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Bloomington leaders propose nonprofits, small businesses and homeowners get ARPA-funded grants

Melissa Hon, left, who heads Bloomington economic development department, speaks to the Bloomington City Council during its meeting Monday, Sept. 26, 2022.  To the right of Hon are: Leslie Yocum, city clerk, Jeff Jurgens, city attorney, and Billy Tyus, Bloomington deputy city manager.
Michele Steinbacher
Melissa Hon, left, who heads Bloomington economic development department, speaks to the Bloomington City Council during its meeting on Monday, Sept. 26, 2022. To the right of Hon are: Leslie Yocum, city clerk, Jeff Jurgens, city attorney, and Billy Tyus, deputy city manager.

The Bloomington City Council on Monday started to hone in possible projects for its $13.4 million in COVID-relief funds, specifically focusing on infrastructure, and creating grant opportunities for small business owners, nonprofits, and certain homeowners.

So far, the council only has made plans for about a quarter of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.

No ARPA spending votes happened at Monday’s council meeting. Instead, leaders offered feedback on staff ideas for specific projects and programs. Those are focused on infrastructure, economic development, and socio-economic support.

“We’ll come back with a more formal proposal of programs that will have, I’ll say, more meat on the bones,” Deputy City Manager Billy Tyus said after the meeting. That effort should come to the board in October, he said. At that point, it'll define specific programs, eligibility requirements, and a timeline for rolling them out, he added.

Also at the meeting, the council approved a 3.5% raise for City Manager Tim Gleason, bringing his base pay to about $209,000 per year; and paved the way for additions to a pair of housing developments.

Council member Julie Emig, of Ward 4, was absent. Ward 6’s De Urban attended virtually.

Council starts to focus ARPA spending

Tyus and Melissa Hon, who heads the city’s economic development department, shared a proposed framework for how to spend the remaining $10 million in ARPA funding.

The entire $13.4 million needs to be allocated by 2024, and distributed by 2026, said Tyus.

In July, the council decided to divvy up the aid into three categories — infrastructure, economic development and socio-economic projects.

Most of it — $9 million — will help the city’s infrastructure, with the other $4.4 million being split equally between the other two categories.

On Monday, Hon told the council about $7 million remains unassigned for infrastructure, about $1.4 million for economic development, and about $2 million for the socio-economic thread.

Staff outlined three programs: one to help certain small business owners with rehab projects; another offering grants of up to $150,000 for nonprofits serving eligible Bloomington residents; and a third to help boost affordable housing through a lottery for home improvement aid.

Some council discussion centered on whether the proposed grants would be eligible for COVID-relief funding.

"To me, the ARPA money was to be used for special things that we wouldn't necessarily spend on. So, I don't want us to be using the money on things that maybe we should be funding from our general budget, or other grants that are available," said Ward 8's Jeff Crabill.

Crabill and Ward 9's Tom Crumpler agreed they didn't really like the cap of $150,000 for nonprofit grants.

"If there were a larger project that could demonstrate a substantial community impact, how hard and fast is that cap? Is that something we could consider as council? Or, has that pretty much been decided?" asked Crumpler.

Tyus said nothing is set in stone yet. But he said many nonprofits serve a regional base. So, a Bloomington grant would only contribute to that nonprofit program, not the total cost.

Ward 2's Donna Boelen asked city leaders to keep in mind the guidelines indicate aid needs to be connected to loss or costs that happened on or after March 31, 2021. "They need to be COVID-related," she said, also asking if landlords would be considered small business owners eligible for these grants.

Hon said staff still is researching that.

The council has awarded nearly $2 million of the ARPA funds to infrastructure projects: $750,000 toward the Locust-Colton combined sewer overflow (CSO) project, and $1.1 million to help design a hydraulic model for an East Street detention basin.

Earlier this month, it awarded $750,000 of the economic development ARPA pot to a downtown Bloomington streetscape design.

Only $150,000 of the socioeconomic money has been assigned. At a June meeting, the council OK'd that donation toward a new community mobile health care unit.

Mayor praises Gleason

Gleason’s raise to $209,224 is retroactive to July. It’s the fifth time the council has amended the city manager’s contract, which runs through 2025.

Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe called Gleason's financial management skills excellent, especially as Bloomington continues to deal with the impact of the COVID pandemic.

He also pointed to Gleason's role in successfully helping the city move forward on projects such asO'Neil Pool and park, the renovations to the Bloomington Public Library.

In a competitive market, where search firms are on the look out for excellent city managers, Bloomington is right to increase the salary, said Mwilambwe, adding Gleason is helping cement Bloomington's position as one of the leading places to live in the Midwest.

Housing development plans

The council OK’d two items that will add both single-family lots, and more apartments. Housing continues to be a growing need in central Illinois.

The council approved a final plat for the 10th addition to Brookridge Apartments Subdivision — off Hamilton Road, near South Hershey Road. More apartment buildings are planned there.

It also took steps toward final platting for the 18th addition to Fox Creek Country Club Subdivision in southwest Bloomington. The vote Monday OK’d Tentac Enterprises’ amended preliminary plan, calling for 37 more single-family lots there. When complete, Carrington Lane will connect with Fox Creek Road.

In other business, the council approved:

  • A $207,338 workers’ compensation settlement with former Bloomington Police Officer Jeremiah Liebendorfer.
  • Spending about $72,000 to buy two new defibrillators for the Bloomington Fire Department. 
  • A new ambulance contract. Switching third-party vendors will see a fee reduction from 6% to 3.5%. The city collects nearly $4 million from ambulance calls each year.
  • The site plan for Chicken Salad Chicks, a new restaurant, at 506 IAA Drive. 
  • The John M. Scott Health Care Trust annual report.

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