Bloomington council members want federal COVID relief to pay for roads and sewers. Several have other wishes, too
Bloomington City Council members generally agree that infrastructure should be top priority for the city as it looks for ways to spend $13.3 million in American Rescue Plan funds. But several council members said during a non-voting meeting on Monday they want additional resources to address social disparities that have widened during the coronavirus pandemic.
Ward 4 (east of downtown) council member Julie Emig was one of several council members who says the city should also address hardships the pandemic has caused for many families.
“How feasible would it be to wipe out the remaining water bills for residents for example or a percentage of that?” Emig asked, adding the city should explore workforce development and affordable housing. Emig said she also wants community stakeholders involved in the discussion.
Ward 5 (areas around north Veterans Parkway) council member Nick Becker said spending on roads is necessary and spreading funding everywhere won't do as much good, even if those causes are worthwhile.
“Thirteen million is not a windfall. It’s a small amount of money when spent over that many years,” Becker said. “We need to put significant amounts of money in the places where we can really have a long-term impact to make the city better.”
Council member Jamie Mathy from Ward 1 (south central Bloomington) said the city should also look to improve access to childcare, mental health and housing, and help those whose homes were damaged by flooding this year.
“Roads aren’t as important if you don’t have a car. A lot of the people who were worst hit with this are the people who don’t have cars,” Mathy said.
Council member Donna Boelen (southwest Bloomington) said much of the discussion during the council's non-voting meeting centered on issues that either weren't COVID-related or weren't the city's business.
“Take care of the city’s old infrastructure. We’ve got to do that and we’ve got to do that now,” said Boelen, adding the city should also work to expand broadband access.
McLean County has been the lead government body addressing mental health needs. The county oversees mental health initiatives through sales tax money that Bloomington and Normal collect.
Council members Tom Crumpler (Ward 3, east Bloomington) and Mollie Ward (Ward 7, west Bloomington) both said the city should seek to improve disability access in downtown.
Several council members said they also wanted more clarity from city administration on what types of programs would be eligible to receive funding. The U.S. Treasury Department has said the $350 billion it distributed to state and local governments should be used to decrease the spread of COVID-19, replace lost government revenue, support economic stabilization for households and businesses, and “address system public health and economic challenges that have contributed to the unequal impact of the pandemic.”
City staff plans to take the council's feedback and come up with a more structured plan to spend the money over the next several years. The city has to allocate the funding by the end of 2024 and spent it by the end of 2026.