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Bloomington Makes Police Body Cameras A Permanent Fixture

Jeff Chiu
Bloomington's city council approved the purchase of 100 body-worn cameras Monday night.

Bloomington has joined the growing number of U.S. communities using police body cameras.

City council members unanimously approved spending $753,000 over 5 years to buy 100 body-worn cameras, along with data storage, software, maintenance and two cameras for each of the department’s 37 squad cars.

BPD patrol officers are already familiar with the system, manufactured by Axon Enterprise, Inc. They’ve been using the body cameras in the field every day for several months. The department sayid it also conducted a month-long field test of Axon’s in-car cameras.

The department tested two other body camera systems over the last two years with no success.

Mayor Tari Renner said the “candid camera” effect of using the equipment will help protect both police officers and residents from harm.

“I think this is a win-win,” he said. “Yes, it’s going to cost us money, but I don’t think there’s any question that this is a very good use of taxpayer dollars to have body cameras on our police officers.”

The new system should also save the BPD over 3,800 hours of time compared to current methods of managing digital evidence, according to a council packet. The report also states the city’s Public Safety & Community Relations Board supports the use of body-worn cameras.

The city also joined its twin community Normal in enacting a tax on short-term rentals like Airbnb.

The town passed the 6 percent tax Nov. 19.

City Manager Tim Gleason said the city worked closely with the town on the issue over several months, resulting in identical ordinances.

The new tax also mirrors the existing 6 percent hotel-motel tax both communities collect from traditional hotels.

The idea is to level the playing field between traditional hotels and short-term rentals. Representatives of the Bloomington-Normal Hotel & Lodging Association told both Bloomington and Normal’s council that without the same taxes, fees, fire codes and building standards, short-term rentals have an unfair advantage over traditional hotels.

The city did not provide an estimate for the potential revenue the new tax could generate. Staff in Normal projected the town would see another $6,500 a year once the tax takes effect April 1, 2019.

Gleason said the city will hash out the details on requiring short-term rentals to submit to building inspections -- and perhaps to participate in the city’s business registration program -- alongside Normal as soon as the town is ready.

Tax levy

The council also approved estimates for the city’s 2019 tax levy.

The proposed levy of $25,158,224 includes a $4,871,840 levy for the Bloomington Public Library’s.

City Finance Manager Scott Rathbun said the city’s levy would help capture an additional $225,000 of revenue to help cover maintenance on city infrastructure.

The BPL would also see about $48,000 of additional revenue.

But while the city and library would see revenue growth, the tax rate should actually drop slightly, Rathbun said.

Rathbun said the city saw a $22 million increase in preliminary Equalized Assessed Valuation projections, creating the opportunity to capture additional property tax revenues.

The city currently receives $0.13 of every dollar in property taxes paid; the library receives $0.03. Under the proposed levy the city estimates the owner of a $165,000 home would see virtually no change in their property tax bill.

The council is expected to vote on the levy Dec. 17.

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Breanna Grow is a correspondent for GLT. She joined the station in September 2018.
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