Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton gave his seventh State of the City address at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater on Thursday night, propelling his administration’s message of “Forward Together” for the upcoming year.
Hamilton, who delivered his speech amid an international crisis in Ukraine, did not ignore the events halfway around the world, asking for a short moment of silence at the beginning of his address.
“It's a terrible tragedy, something not seen in Europe since World War II,” Hamilton said. “We have Ukrainians in our own community, and all of us together are sending our best wishes, our sadness, but also our best hope for resolve and for justice.”
Hamilton and Deputy Mayor Don Griffin both wore Ukrainian flag pins on their lapels.
The theme for this year’s address was “Forward Together,” a similar message to the city’s “Recover Forward” budget initiative. The city entered the third phase of that initiative with the 2022 budget.
“Tonight, I can report that the state of the city is very strong,” Hamilton said. “We are making it through this global pandemic and recession. We are resilient. We are committed to each other and to Bloomington's future.”
Hamilton pointed to a few specific areas as reasons for strength and confidence.
Hamilton raved about the state of Bloomington’s economy, but said there was still room for growth. He pointed to three major projects that spurred development and economic growth in the city.
The new IU Health Bloomington Hospital project moved the facility across the city and was nearly a $500 million investment, Hamilton said.
He pointed to Catalent — a major pharmaceutical company which has invested multiple billions of dollars into the city — as another driver for economic growth.
Hamilton also praised the federal government’s American Rescue Plan, a hallmark of President Joe Biden’s administration. Bloomington received $22 million from the plan, Hamilton said.
“It has protected businesses and families, and our social safety net,” he said.
He also said Bloomington’s preliminary data suggest wages have started to grow in line with national trends.
Infrastructure and taxes
Hamilton voiced support for a series of major investments, including investments in bike lanes, climate-related challenges, affordable housing, sidewalks and parks.
He said he’ll work with the Bloomington City Council in the coming weeks and months to find ways to generate additional revenue.
“We have a lot in front of us to walk the walk,” Hamilton said. “Challenging? Yes. But it’s also exciting.”
Hamilton, who said Bloomington’s income tax rates are lower than most areas of the state, suggested he supported an increase in tax rates. In September 2020, Hamilton supported a 0.25% increase to the local income tax rate.
“We do have substantial capacity to generate additional revenue,” he said.
It’s been almost two years since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Hamilton said he is unsure of whether or not the worst of the pandemic is over, but that he is hopeful.
“Tonight, we are hopeful,” he said. “Tonight, we will look beyond the pandemic.”
He said while the city’s health system and response was stretched, it remained unbroken.
In what was a year of major hot-topic issues for the council, Hamilton said he was thankful for their work.
He specifically mentioned the Recover Forward budget initiative, major updates to the city’s zoning code, and legislation relating to the city’s annexation in some of the surrounding areas of the city limits.
Hamilton said the remonstrance waivers — where homes targeted for annexation can dispute the city’s annexation effort — are in the process of being counted. Monroe County residents said Jan. 7 they were confident they have the numbers to defeat annexation.
Hamilton once again pointed to the old IU hospital site as the city’s next frontier for housing, including affordable housing options. The city announced Feb. 4 the old hospital site will be named “Hopewell.”
The masterplan at the 24-acre old IU hospital site includes long-term plans for new housing developments and office buildings. The city hopes for many of those housing units to be considered affordable.