians through 2021 and 2022.

Hamilton said Monday that based on state estimations, property taxes will increase by about 4% for 2021. This is a positive, he said, because property taxes are the biggest source of revenue for the city’s largest fund called the General Fund.

Most departments have budgeted for a slight increase in the personnel category because of a 2% increase in wages for non-union employees and related benefits, according to the budget proposal. Many departments also requested money for pandemic-related items, such as technology for employees to work from home more easily.

At the budget hearings, the Bloomington City Council discusses each department’s proposed budget and hears public comment. In the interest of time, both council and public comments are limited to three and two minutes, respectively.

The city council also conducts votes to make do-pass recommendations at these hearings. This recommendation only serves to gauge members’ feelings about the budgets now. The council will discuss budget-related legislation at the end of September and is scheduled to finalize the budget in mid-October.

Here’s a breakdown of the proposed 2021 budget by department:

Office of the Mayor

The mayor’s office requested about $984,000 for 2021. This is 2% more than the office received in 2020, according to the budget proposal.

The bulk of the budget, about $872,000, is allocated to personnel expenses such as salaries.

Among other issues, the mayor’s office budget aims to promote equity and inclusion. Deputy Mayor Mick Renneisen said the mayor has asked the Board of Public Safety to appoint a community task force to create a vision for what policing should look like in Bloomington.

Council member Isabel Piedmont-Smith expressed suspicion about the board’s involvement.

“You’re starting out with five people who were hand-selected by the mayor, and they then can select whoever they want to be on this committee,” she said. “It just seems like, perhaps, there may be a broader, more inclusive way to form this committee.”

Renneisen said there is some precedent for this selection process, but the task force hasn’t been created yet so there’s still time to decide how to handle its development.

Council member Matt Flaherty echoed Piedmont-Smith’s sentiment that it’s crucial for the selection process to be fair and inclusive of all community members.

The city is also looking for an entity to provide all city departments with antiracism training, Renneisen said.

Community member Cathi Crabtree said during the public comment time that it’s important to think of public safety from a variety of perspectives such as those of people of color, poor people and people with disabilities.

“Public safety will be enhanced when we consider the needs of all folks in our community,” she said.

The council made its vote 9-0 in favor of the office’s budget.

Police Department

The Bloomington Police Department requested about $18.5 million for 2021. This is 4% more than the department received for 2020, according to the proposal. While most of the budget is for personnel, the second-largest category is about $61,000 for supplies.

The most debated change was the reduction of sworn officer positions from 105 to 100 at full staffing. The budget proposes to reduce the five badged positions with two more neighborhood resource specialists, two more police social workers and one more data analyst.

This change wouldn’t put any current BPD officers out of a job, though. Police Chief Mike Diekhoff said Tuesday there are 95 filled sworn officer positions in the department because not all positions are filled.

Council members raised questions about BPD’s use of less lethal weapons, low officer retention and antiracism training.

The city council voted 1-2-6 against approving the budget. Council members Ron Smith and Susan Sandberg voted no, and Dave Rollo voted yes. All others abstained.

Read more about the budget hearing for BPD here.

Fire Department

The Bloomington Fire Department requested about $12.3 million for 2021 from the city’s General Fund. This is a 7% decrease from what the department received for 2020, according to the proposal.

The category with the biggest increase is supplies, which includes items such as pandemic-related personal protective equipment and uniforms for what Fire Chief Jason Moore said will be the largest-ever class of new hires.

Moore also mentioned the possibility of needing to renovate three of the five fire stations in the next few years due to wear and tear, as well as non-optimal locations for responding to calls. He said the last study on this matter was from 2011, so an updated study might be necessary.

Moore said the department’s response time goal is to be on scene within four and a half minutes 90% of the time. In the past few years, the goal was within four minutes 90% of the time, but BFD could only respond to 84% of calls within that time limit.

The department requested $25,000 to launch a pilot program that combines BFD’s emergency services and health care. The program is aimed at vulnerable communities and seeks to provide proactive care, Moore said. The program will refer people to social or medical services, help them manage medications and more.

Some council members expressed excitement about the pilot program.

This budget reflects a $1.3 million decrease in the capital outlays category compared to the 2020 budget since BFD completed the expensive task of replacing firefighting vehicles, called apparatuses, this year.

