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Bloomington City Council approves $166 million city budget for 2021



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The Bloomington City Council met Wednesday over Zoom and approved next year's proposed $166 million city budget in a 7-1 vote. Mayor John Hamilton said the budget has been in the works for six months. Mel Fronczek

Although council members weren’t satisfied with the entirety of the proposed 2021 city budget, the Bloomington City Council approved it in a 7-1 vote on Wednesday.

“Every one of us, no doubt, can point to something in this budget that we might like changed or different,” Mayor John Hamilton said in an opening statement. “But I believe it very well embodies our community’s values in the face of these times, and it is a prudent and effective investment for a better future for our community.”

The $166 million budget, which is 4% less than what was budgeted for 2020, has been in the works for about six months, Hamilton said. City Controller Jeff Underwood said if the council hadn’t passed the budget, the city would have to go back to its previous budget and ultimately lose about $1 million in revenue due to a different structure in funds. That would’ve resulted in cuts to the budget to make up for it, as well as cuts to make up for the proposed salary raises in 2021 throughout various city departments.

Matt Flaherty was the only council member who voted against the budget, citing a lack of collaboration between the council and administration and an inefficient budget process.

“I don’t feel like I’ve impacted this budget at all,” he said. “Of the six or seven specific items or changes that I’ve asked for, none were incorporated or really meaningfully discussed.”

Council members Isabel Piedmont-Smith and Kate Rosenbarger also said they were dissatisfied with the process and lack of collaboration. Many other council members expressed this sentiment at a meeting two weeks ago.

Steve Volan was absent from Wednesday night’s meeting, but the council member made a recommendation vote against the budget two weeks ago.

Council member Susan Sandberg said the council has a responsibility to make sure the city has a budget.

“We always must keep the big picture in mind,” she said. “And so in spite of my differences with what had been proposed, I will make it my responsibility to continue to work on those things throughout the year and throughout the next budget cycles.”

Community member Molly Stewart said during a public comment period that she’s displeased with the council’s handling of the Bloomington Police Department budget.

“Only the requests of police officers and civilian staff and their families have been met,” she said. “A compromise has not been reached. No defunding is occurring.”

Stewart said it seems like the city is promising more resources to the police department and disregarding marginalized community members. She cited the mayor’s initiatives to give housing stipends to incentivize officers to live within city limits and to allow officers who don’t live in the city to take home patrol cars.

Council members Sandberg, Sue Sgambelluri and Dave Rollo said they were concerned about BPD being understaffed and the effects that has on officer morale. Sandberg and Sgambelluri proposed fully funding 105 sworn officer positions, which contrasts with the mayor’s plan to fund 100. It passed 5-3.

“I will commit to adding more sworn officers in the future because I think that when you have a strained police force that’s when mistakes get made,” Rollo said.

Piedmont-Smith, who voted against the proposal with Flaherty and Rosenbarger, said she doesn’t think adding more officers will solve community problems such as poverty and addiction.

“Let us look at ways to reduce their workload, not by hiring more police officers but by addressing the problems that lead people to call the police,” she said.

Greg May, an administrative director at Centerstone mental health facility, said he supports BPD for the work the downtown resource officers and the police social worker do with Centerstone.

“There’s a high level of collaboration and cooperation, making sure that vulnerable citizens in this community have care and resources provided to them that meet their needs,” May said.

Piedmont-Smith asked the council to formally recognize a petition started in part by local social worker Donyel Byrd that denounces the placement of social workers in police departments. The council obliged in a 8-0 vote.

Byrd and the petition makers listed six reasons why they oppose police social workers: The position fails to address the sources of crises, leaves many vulnerable community members still untrustworthy of the police, deters independent social workers from operating due to police expansion, utilizes resources preexisting underfunded agencies could use and could foster racial and data biases.

Multiple community members expressed concern about BPD’s $3,000 budget for less lethal weapons during public comments. Some spoke about injuries caused by rubber bullets, which ranged from bruises to loss of an eye.

Council member Piedmont-Smith said the $3,000 is for bean bag rounds and sponge rounds, and BPD doesn’t use rubber bullets. The police department has also budgeted $15,000 for gas masks. Piedmont-Smith said Chief Mike Diekhoff told her the masks would be used in the event the police deploy tear gas or need to respond to a chemical accident.

Piedmont-Smith said she’s working on legislation to ban BPD from using tear gas because she said it’s classified as a weapon of war and shouldn’t be used on civilians.

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