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Bloomington council reviews proposed $290M budget; approval expected next month

The Bloomington City Council meets Monday, March 13, 2023, at the downtown Government Center.
Michele Steinbacher
The Bloomington City Council meets Monday, March 13, 2023, at the downtown Government Center.

The Bloomington City Council heard a presentation Monday on a proposed $290 million budget, expected to be adopted in April.

The new plan is about $21 million — or nearly 8% more — than the current year’s spending plan.

“It’s a very strong budget — ambitious,” especially as it relates to capital projects, with nearly $70 million in that category and spending reflecting strong economic growth, said city finance chief Scott Rathbun.

Outside of those projects, the budget represents about 3% growth, which is in line with the last eight years, he said.

Also at Monday’s meeting, the council took steps to bring $500,000 in anti-violence grants to the Bloomington Police Department for a variety of measures, including drones, gun buybacks, and a youth camp.

FY24 budget proposal includes major capital projects

Rathbun told the council the $290.1 million budget being proposed for fiscal year 2024 is highlighted by nearly $13 million increase in capital improvements.

He said the past year has seen strong tax revenue growth — totaling about $5 million — mainly from sales taxes, and nearly $3 million gained from a new program related to recovering Medicaid-covered ambulance calls.

On the expense side, salary expenditures are up about $3.6 million, or 8%. That includes several new positions, including four new building inspectors, said Rathbun.

If approved, the city’s general fund, which represents nearly half of the budget, would be $129.1 million — a 5.5% increase from the current budget. Public safety makes up nearly half of the city’s budget, and is found in the general fund, said Rathbun.

In another area of the proposed document, the Bloomington Public Library fund increases by $3.2 million.

Rathbun’s FY24 budget presentation, and the detailed budget itself, are available on the city’s website, he said. “They’re not overly complicated. It’s written in plain English, and it’s accessible to everyone,” said Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe.

On March 27, the council will hold a public hearing on the proposed budget, immediately preceding its regular meeting. But the actual vote to adopt the plan won’t be until April 10.

“We’re hoping to demonstrate sound financial management, adherence to that philosophy of being good stewards of the taxpayers dollars,” said Rathbun. “We're hoping that the community sees that this budget will positively impact their lives and the services they’ll receive, and they deserve to receive.”

State grant will cover costs of drones, gun buybacks for BPD

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s violence prevention grant funds must be spent by July. So, on Monday the council OK’d a $500,000 FY23 budget adjustment.

The DCEO grant will reimburse the $500,000 BPD is spending on a variety of equipment and programs:

  • $162,000 — Ballistics analysis technology;
  • $120,000 — Pair of gun-safety initiatives: A gun buyback program, and a gun-lock purchase initiative;
  • $80,000 — Mobile safety cameras for use at public events and violent crime hot spots; 
  • $52,000 — Tips reward program, and an anonymous tips digital program; 
  • $46,000 — Drones, for aerial crime deterrence at public events, and to assist in other police work;
  • $40,000—– Youth summer camp focused on problem-solving and conflict resolution. 

In creating the list, BPD worked with other city departments and the city’s police review board, the Public Safety Community Relations Board. Others consulted included several nonprofits: Moms Demand Action, the Be Smart gun storage program, and the Bloomington-based Jule Foundation.

The council voted 7-1 to approve the budget adjustment that includes an amendment requiring the city report on the impact of the initiatives at the end of the year.

Ward 2’s Donna Boelen voted "no." She said before the vote she didn’t agree with an amendment being proposed on the day of the vote. Sheila Montney of Ward 3 was absent.

In November, the Normal Town Council approved steps for Normal to access its own $500,000 DCEO anti-violence grant.

In other business, the council:

  • Discussed issues surrounding complaints by residents of Phoenix Towers, 202 W. Locust Street, as reported by WGLT.
  • Learned Ward 9’s Tom Crumpler has invited U.S. Rep. Eric Sorenson to speak to the council about his priorities for Bloomington.
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Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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