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Bloomington seeks increase in property tax levies for city, library

Bloomington chevron sign
Emily Bollinger
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WGLT
Bloomington City Council members agree infrastructure should be top priority for the city's $13.3 million in American Rescue Plan funds.

Bloomington leaders are proposing increases to both the city and Bloomington Public Library property tax levies that would bring $22.3 million citywide, and nearly $6.2 million for the library district.

In both cases, the city expects the property tax rates to remain flat. The council votes to adopt each Dec. 12, during its last regular meeting of the year.

On Monday, the council heard details about each proposal during separate tax hearings required when more than a 5% increase is sought. The city’s proposal is about 6.7% higher than in 2021, while the library’s is about 7% more.

Also at the meeting, the council OK’d the launch of three grant programs using COVID-relief funds to help nonprofits and small businesses, and to improve affordable housing options.

The new programs account for about a quarter of the nearly $13.5 million dollars allocated to Bloomington through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

City levy increase to help pension funds

City Manager Tim Gleason said some residents have asked why the city wants to capture the growth seen this year.

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Staff
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WGLT

He told the council the additional $1.4 million revenue collected with the levy increase can help Bloomington stay on track to have its public safety pensions fully funded by 2040, as mandated.

It’s a necessary approach, Gleason said, noting the city still falls short by $400,000 for pension funds even in this scenario.

Local Bloomington 49 union member Clayton Matteson, a firefighter and paramedic, urged the council not to “kick the bucket down the road” when it comes to public safety pensions.

Nobody likes paying taxes, Matteson acknowledged. But he told council members if they didn’t step up and resolve the pension issue by 2040, it could have a negative impact — on the city’s credit rating, and on the state siphoning off the money to meet the obligations.

Ward 9’s Tom Crumpler agreed, saying, “We must invest in these pension systems to make sure they’re supported.”

This year’s estimated assessed value (EAV) growth provides an opportunity to patch up a few stalled years in building up those pension funds. “It’s growth not only in the number of properties that we have in the city of Bloomington. But it's also an increase in value of those properties that have been reassessed,” said Gleason.

Some commenters, including Bloomington homeowner Jackie Beyer, said they disagreed with this approach, and pointed to the city’s northern neighbor as an example: “While you do this (seek an increase), the town of Normal is expected to vote tonight to keep their levy flat from last year,” she said.

Ward 3’s Sheila Montney said she supports funding the pension funds. But she echoed Beyer’s earlier suggestion the city should instead turn to increasing revenue sources such as cannabis and online sales.

“Why would we not draw on other sources that we already have available to us?” asked Montney.

BPL director: Levy increase part of renovation funding

Bloomington Public Library Director Jeanne Hamilton said a nearly 7% increase to the library levy would bring about $6.2 million to the Olive Street mainstay. She said property taxes are its main funding source.

New library entrance
Bloomington Public Library
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Of the additional estimated $400,000, the BPL’s growing operating budget will take about $167,000, while the ongoing library expansion project gets about $235,000.

Project costs are higher than first anticipated because bond rates came in higher than expected, said Gleason.

Hamilton noted EAV growth means the library can capture nearly $170,000 in revenue growth, while anticipating a flat tax rate.

Economic, socioeconomic focus of COVID-relief projects

The trio of ARPA-funded programs the council OK’d Monday won’t officially launch until this summer, according to Melissa Hon, Bloomington's economic and community development director.

“This will allow time for staff to develop the applications, develop all necessary policies and procedures and reporting requirements,” she said.

Federal guidelines are tight for using COVID-relief money, she noted, so staff needs to be intentional in building the programs.

The nearly $3.5 million will be divvied up into three grant categories:

  • Nonprofits: $1 million total; maximum award, $250,000, In particular, the city is looking at groups serving low-income households. Some examples include helping seniors, homeless, and mental health issue populations.
  • Small business rehab: $1.4 million total; maximum award, $45,000. These will focus on business owners disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. 
  • Affordable housing rehab: $1 million total; maximum award, $45,000. Will include contractor-led projects on income-eligible property. Rehabs could include improving accessibility, roofs, lead removal, and more.

After Bloomington leaders learned of the $13.4 million heading to the city responding to the pandemic, the first step was assessing the community’s needs.

Next, the council decided on three key categories commonly called buckets. Infrastructure tops the list, getting almost 70% of the city’s federal funding.

The other two categories, socioeconomic and economic development, took center stage this week. With Monday’s OK of the new rehab and nonprofit grants, Bloomington now has committed almost $6.3 million of its total ARPA award.

It’s broken down like this: Just shy of $2 million went to infrastructure spending — on the Locust-Colton Sewer project and the East Street Basin project; economic development has $750,000 for Bloomington’s downtown streetscape; and committing $150,000 to the Carle Mobile Health Unit, pours into the socioeconomic bucket.

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