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Bloomington Council Votes To End 15-Month Emergency Ordinance

Monday's Bloomington City Council meeting was the last held to be held virtually because of the pandemic. Future meetings will be held at the Government Center on East Washington Street, instead of at City Hall.

The Bloomington City Council voted Monday night to end an ordinance thatdeclared a local emergency and allowed emergency measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The ordinance had been in place for just over 15 months.

Some council members, including Jenn Carrillo of Ward 6, voiced concerns about ending programs such as the moratorium on utility shutoffs and evictions. As the lone vote "no" vote, Carrillo said Bloomington families are still struggling, especially after this past weekend's flooding.

Although Ward 8 council member Jeff Crabill voted to end the emergency ordinance, he also voiced concern about water shutoffs and spoke in support of the city forgiving back-owed utility bills.

City Finance Director Scott Rathbun said about $1.3 million is owed by around 2,300 different accounts for water bills. He said families would be looking at a little over $500 over the course of 60 days to avoid a shutoff.

Other council members worried a blanket forgiveness of what is owed would not be enough to ensure that those who need relief the most are getting the assistance.

“We would have to have very specific guidelines for who would qualify and who wouldn’t,” Rathbun said.

Along with action end the emergency ordinance, the council approved a companion ordinance that allows for time to plan for the back-owed utilities through the end of July.

That ordinance also allows City Manager Tim Gleason to make health and safety-related orders and continues the streamlined operations for outdoor dining and other business permits.

City attorney Jeff Jurgens said he is confident it will be a smooth transition and that “business shouldn’t really see any changes” as a result of the vote.

Though Rathbun acknowledged the difficult situations some Bloomington families continue to be in due to the pandemic, he said the city itself appears to be coming out of it economically sound.

“It seems that federal stimulus dollars have been very effective,” said Rathbun, reporting that incoming sales tax and food and beverage tax revenues have been over budget in the last month. He noted tight spending by the parks and recreation department is an area where the city saved. Rathbun said he is hopeful the extra federal funding will help the city to achieve some long-standing goals in 2022.

During public comment, several residents voiced their concerns about Bloomington’s infrastructure, especially as it relates to extensive damage from the weekend flooding caused by torrential rains.

McLean County Board member Lea Cline spoke about the city’s historical west side where she said several residents saw sewage from city drains leak into their homes. She asked that the council “invest in the core of the city” and contended a faulty drainage system is a major public health issue.

Ward 1 council member Jamie Mathy commented on the need for the city to separate storm water drainage from sewers that remain the case for parts of the south and central neighborhoods of Bloomington.

Gleason called the flooding a “disaster event,” adding, "It is something we have not seen in decades.” He said "there is nothing out there that could have handled what we saw during that first (Friday) storm,” adding the city is still assessing damage and responding to more than 30 sinkholes throughout the community.

In response to the damage, the council agreed to waive extra fees for bulk waste pick-up and will begin collecting on Tuesday, July 6.

“We have a plan, we are working on that plan and if that plan changes we will communicate that,” Gleason said.

Also on the topic of infrastructure, resident Noah Tang said in the public comments that he was against funding the Hamilton Road Connection project that was to be voted on by the council.

“If we don’t have the money to construct this road in the first place then we don’t have the money to keep it,” he said. He also used the phrase “invest in the city’s core.”

Carrillo pulled the item from the Consent Agenda allowing for further discussion.

Ward 4 council member Julie Emig asked what would happen if the city was unable to get the necessary federal funding or railroad authorization for the project. Gleason said in response, “then it is tabled at least until next year.”

Carrillo voiced opposition to the project, pointing out that residents from other parts of the city are expressing the need for infrastructure improvements. She said “the need for improved infrastructure is not equal throughout the community” and the council has other needs to prioritize.

Carrillo was again the lone "no" vote.

The council will meet next in person on July 12 at the Government Center, 115 E. Washington St. downtown.

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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