Bloomington city council met Wednesday to discuss two ordinances that would create new positions in several city departments and change compensation for some roles, specifically within the Bloomington Fire Department. The council voted to postpone decisions on Ordinances 23-12 and 23-13 following hours of contentious comments from Fire Chief Jason Moore and union president and representative for the Bloomington Metropolitan Professional Firefighters Local 586 Jordan Canada.
Council postpones vote on two ordinances
During much of the four-hour meeting last night, the council completed second readings of Ordinance 23-12 and 23-13. Ordinance 23-12 proposed an amendment to Ordinance 22-26, which had fixed the salaries of appointed officers, non-union and American Federation of State, County and Municipal employees in city departments.
Emily Fields, Interim Human Resources Director for the city of Bloomington, said in her presentation the amendment would reflect changes to job titles and job grade and add several full-time equivalent employees.
According to a memo from the council office on Ordinance 23-12, the proposed amendment would create three new positions in the Fire Department and one new position in the Engineering Department, as well as update job titles in the Legal Department. The amendment would also increase the job grade of the Environmental Program Specialist in the Utilities Department from grade 6 to 7, which would increase the position’s salary.
Debate and questions concerning the ordinance’s impact on the fire department arose during the second reading. The memo states Ordinance 23-12 would add three community paramedics or community EMTs to the fire department. The city estimates adding these three full-time positions would have a fiscal impact of $243,432. Moore said the funds to support these new positions are available within the department's current 2023 budget.
Moore stated during the meeting that these community paramedics would address medical related calls and allow fire fighters to focus on responding to other emergencies. He said hiring these positions would help address staffing concerns and improve patient safety and outcomes. Moore also said creating these roles would help combat staff and ambulance shortages. He said the department is understaffed by 21 positions.
Canada said the fire union is concerned that hiring these new positions will lead to the shutdown of the current department’s squad, a two-person response vehicle created by Bloomington Fire Department in 2017. This squad is currently filled by sworn firefighters and the community paramedics would be civilians. He also said the union has not been receiving clear communication on the topic and requested a vote be pushed until after the council’s recess.
“This administration can find money for other positions but cannot find it for the firefighters that have been loyal to this community through the pandemic, who have worked way over 150 hours,” Canada said. “This is something that we need to pause and push.”
Ordinance 23-13 would amend Ordinance 22-25, which fixed the salaries of Bloomington police and fire officers for 2023. The amendment would add new sections to the previous ordinance that focus on efforts to improve retention of fire department employees. For instance, the amendment would allow the fire department to provide more pay to specific firefighters, chauffeurs and captains who worked during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ordinance would also provide $100 premium payments to Battalion Chiefs who work non-scheduled 24-hour shifts, according to the memo. Another section of the ordinance proposed providing one-time signing bonuses of $5,000 to new Bloomington firefighters.
The department would also allow the city of Bloomington to “buy-back” Kelly days from firefighters. Kelly days are scheduled days off built into a fire department employee’s rotation. During the meeting, Moore said the department would have to call in firefighters on their days off to fill in for others taking a Kelly day. The amendment would allow firefighters to work on their previously scheduled days off and receive pay for those hours worked. The memo states this would allow for scheduling predictability for firefighters.
Additionally, Ordinance 23-13 would add a new position to the department: an Assistant Chief of Operations. A city of Bloomington Human Resources Department memo states the assistant chief of operations would oversee and assess safety risks to firefighters during structural fire incidents. This position would also administer the fire department’s health and safety program by completing tasks related to injuries, Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements and helping those returning from medical leave.
Shaun Huttenlocker, secretary treasurer for Bloomington Metropolitan Professional Firefighters Local 586, said the new positions are “quick fixes chipping away at our budget” and do not address retention rates of current firefighters, which he believes is the biggest issue facing the fire department. He also said the assistant chief of operations position would be filled by someone already in the department and questioned if that position would be replaced.
Wesley Martin, a member of Bloomington Metropolitan Professional Firefighters Local 586, said during public comment he was concerned that the responsibilities of the assistant chief of operations are already being completed by people on the squad. He also said the safety and accountability responsibilities associated with the job should be handled by more than one person.
Throughout the readings, Canada reiterated that the union wanted more time to review the proposed ordinances and work with Moore to find a solution. Canada said he found out about the proposed changes a week before the meeting. Moore said the delay in communication was because he had just returned to work from medical leave.
Moore also said he believed postponing a vote on the ordinances would delay a solution to the department’s staffing shortage. He wished to move forward with the vote and said he would continue to work out details with the fire union.
“We're coming down to a foundational disagreement on how this department is run,” Moore said. “Whether or not it’s done by sworn or civilian does not change the fact that there are citizens that need our help. We are short staffed and this is an option that may be able to provide services to people that need help.”
After hearing both Moore and the fire union’s concerns, the council voted 8-0 to postpone a decision on the ordinances to their next regularly scheduled meeting on June 21 to allow both parties to meet and come to a solution.
Council authorizes Jack Hopkins Social Services Program Funds
The council voted unanimously to authorize the allocation of the Jack Hopkins Social Services Program funds for 2023. Jack Hopkins is a social program through the city of Bloomington that provides funds to social service agencies for projects that benefit city residents. The committee is comprised of four members of the common council and three city residents. Councilmember Susan Sandberg is the current chair of the Jack Hopkins Committee and councilmembers Kate Rosenbarger, Jim Sims and Ron Smith are members.
Each year, social service agencies that serve the city of Bloomington can apply for grant funding. This year, the committee had $323,000 to distribute to different agencies, according to the committee website. The committee decided to fund 32 agencies this year. A complete list of agencies is provided in the meeting documents.
Two community members opposed funding two of the agencies selected — Planned Parenthood and All Options — during public comment. According to meeting documents, All Options, a pregnancy resource center in Bloomington, will receive $6,900 to fund the Hoosier Diaper Program, which will help the center pay for diapers, wipes, training underpants and bathroom training starter kits. Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit providing reproductive and sexual healthcare, will receive $7,500 to fund “Safety-Net Family Planning Services,” which include paying for contraceptives.
Carole Canfield said in her public comment she opposed using government money to fund Planned Parenthood and All Options because of their support for abortion. Scott Tibbs, another public commenter, reiterated Canfield’s sentiments and said the committee should instead be funding other local charities.
Sydney Zulich and Janani Eswaran supported the committee’s decision to fund these organizations during their public comments and thanked the committee for supporting women’s rights.
While the Jack Hopkins Committee will provide funds to these organizations, these funds are not being used for abortion services, according to the committee’s recommended allocations. Sandberg reiterated this fact before the council’s vote, saying that the Jack Hopkins committee cannot in any way support funding abortions. Instead, the committee is funding mechanisms for low-income women to protect themselves from any unwarranted or unwanted pregnancy.
“With respect to what is happening in the world and in this country in regard to women’s rights, this committee felt it was especially important to fund the efforts of All Options and Planned Parenthood based on the projects that they brought forward,” Sandberg said. “I make no apologies for the decision of this committee. It is done with good intention and it is done in the spirit of what we intend to do and help our most needy.”