The council’s vote for BFD’s budget was 9-0.

Economic and Sustainable Development Department

The department requested about $1 million for 2021, a 5% increase from its funding in 2020, according to the proposal.

Like most departments, the majority of the budget is for personnel, taking into account the citywide raise, but the Economic and Sustainable Development Department also requested a large personnel budget due to the proposed creation of a transportation demand manager position. Department director Alex Crowley said the manager would help businesses and employees reduce single-occupancy vehicle commuting.

Flaherty said he wasn’t sure why it would be in this department versus the Public Works or Planning and Transportation departments. Crowley said the position is less about creating new infrastructure and more about communication with businesses, so it makes more sense within Economic and Sustainable Development.

The supplies category reflects a 786% increase to about $35,600. According to the proposal, $25,000 of that money is budgeted for a project to implement zero waste policies at select city facilities within the next few years.

Crowley also said the department plans to offer programs to support women- and racial minority-owned local businesses and to compile a toolkit for businesses to combat systemic racism.

Jane Kupersmith, assistant director for small business development, said the toolkit isn’t fully developed, but the plan is to work with community partners to develop training sessions and written resources. A community member made a public comment that the toolkit shouldn’t be led by white people, and Kupersmith agreed.

The department is also requesting an additional $1.13 million from the city’s Recover Forward for the initiatives in job training and job creation support, local food security and agriculture and grants for the local arts community.

Council member Steve Volan commented about a recent report that showed Bloomington as the country’s most economically vulnerable college town during the pandemic. He said he doesn’t take the study seriously.

Crowley agreed that it was oversimplified, but he said the report did highlight the community’s dependence on tourism. It’s important to diversify the local economy more into the traded sector and growing sectors such as technology,Crowley said

The council voted 8-0-1. Flaherty abstained, citing his uncertainty about the transportation demand manager position.

Bloomington Transit

Bloomington Transit requested about $14.5 million for 2021. This is just under 4% more than 2020, according to the proposal. The proposal is based on existing fares and a 1.5% increase in overall service based on implementing proposed service changes.

General manager Lew May said the agency plans to launch a $250,000 pilot program in “micro-transit” in 2021. It would work similarly to Uber or Lyft, he said, in that a smaller vehicle provides on-demand service after being requested through a smartphone app. May said the details aren’t worked out yet, but it would likely be piloted weeknights on a quieter route, such as one with less than five to 10 riders per hour.

Bloomington Transit also plans to replace three 35-foot diesel buses with battery electric ones and install charging stations next year. This is a $3.12 million project, but the agency is seeking federal and state grants to fund 80% of the project.

Two new bus stops are in the works for 2021, May said. The city will need to approve the locations, but Walnut Street Pike near the College Square Apartments and Pete Ellis Drive near the Cambridge Square Apartments are contenders, according to the proposal. It’s about a $186,000 project, but Bloomington Transit has already received federal grant money to cover 80% of the cost.

Council members Ron Smith and Isabel Piedmont-Smith asked about IU’s contribution to Bloomington Transit. The university contributes 9.2% of the agency’s funds through two avenues: a $1.2 million contract for giving students access to city buses and a $95,000 reimbursement for the half of the operating expenses for the Grimes Lane facility, May said. Bloomington Transit houses and washes IU’s campus buses.

Most of Bloomington Transit’s budget is for personnel, but the agency isn’t directly overseen by the city, so the 2% city employee raise doesn’t apply. However, May said employees who are members of the union the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees will receive a raise between 1.5% and 2%, based on position. Non-union employees will receive a 2% raise.

The council voted 8-0 in favor of Bloomington Transit’s budget. Rollo wasn’t present at the time due to technical issues.

Community and Family Resources Department

The department requested about $1.1 million for 2021, a 31% increase from 2020, according to the proposal.

The “other services” budget increased by 623% to a request of about $297,000. This includes $251,000 related to BPD transferring funds to Community and Family Resources for downtown outreach, director Beverly Calendar-Anderson said.

She said the department will develop the Downtown Ambassador Corps, a group of 10 people to assist the department’s after-hours ambassador in monitoring downtown for cleanliness, noise and people in need.

The department will also create a team of diversity, equity and inclusion specialists from IU, Ivy Tech, the Monroe County Community School Corporation and area businesses by March, according to the proposal.

