Mayor John Hamilton laid out a set of goals to move forward from the COVID-19 pandemic for the next year in his sixth “State of the City” address Thursday evening.
In his 40-minute speech, Hamilton spoke about the economic and social effects of the COVID-19 and shared updates on how the city will move forward in the year ahead.
The city showed a video presentation recognizing the 158 Monroe County residents who have died as a result of COVID-19, along with the more than 12,000 Indiana residents.
“Last year’s ‘State of the City’ was February 20,” he said. “I did not mention the words ‘coronavirus’ or ‘COVID.’ I didn’t foresee what was coming.”
Hamilton, who said he will receive his COVID-19 vaccination in mid-March, said he wanted residents to think about the effect the pandemic has had on so many families in the city, including his.
“Last April, my wife Dawn was hospitalized and very sick with COVID,” he said. “More than 500,000 families share that burden of empty chairs at family gatherings.”
As he has said at weekly press briefings since the beginning of the year, Hamilton emphasized the need to continue social distancing and masking for the months ahead.
Civil rights and inclusivity
Civil rights was also a topic of the address, pointing to the Black Lives Matter protests from last summer.
“Racial bigotry and bias took center stage during 2020,” he said. “Bloomington witnessed our largest racial awareness and inclusion demonstrations of a generation or more, affirming that Black lives matter.”
Hamilton said it is a priority of his to increase diversity in the city.
Members of the community have criticized Hamilton’s treatment of the city’s unhoused population for months. In response, Hamilton said the city has created or preserved nearly 1,400 bedrooms in affordable housing units in the past five years.
Hamilton’s administration opposes new legislation that would protect Bloomington’s unhoused population, with Deputy Mayor Mick Reneissen saying Wednesday evening that sheltering people experiencing homelessness was not in the city’s core service area.
He also announced a “to-do” list for the year, which includes the completion of the city’s comprehensive climate plan and the redevelopment of the old IU Health Bloomington hospital site, which the city purchased in 2018. Part of that hospital site is likely to include affordable housing.
“I do not know of any other five-year period in Bloomington history with this much major activity,” Hamilton said. “We did these hard things, and we are dealing with a pandemic and recession, too.”
Sustainability for the city’s future
The final section of Hamilton’s speech discussed how to revitalize the city after the pandemic ends.
He set out his administration’s goals, including increasing subsidized public transportation and lowering the city’s per capita carbon footprint.
“When we make our community more inclusive and more sustainable, we are making our quality of life better and better,” he said.
Hamilton also said it is time to examine ways to raise revenue to accomplish those city goals.
“We have very low combined local property and income taxes,” he said. “Among the lowest of Indiana's 30 largest cities.”
He said he feels confident the city can push forward from this past year.
“If 2020 was a low point, we can make 2021 a turning point,” Hamilton said.