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Bloomington council OKs revamped ward map ahead of spring election

Bloomington City Clerk Leslie Yocum shares proposed ward maps with the Bloomington City Council, during its meeting Monday, July 25, 2022, at the downtown Government Center.
Michele Steinbacher
Bloomington City Clerk Leslie Yocum, right, shares proposed ward maps with the Bloomington City Council during its meeting on Monday, July 25, 2022, at the downtown Government Center.

A new ward map for Bloomington reshapes the city’s districts ahead of the April 2023 election, with downtown now entirely falling within Ward 6.

The Bloomington City Council voted 6-3 in favor of the map at it's meeting Monday night. Voting “no” were Ward 4’s Julie Emig, Ward 7’s Mollie Ward, and Ward 8’s Jeff Crabill.

The new map allows the city “to bring together some larger neighborhoods, and then also consider future growth” in the northeast corner, said Bloomington City Clerk Leslie Yocum.

Also at the meeting, the council voted to divide the city's federal COVID-relief allotment into three spending categories; approved a three-year contract with the union representing Bloomington Public Library staff; and OK’d a major repair project for downtown’s Lincoln Parking Deck.

This is the new ward map for Bloomington, adopted Monday July 25, 2022.
City of Bloomington
Bloomington ward map, adopted Monday, July 25, 2022

Ward redistricting a balancing act

Bloomington’s overall population remained relatively flat at 78,680 in the 2020 U.S. Census. But population did shiftwithin city limits, causing ward representation to become off balance.

The new map corrects that.

Two wards on the former map showed statistically significant changes — with growth in Ward 8 and fewer residents in Ward 7. State law required city leaders to redraw boundaries to even out the wards, ensuring that each district contains around 8,750 residents, and was as compact and contiguous as practical.

City staff used GIS technology to create four proposals, and one resident also submitted a plan. Council members also asked staff to create an additional modelbased on their suggestions. But that fell flat Monday.

Some council members, such as Crabill, lamented that more time wasn’t spent on deciding the new boundaries, or that the city didn’t work to gather more community input.

But time was a factor. The next municipal election is April 4, 2023, and candidates running for open city council seats can begin circulating petitions on Aug. 30.

Ward 5’s Nick Becker said after the meeting that he thought there was plenty of vetting of the proposals and opportunities for community engagement. Becker also said he was confident in the city staff’s handling of the proposals.

“They spent hundreds and hundreds of hours making these, looking at the criteria” to meet the legal requirements, make minimal changes, and address future growth, he said.

While discussing the proposals, Crabill said the new map’s boundaries do the west side a disservice. Emig and Ward echoed his sentiments. But Becker later noted four of the council’s nine wards still represent west side residents.

Ward 1 now is spread far out, said Crabill, adding residents will have a hard time feeling cohesive. “It stretches from Veterans Parkway to I-55 (Interstate 55) on the west side.”

City leaders talk about how important it is having neighborhoods connected to each other — when referring to the new map’s focus on downtown, or the city’s northeast side, said Ward. “But somehow that doesn’t seem to matter with the west side" with the adopted model, she said.

Donna Boelen, of Ward 2, disagreed: “The integrity, I believe, on the west side, is the same — or hasn’t changed very much,” she said.

Most COVID relief funds target infrastructure

Also at Monday’s meeting, leaders established a framework of how Bloomington should spend its federal COVID-relief money.

The council didn’t approve any particular proposals relating to the nearly $13.4 million in federal COVID relief awarded to Bloomington. However, it did establish three spending categories for American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding.

About $9 million will go toward city infrastructure, while the rest — $4.4 million — will be split equally on economic development, and socio-economic opportunities.

“We have either spent or obligated $7 million of the infrastructure part of that $9 million,” said City Manager Tim Gleason. That includes about $4 million for asphalt and sidewalk work, and $3 for water and sewer infrastructure projects.

“I want the community to understand the emphasis that this council is placing on infrastructure,” he added.

Council members said they look forward to staff presenting how the city will best market how people can apply for areas such as socio-economic and economic development projects. A standardized application form is expected soon, said Gleason.

According to council materials, ARPA funds are restricted to addressing the pandemic’s negative impacts — such as systemic public health and economic challenges, government services that lost revenue, and water and sewer infrastructure.

In other business, the council:

  • Approved a collective bargaining agreement with AFSCME Local 699 that represents 64 Bloomington Public Library employees. The contract calls for 3% pay increases each year for all union staff, and one-time bonuses on a sliding scale for longtime employees in Local 699. The changes will cost the city about $140,000 in the fiscal 2023 budget; another $80,000 in FY24; and about $81,000 more in FY25. 
  •  Approved spending about $640,000 on repairs to the Lincoln Parking Deck on Front Street, and a related $84,200 budget adjustment.
  • Approved several appointments and reappointments to city committees, notably Kimberly Howard as the first youth member of the police review board, known formally as the Public Safety and Community Relations Board.

Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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