Community and Family Resources is responsible for planning many diversity programming in the city. Some of these 2021 events include the Black Male Summit, Young Women’s Leadership Summit, Black and Brown Arts Festival and celebrations for Black History Month, National Hispanic Heritage Month and Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, according to the proposal.

Community member JaQuita Joy Roberts was one of multiple people who waited on the Zoom call to make a positive comment about the department, and by about 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, it was her turn. She praised the department, Calendar-Anderson and Shatoyia Moss, the safe and civil city director. Roberts said her two Black children have benefited from the department’s programs.

“It is very motivating and encouraging to see all that they do in the community,” Roberts said.

Council member Jim Sims said the department improves the community climate through its commitment to equity, partnerships and programming.

“One of the things that we as citizens expect from our city are our basic city services,” he said. “The Community and Family Resources Department is absolutely one of the most critical, I think.”

The department also requested $50,000 in Recover Forward funding, separate from its $1.1 million budget. Calendar-Anderson said the Recover Forward money will be used to support people experiencing homelessness, substance abuse, food insecurity and mental health concerns.

The council’s vote was 8-0 in favor of the budget. Rollo wasn’t present at the time of the vote due to technical issues, but in the final round of council comments, he expressed support for the department and said he’d even be in favor of increasing its budget.

Housing and Neighborhood Development Department

The department requested about $2.7 million for 2021. This is 1% less than what it received in 2020, according to the proposal.

During her presentation, director Doris Sims said the department has added or preserved more than 920 affordable units since 2016.

The council’s vote was 9-0 in favor of the budget.

As the council’s code requires, council member Sims disclosed his potential conflict of interest of the department director being his spouse. However, he said he felt he could still be fair in the process of approving the department’s budget.

Bloomington Housing Authority

The Bloomington Housing Authority, which administers public funds to offer affordable housing, expects to have about $33,000 in its Central Cost Center budget, $69,000 in its public housing budget and $189,000 in its housing voucher budget, according to the proposal.

Executive director Amber Skoby said the organization maintains almost 200 units of low-income public housing and administers more than 1,300 housing vouchers. The Central Cost Center is a business management unit within the Bloomington Housing Authority which earns income from administrative fees.

In 2021, the organization plans to spend its approximately $429,000 in federal CARES Act money on personal protective equipment, technology upgrades, extra payroll expenses, landlord participation incentives, deposit assistance and more.

This budget presentation was merely informational, and the council did not vote on it because the Bloomington Housing Authority Board of Commissioners is in charge of approving the budget. This is set to take place Sept. 17, according to the proposal.

Parks and Recreation Department

The department requested about $8.4 million for 2021, which is a 2% decrease, according to the proposal.

After $5.7 million for personnel, the next largest category is $2 million for “other services.” This includes administrative and marketing expenses and water for the golf course and community sports services.

Council member Piedmont-Smith brought up the Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market controversy over a vendor’s ties to white supremacy and said the city should let a nonprofit take it over.

“It just has created an atmosphere where a lot of people do not feel safe going to the market,” she said. “And of course, due to the First Amendment we as a government cannot restrict or deny that vendor if they follow the other regulations.”

She referenced the protests and lawsuits regarding the vendor.

Piedmont-Smith also asked about the availability of public bathrooms in parks. She said many people experiencing homelessness use them, and people should have a place to wash their hands given the pandemic.

Parks and Recreation Department director Paula McDevitt said the parks’ bathrooms have the same hours as the parks, 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., though a crew cleans them every morning and delays their opening slightly.

The council voted 8-0 in favor of the budget. Rollo wasn’t present at the time of the vote due to technical issues.

Utilities

City of Bloomington Utilities requested $43,564,817, a 7% decrease. 

The department operates separately from the City of Bloomington, so it does not take tax dollars from the city’s general fund. Its finances are driven by revenue from utilities customers, Director Vic Kelson said.  

The budget is divided by three utilities: water, sewer and stormwater. The water budget is about 7.75% smaller than last year’s budget budget, given an anticipated decline in water revenue based on a decline in water usage in the spring. 

The reduction accounts for the possibility that IU students will be sent home, which would significantly reduce utility revenue, Kelson said. IU is the department’s largest customer. The budget totals $17,703,768. 

