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Bloomington City Council Begins Discussion On 'Transformative' Federal COVID Relief Funds

Emily Bollinger
Monday's meeting also included annual reports from the city's police and fire departments.

Bloomington will officially receive nearly $13.4 million within the next year from a federal COVID-19 relief fund, Finance Director Scott Rathbun told the council Monday.

As the council began discussing how to use the funds, Rathbun commented on the positive long-term effects it could have on the city and people of Bloomington.

"I've seen the term 'transformative' used, I mean, this is a tremendous material positive event for the city. So, thinking big, knowing there's immediate need but also wanting to take the time and get everyone on the same page, see the stakeholders that need to be involved and do it right from the get-go," Rathbun said.

Although he is unsure of when specifically the money will be coming in, Rathbun said that half the funds—around $6.3 million—is expected before the end of May, with the other half coming in approximately 12 months later.

City Manager Tim Gleason said Monday’s discussion was meant to “kick off discussion” with the council as he said that “not everything is set in stone.”

As of right now, federal guidelines for the funding state that the money must be obligated by December 31, 2024, and spent by December 31, 2026. Gleason and Rathbun said they have received vague guidelines on how the money is allowed to be used but expect more detailed instruction within the coming weeks.

As of right now, it is clear the funds may be used in four different general categories: COVID-19 response support, replacement of public sector revenue, economic stabilization for households and businesses, and addressing public health systems that impacted the inequality of pandemic impact.

In his presentation to the council, Rathbun said stakeholder involvement, communication and transparency will be vital throughout the process of allocating the funds.

Council members agreed more information will be necessary for decisions to be made.

"I'd like us to try to get information about where those gaps are in the community from people who are doing that work just to make sure that we're making informed decisions as best as we can," said Ward 4 council member Julie Emig.

Ward 2’s Donna Boelen agreed, suggesting the city hold video sessions to educate the council members on the federal guidelines. Ward 3 council member Sheila Montney said her constituents feel very passionately about fixing Bloomington’s roads and cited infrastructure as a potential use for the money.

Gleason and Rathbun both assured the council that data collection and further discussion will take place as more information comes in the coming weeks.

Police annual report

Meanwhile, Interim Chief of Police Greg Scott on Monday presented his annual report for 2020 to the Bloomington City Council. Scott began with statistics showing overall crime decreased from 2019 by 14.1% or 211 fewer incidents.

Interim Bloomington Police Chief Greg Scott at a meeting last year.
Interim Police Chief Greg Scott at a meeting last year.

Compared to 2019, Bloomington saw fewer shootings, DUI arrests and robberies, while there were increases in criminal sexual assault and domestic violence. Homicide numbers remained the same.

“[Criminal sexual assault] is a statistic that, for some reason, pretty wildly varies year after year. We haven’t been able to figure out why that is,” Scott said.

He also cites the pandemic and a national 8.1% increase in domestic violence as the likely source of its increase in Bloomington.

“Anytime you get people in an enclosed space for a prolonged period of time, we see domestic violence go up,” he said. “It was an increase but it wasn’t an unexpected increase”

Scott also confirmed that gang-related violence remains on a steady decrease especially when it comes to shootings.

“What we are seeing here from about 2019 on, these are mostly folks that are having a personal conflict and, rather than talk it out or settle it with old schoolyard stuff, they decide to solve it with a firearm. It is romanticized in the youth culture,” Scott said.

Scott’s presentation was followed with questioning from several council members surrounding staffing and funding issues, firearms and youth programming and racial tensions.

In other business the council:

  • Heard from Chief Eric West for an annual report for 2020 on the Bloomington Fire Department which saw a slight increase in incidents that included 211 actual fires, 39 investigations and 8 found to be intentionally set.
  • Was updated by Tim Gleason on the impact of the CDC’s new mask policy for vaccinated individuals and said that the City of Bloomington will continue to follow state guidelines when it comes to mask wearing.
  • Unanimously approved a motion from Ward 7 council member Mollie Ward to discuss the ADA transition plan that has been in draft status since 2015.
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Samira Kassem is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the station in 2021 after graduating from Illinois Wesleyan University, where she was editor in chief of The Argus.
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