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Preview of next year's Bloomington budget is heavy on public safety spending

A man in business attire sits at a table, and speaks into a microphone.  Three other people sit at the table and look to the left, at a screen listing budget information.
Michele Steinbacher
Bloomington finance director Scott Rathbun, left, addresses the Bloomington City Council during its meeting Monday, Feb. 12, 2024, in the downtown Government Center.

Bloomington projects a nearly $332 million budget next year, about 14% higher than the current plan, the city council heard during its meeting Monday.

Nearly half of the next budget — roughly $159 million — is dedicated to public safety, and capital projects including work on streets and sewers.

“Our ultimate goal is to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ funds,” said Bloomington finance director Scott Rathbun.

This preview of the fiscal 2025 budget provided an overview of the plan, but details will be fine tuned this spring. The administration's proposal comes to the council March 25, and adoption is expected April 8.

Also at Monday’s meeting, the council looked at the Community Block Development program’s 5-year plan, and OK’d the John M. Scott Health Center Trust’s planned distribution of nearly $500,000 in grants.

FY 2025 budget preview

Rathbun told the council next year’s budget proposal is the largest the city has ever put forward, adding it takes into account city growth, as well as inflation.

Bloomington has averaged annualized growth just under 4% since 2016, and its employee growth is about 3.6% for that same period, said Rathbun.

The FY25 budget emphasizes public safety, roads, dependable water infrastructure, and public well-being — such as parks and cultural arts such as the Bloomington Center for Performing Arts.

The city plans about $88.5 million in capital projects, up about 27% over this year’s capital budget. Rathbun told the council nearly half of that is for streets and sidewalks. Another $34 million is for water, sewer, and storm infrastructure. The remainder is set aside for facilities and parks maintenance projects.

The capital project details will be covered at the council’s next committee of a whole meeting on Feb. 19.

Other budget plans call for spending about $15 million each on pension obligations, and city equipment, including a new emergency operations center, a fire engine and a pair of ambulances.

Pensions have gone up $2.4 million since last year, as well.

In late 2023, city planners anticipated using property tax revenue to help cover 2025's increased pension funding. However, in December, the council rejected a proposed tax increaseinstead adopting a flat tax levy. If that levy hike had passed, it would have yielded more than $1 million to support the rising pension costs.

After Monday's meeting, Rathbun told WGLT that finance staff found the dollars needed for the pension increases in a variety of tax revenue streams, including sales, income, and other categories.

"Fortunately our revenues continue to trend at a higher level," he said. However, with the flat levy, "it kind of restricts us from doing other initiatives, potentially."

The most public part of the budget process is the proposal and adoption each spring. But the process is ongoing throughout the year — with monthly meetings with department heads and a constant focus on the budget, said Rathbun.

“It’s not just out of sight, out of mind on the other side of this. There’s a continual view of this reporting to council, reporting to admin,” he said.

The city has put together a video outlining the budget process.

CBDG program shares $800,000 plan

This May marks the start of the 50th year of Bloomington’s involvement in distributing Community Block Development Grants [CBDG], a U.S. Housing and Urban Development program.

At Monday’s meeting, the council held a public hearing for its upcoming CBDG action plan for the 2024 year — which runs from this May to April 2025.

Bloomington grants manager William Bessler told the council the plan outlines how the city will allocate more than $800,000.

About half of that will go toward preserving existing affordable housing stock. The remainder is split between addressing slum and blight conditions, supporting public service activities and facilities, and administration of the program.

Bessler said public comment on the plan will be accepted through Feb. 25.

A separate hearing focused on the next five-year plan for 2025-2029.

Scott Trust shares more than $450K

Deputy City Manager Jeff Jurgens explained the Bloomington council serves as trustee for the John M. Scott Health Care Trust.

On Monday, the council OK’d the distribution of more than $450,000 in grants that “go towards health care needs for underserved, under-resourced community members,” said Bessler.

Kyana Wilkinson, chair of the Scott Trust, led a presentation about the Trust’s Category II recommendations.

The trust received nearly 25 applications, seeking a total of $1.2 million.

In other business, the council approved spending:

  • Nearly $500,000 on additional utility maintenance work for this year, with George Gildner Inc.
  • About $462,000 on technology improvements. Roughly $242,000 will be part of a three-year agreement with Brightly Software for a cloud-based asset essentials and energy management system; $220,000 replaces aging devices related to city networking services.
  • An estimated $310,000 with TNT Golf for 64 new golf carts at The Den at Fox Creek. The city brings in more than $225,000 annual revenue on cart fees. 
  • About $65,000 with Flock Safety to allow the Bloomington Police Department to equip 10 of its public safety cameras with automatic license plate readers, and add one standalone ALPR. The money comes from a state grant focused on fighting organized retail theft.
Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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