The Bloomington City Council discussed multiple topics Wednesday night including the Kirkwood Avenue dining area, city budget and a new rental unit regulation.
Kirkwood Avenue closure and COVID-19 business assistance
The council unanimously agreed to extend suspension of certain requirements related to seating and signage for Bloomington businesses until Oct. 31. The last adopted time period would expire Aug. 6.
The ordinance allows for the closure of Kirkwood Avenue to be transformed into a pedestrian and dining area, which accommodates expanded outdoor seating for surrounding businesses to safely serve their customers, according to the legislative packet.
“We have received really overwhelmingly positive feedback,” Special Projects Manager Kaisa Goodman said.
The extension aimed to continue providing the outdoor dining space through the warmer months and ease concerns of customers who prefer outdoor dining due to health concerns, according to the packet. Goodman said the extension will also allow businesses to properly prepare for the future.
Designated pick up and drop off zones for certain restaurants to accommodate take-out orders will also continue.
City of Bloomington Controller Jeffrey Underwood said the general fund dropped about half a million dollars to $1.9 million in the 2020 reversions, which is the balance of funds returned to the city after a certain time period. However, he said the city still has strong cash reserves.
Underwood said the pandemic most affected departments offering services, such as Parks & Recreation and parking services due to the decreased use of parking facilities and meters.
Despite financial losses from the pandemic, he said the city is receiving funding to alleviate adverse effects. The city received $22 million from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and $2 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. Additionally, the excess distribution of local income tax is expected to grow from the previous $1 million in 2021.
“We have the ability with the ARPA funding to recover lost revenues,” Underwood said.
Reflecting on the past year, the city recently began to look into the 2022 budget. Mayor John Hamilton said he wants to hear feedback from residents about their priorities and what they want to see in next year’s budget.
He said the city has many opportunities and plans to rebound financially from the pandemic, stretching into city plans for years to come.
Rental over-occupancy regulation
The council discussed an ordinance which would require property owners to submit an annual form with the number of occupants in their rental units and impose penalties for failing to submit the form in a timely manner or providing an incorrect occupancy.
The council decided to postpone the vote until June 16 to address concerns regarding the implication of this ordinance and to gain better understanding of the issue and community opinion.
The housing committee passed a recommendation to the council May 26 for the ordinance to be passed.
The Housing and Neighborhood Development Department has expressed difficulties when trying to enforce occupancy limits in rental units, according to the packet.
HAND director John Zody said this new requirement will allow the city to better enforce occupancy limits and track the issue of over-occupancy in Bloomington.
“We need better data to really understand how the best track this problem now and going forward,” Zody said.
Hamilton said 445 city employees have filed for the city’s $100 wellness paycheck benefit. He announced March 15 that all city employees are eligible for the paycheck supplement if they receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Hamilton praised IU’s requirement of the COVID-19 vaccination for students, staff and faculty, and said it will help Bloomington return to normalcy.
“Last summer, we were in the middle of a pandemic and a recession,” Hamilton said. “We're not completely out of the woods yet, but we weathered it very well. I'm very proud of our community.”