The Bloomington City Council passed multiple pieces of legislation including allocating social services organizations funding, opting out of the State of Indiana’s opioid settlement process, reaffirming the city’s support for the LGBTQ+ community and mandating a form for rental property owners.
Social services organizations program funding
The council unanimously approved the allocation of funds to 32 local social services organizations totaling $511,000.
Funding will be directed towards a multitude of projects including $21,500 to Hotels for Hope Inc. to continue housing families experiencing homelessness, $35,000 for Hoosier Hills Food Bank directed towards the Covid Food Purchasing Project 2021 and $25,000 for Beacon Inc. to provide financial assistance for up to 200 households for rent and utilities.
Susan Sandberg, councilmember and 2021 Jack Hopkins Social Services Program Committee chair, said the committee looked to fund organizations with the most direct services to residents, especially as the effects of the pandemic lingers. She said most of the agencies received full awards for the projects for which they were requesting funds.
The committee was established to recommend funds for social service agencies to help meet community needs. In its 29th year of the program, the city has granted approximately $5 million to agencies to assist vulnerable residents.
Community organizations could send applications to the committee to receive funding. The committee’s 2021 criteria was to make an investment creating a significant and lasting contribution to the community through an agency’s previously identified priority, according to the legislative packet.
Reaction to the State’s opioid settlement
The council voted to opt out of a statewide settlement plan addressing the ongoing litigation process with opioid manufacturers and distributors.
“We don't think that the way that this is structured, at this point, is in the best interest of the city,” said Bloomington corporation counsel Philippa Guthrie.
The Indiana legislature is preparing for an eventual global opioid settlement with the process to disburse settlement funds added to the annual budget bill. In the process, Guthrie said the state controls 85% of the settlement funds and local governments were not consulted.
“If we were not to opt out, this really removes most of our discretion over our lawsuit,” Guthrie said. “It could significantly reduce our damages.”
Guthrie said the state controls many aspects of the current process and it is unclear if local governments will be involved going forward in the allocation process.
By opting out, Bloomington can pursue its own claims against the defendants, but will not receive funds obtained by the state’s settlement.
The city filed a complaint to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana in 2018 alleging opioid manufacturers and distributors caused significant harm to the city and residents through the increased market presence of opioids.
The city has 60 days from Wednesday to opt back into the settlement if they decide to do so.
Bloomington’s commitment to the LGBTQ+ community
The council adopted a resolution reaffirming the city’s commitment to supporting and ensuring equal treatment for the LGBTQ+ community. Additionally, the month of June is encouraged to be celebrated as “LGBTQ+ Pride Month.”
“Bloomington is a city that has over and over again reminded and underscored its values of commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion,” Councilmember Sue Sgambelluri said. “This resolution is, in many ways, just a very logical extension of that.”
Rental over-occupancy regulation
The council adopted a highly-debated ordinance after a 5-3 vote which requires property owners to submit an annual form with the number of people occupying their rental units.
The Housing and Neighborhood Development Department said there have been difficulties enforcing occupancy limits in rental units, according to the packet. HAND director John Zody said the new form will help the city track rental occupancy in the city.
Multiple changes in legislation were implemented since its last reading June 2, Zody said, including removing tenant contact information from the form, an inflexible deadline and e-mail as a form of notification of a violation.
“We feel overall that these changes reflect the input we've sought and received and they strike a balance,” Zody said. “We still believe these changes will allow us to meet the goal that we would like with the occupancy affidavit.”
Members of the community, landlords and others involved in rental properties once again voiced their disapproval of the ordinance saying requiring a form is excessive for the problem it would address.
The council established the ARP Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund, which will provide financial aid to the community in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They also passed title and salary changes for several city employees.
The council unanimously voted to recommend the above ordinances June 9.