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Bloomington council member Boelen changes course on library expansion after public pushback

Donna Boelen
Emily Bollinger
/
WGLT
Bloomington City Council member Donna Boelen voted against increasing the library tax levy after getting pushback from residents over her support of the city's plans to issue bonds to pay for a library expansion.

A Bloomington City Council member said negative feedback from constituents caused her to change her vote on the proposed Bloomington Public Library expansion.

Ward 2 council member Donna Boelen approved the city's plans to issue $17 million in bonds for the library project. A week later, she voted against a proposed increase in the library tax levy to pay for the expansion.

“If I had not gotten negative feedback, I probably would have moved forward, but I have to honor what my constituents want, not just me,” Boelen said.

Boelen said she wants to know how much money the library needs for the physical expansion. She said she would support a tax increase to pay for that, but wants to see the library raise private money for a larger portion of the project.

The library plans to use $4 million in reserves and raise another $1.75 million to help cover part of the $23 million expansion project. Library director Jeanne Hamilton has said the library would scale back or delay portions of the project if private fundraising came up short.

The $23 million price tag is down from the $37 million that library officials floated in 2019 for an expansion that’s been over a decade in the making.

A public hearing on the city’s and the library’s proposed tax levies is scheduled for Dec. 6. The council’s final vote on the tax levy is scheduled for Dec. 13.

Infrastructure

The city council has been discussing how to use more than $13 million in federal COVID relief funding. Boelen said the city should spend as much of it as possible on infrastructure, starting with separating the city’s combined water and sewer lines in the wake of major flooding that damaged hundreds of homes last summer.

“It’s a public health issue to have combined sewers and if we have this money made available and it’s allowed to be used for infrastructure; to me it’s a gift,” Boelen said. “We have to fix the infrastructure anyway.”

Boelen said any leftover funding should be spent on providing free broadband access for the city’s older neighborhoods, particularly the city’s west side.

“If you want the downtown to flourish, if you want the core of the city to flourish, you need to update the infrastructure because people will then be willing to invest, whether it’s in a home or small business,” she said.

Ward 6 appointment

Boelen said people could “argue it either way” whether the city should have sought to fill a city council vacancy in Ward 6 with a candidate who closely aligns with the candidate voters elected in 2019, Jenn Carrillo. But Boelen added it was Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe’s choice to nominate whomever he wanted to fill the seat.

Mwilambwe floated several names as possible candidates after 10 residents applied to fill the vacancy. The mayor cast the tie-breaking vote in October to select business owner De Urban for the seat.

“Statute says it’s the mayor’s prerogative,” she said.

Boelen was among the council’s conservative members who supported Urban’s selection. Boelen said while the council is split ideologically, she is fine with the division as long as there’s open dialogue among council members. She said she is focused on matters that she said arethe city’s purview such as infrastructure, public safety, water and public works.

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