The sewer budget is about 6% smaller, totalling $22,770,903, and the stormwater budget, reduced by about 2%, totals $3,072,146. 

Utilities officials have seen the number of late payments triple in the last few months due to financial hardships caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Kelson said. In May, June and July, about 3,000 customers per month were 60 days overdue, compared to a typical 1,000 delinquent customers per month.

Kelson said the department will not shut off utilities for people who are late on their payments until at least Oct. 12

The council voted 8-0 in favor of the proposed budget.

Planning and Transportation

The Planning and Transportation department requested less than half of its previous year’s budget, or $1,378,488. The decrease reflects a proposal to split its engineering division into a separate department. Combined, the departments requested $3,428,247, a 15% decrease. 

The department expects to complete a new zoning map for the city next year, which is the final step of an update to Bloomington’s Unified Development Ordinance that determines what developers can build in certain areas. 

Department officials also plan to continue building affordable housing and design two greenways to encourage bicycling and walking. 

City council voted 7-0-2 in favor of the proposed budget. 

Engineering Department

The proposed Engineering Department, which has most recently been a division of the Planning and Transportation Department, requested $2,049,758  from the city’s general fund.

Interim City Engineer Neil Kopper said creating a new department makes sense organizationally. For example, engineering staff typically work more closely with the Public Works Department than their co-workers in Planning and Transportation, Kopper said, and they’re often unsure of which director to turn to for questions and approval. 

Separating the department would help engineering staff work more efficiently with other city departments, Kopper said. 

One of the department’s 2021 budget goals is to complete the 7-Line project, which will expand and improve the bicycle lane on Seventh Street, by next November. Other goals include awarding and managing more than 10 new construction contracts and monitoring construction project schedules to ensure 90% of contracts finish on time. 

The council voted 4-0-5 in favor of the budget for the new department. Councilmembers Isabel Piedmont-Smith, Steve Volan, Matt Flaherty, Dave Rollo and Kate Rosenbarger abstained, saying they were optimistic about the new department but needed more time to consider.

Public Works Department

The Public Works Department requested $2,916,545 from the general fund, a 52% increase.

The department plans to continue projects from 2020 including its Sidewalk Repair Assistance Program that provided financial assistance for homeowners to repair sidewalks near their property, according to the budget proposal. 

Department officials also plan to replace street light bulbs with LED one to lower the city’s energy use and carbon emissions. 

The council voted 8-0 in favor of the budget. 

Department of Public Works, Animal Care and Control Division

Animal Care and Control, a division of the Public Works Department, proposed a $1,740,034 budget, a 9% reduction. 

In 2021 division officials hope to reduce the average length of an animal’s stay to 21 days from 22 days in 2020 and 24 days in 2019, keep the number of returned adoptions to 5% or lower and increase volunteer involvement to 11,500 hours, Public Works Director Adam Wason said. 

The division also aims to promote education to reduce animal bite investigations by 10%, animal shelter Director Virgil Sauder said.

The council voted unanimously in favor of the budget. 

Public Works Department, Facilities Maintenance Division

The facilities division, which is responsible for maintaining city buildings, requested $1,031,447, about 14% less than 2020.

This money would improve fire stations, upgrade HVAC equipment and install LED lighting. 

About $24,000 would establish short posts in the Showers City Hall parking lot entrances for security at the farmers market there.

The council voted unanimously in favor. 

Public Works Department, Fleet Maintenance

The Fleet Maintenance division of the Public Works Department proposed a $3,664,675 budget, a 9% increase.

This will help repair brakes and tires of city vehicles and equipment, add automated Diesel exhaust fluid dispensers at fueling stations and build a storage facility.

The council voted unanimously in favor. 

Public Works Department, Parking Services

The Parking Services budget request totals $5,484,829, a 6% increase.

This would create a new division to manage city garages and enforce parking activities and meters. 

The division plans to do repairs at the Walnut Street garage, complete some final stages of work at the Morton Street garage, and complete the Trades District garage and Fourth Street garage, Wason said. 

The council voted unanimously in favor. 

Public Works Department, Sanitation Division

The Sanitation Division’s budget proposal totals $2,993,773, a 4% increase. 

