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Bloomington City Council adopts $269M budget; selects Ward 2's Boelen as mayor pro tem

Donna Boelen
Ryan Denham
Bloomington City Council member Donna Boelen, who represents Ward 2, is the new mayor pro tem. Bloomington Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe nominated her Monday during the city council meeting. The council approved unanimously.

Besides approving the city’s $269 million annual budget on Monday, the Bloomington City Council also made its choice for a new mayor pro tem.

Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe nominated Ward 2’s Donna Boelen to the post, and the council unanimously approved. As mayor pro tem, she’ll serve in the mayor’s place if he’s unable to do so.

The March 28 resignation of Ward 1 council member Jamie Mathy, who served in that role, meant a replacement was needed. Mwilambwe was mayor pro tem until his April 2021 election, when Mathy earned the title.

Ward 1 residents who want to be considered to fill the remainder of Mathy’s council term can apply through April 20. Rules call for Mwilambwe to appoint a new representative by May 28.

Mathy announced at the end of the March 28 council meeting that he was resigning immediately, due to a business conflict. He and his wife, Kelly Mathy, own downtown’s Red Raccoon Games. He served as a council member since a 2013 appointment, and won election in 2017 and 2021.

Council OKs $269 million budget

Monday’s adoption of the fiscal 2023 budget was the final step in a months-long process, in which city staff regularly presented details of the proposal. The budget was formally proposed March 14, and a public hearing was held March 28.

The council overwhelmingly supported the $269 million budget, adopting it on a 6-1 vote.

Ward 3’s Sheila Montney cast the only “no” vote, saying the city’s expenditures are not in line with what her constituents want. Ward 5’s Nick Becker was absent Monday.

The FY23 budget is about $17 million, or 7%, higher than the previous year, said Bloomington Finance Director Scott Rathbun.

The city’s general fund accounts for nearly half of the city’s budget at $122.3 million. That’s up $13 million, or 12% over last year. Key to the significant increase is non-recurring costs, said Rathbun. A large chunk of that — about $57 million — is dedicated to capital projects, he said.

Other increases come from a shift to using cash to buy city equipment, an influx of federal COVID-relief funds, and increased revenue from online shopping and legalized marijuana sales.

Taking those one-time capital projects into consideration is important, said Rathbun. The budget from 2016 to 2023 shows a $78 million increase. But that includes non-recurring funds such as federal COVID relief, and capital project costs.

Instead, Rathbun encourages considering the city’s operating budget figures in the same period. That shows an increase of $29 million, or an annualized growth rate of about 2.5%. He said city staff know all-hands are on deck to prepare each annual budget.

“We do take this responsibility very seriously,” he said, noting staff aim for the spending that best benefits the community, and provides the services that are expected.

While Montney said she couldn’t vote for the budget because of its growth since 2016, Ward 8’s Jeff Crabill praised the document.

“It shows we value people and improving their lives,” he said, maybe more than any of Bloomington’s previous budgets. Crabill said making quality improvements to infrastructure, including the O’Neil Pool and Park project, and renovations at the Bloomington Public Library, benefit the community.

Notable this year is spending on the Locust Colton combined sewer project, he said. “We listened to residents, and made that happen,” he said.

Because Ward 4’s Julie Emig is McLean County Museum of History executive director, the council initially amended the budget to remove a line item related to the city’s $45,000 donation to the museum. That routine alteration allowed her to vote on the overall budget, while abstaining from a vote on the city’s donation.

Bloomington adds America's Gold Star Families project

Also on Monday, the council recognized local members of America’s Gold Star Families — those who have had a loved one die while serving in the U.S. military.

The mayor announced Bloomington, and Normal, are partnering with the Gold Star Families’ “Hometown Heroes Banner Project” beginning next month.

He said a dedication is planned for Memorial Day in Bloomington's Miller Park.

Mwilambwe said banners will be displayed through Veterans Day along U.S. 51/Main Street.

In other business, the council:

  • OK’d spending about $400,000 with Dukes Root Control for sewer inspection program cameras. It was the lowest of three bids.
  • Approved the final plat of the MVAH Partners subdivision’s first addition. The site is north of Lincoln Street and west of Four Seasons Road. 
  • Recognized lifelong Bloomington resident and civic leader Willie Brown, who died March 5. The family of the retired State Farm executive told the council the way to best honor Brown’s memory is investing in Bloomington's west side neighborhoods.
Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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