The division aims to achieve at least a 40% recycling diversion rate by the end of the fourth fiscal quarter, according to the budget proposal. The division will continue its curbside collection of trash, recycling and yard waste and provide waste removal from parks, City Hall and special events. 

The council voted 8-0.

Public Works Department, Street and Traffic Division

The Street and Traffic Division requested $7,970,384, a 4% decrease. 

Wason said much of the division’s responsibilities will mirror those of the previous year. Its goals include patching potholes within one business day of receiving a report and continuing sidewalk repair efforts. The division also aims to upgrade nine traffic signals and replace 347 traffic signs that were graffitied or not visible, according to the budget proposal. 

The council voted 4-2-2.

Information & Technology and Services Department

The IT department requested about $3.5 million for 2021. This is 0.4% less than it received for 2020, according to the budget proposal.

Most of the budget is for personnel expenses, but the second-largest category with almost $1.3 million budgeted is “other services.” This includes an almost $47,000 initiative to centralize cellphone billing, an expense offset by corresponding decreases in other city departments, department director Rick Dietz said. Also in this category is an approximate $30,000 for software maintenance, such as upgrades in Google G-Suite and Zoom.

The department also requested $46,000 in another category for audiovisual and IT improvements to city meeting rooms, including the Common Council Chamber at City Hall. Volan said he hadn’t received recent updates about these improvements and would like a report soon .

Council member Ron Smith expressed confusion about the department’s increase in funds requested from various city funds. He said he would follow up with Dietz via email.

The council voted 7-0-2 on the department’s budget. Volan and Smith abstained.

Office of the Common Council

The office of the city council requested $1.3 million for 2021. This is a 2% increase from 2020, according to the budget proposal.

Most of the budget is for personnel expenses. The nine council members next year will each receive just less than $18,700. The council president and vice president will receive about $1,000 and $800 in additional compensation, respectively.

During public comment, community member Daniel Bingham said council member positions should be full-time to allow for more balance in city government.

“The American system of government is based around coequal branches that are supposed to perform different functions but also provide some type of check and balance on each other,” he said.

Council member Piedmont-Smith said she agreed that it would be nice to be a full-time employee in regards to responsibility and pay.

The council voted 9-0 on the office’s budget.

Office of the Controller

The office of the controller, or the city’s chief financial officer, requested about $1.9 million for 2021. According to the budget proposal, this is 16.3% less than what the office received for 2020.

Most of the 2021 budget, about $1.2 million, is for personnel, according to the budget proposal.

Separate from the budget, the office also requested $114,000 in operating costs to be funded by the Recover Forward fund. This will allow the office to provide general administrative and accounting support for all Recover Forward initiatives, said Deputy Controller Jeff McMillian.

The city council made a unanimous vote in favor of the controller’s office budget.

The council voted 8-0-1 in favor of the office using $400,000 from the Vehicle Replacement Fund that the controller’s office manages but is separate from its budget. Piedmont-Smith abstained.

It also voted 9-0 in favor of both the $1.5 million police and the $2.2 milion fire pensions, which are not included in the office’s budget because they’re state-funded. McMillian said there are 97 pensioners from the police department and 58 from the fire department who get paid directly by the state’s Public Employees’ Retirement Fund. He said 39 retired police officers have an older plan, so the city pays their pensions but gets reimbursed by the state the following year.

Human Resources Department

The department requested about $775,000 for 2021, which is 19% less than the amount it received for 2020, according to the budget proposal. Personnel expenses and supplies expenses were cut, and its “other services” category expenses stayed the same.

During her presentation, director Caroline Shaw said one of the department’s goals is to increase diversity in city job application pools. She also said all city employees will need to partake in bias training.

The council voted on the human resources budget 8-0-1. Council member Smith abstained.

Office of the City Clerk

The city clerk’s office, mainly responsible for record keeping, requested about $292,000 for 2021. This is a 3% increase and is all being put toward personnel, according to the budget proposal.

The council’s vote was 9-0 in favor of the city clerk’s budget.

Legal Department

The department requested about $2 million for 2021, which is 2% more than 2020, according to the budget proposal. The increase is almost entirely in the personnel category, Corporate Counsel Philippa Guthrie said.

The nine council members voted unanimously on the department’s budget.

This article was updated at 11:17 a.m. Aug. 20 to reflect the latest budget hearings.

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