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Bloomington Council Adopts $251.7M Budget

Bloomington City Council meets remotely April 12, 2021.

The Bloomington City Council on Monday adopted a $251.7 million budget, up 9.3% over last year’s plan.

The vote was 8-1, with Ward 6 alderwoman Jenn Carrillo voting “no,” after saying she opposed the budget’s $1 million increase to the Bloomington Police Department.

City Manager Tim Gleason said the FY22 budget’s overall increase is primarily attributed to $61.3 million in capital projects, including $11.7 million for the construction of a new O’Neil aquatics center and skatepark on the city’s west side.

Also at the virtual meeting, the council voted against a proposal to once again begin water shutoffs for non-paying accounts; formalized a regional collaboration to harness technology and innovation; and approved a new system for brush removal.

The Bloomington budget covers 29 funds. While the FY22 budget is record-setting, and about $21 million higher than last year’s, the city’s general fund -- which makes up nearly half the budget -- decreased 1.1%, from $110.2 million to $109.1 million.

“The true operating costs for the organization itself, staff, different things like that -- we're actually down,” said Gleason. “We find a way to live within our means, I guess is what I’m sharing.” 

While the budget is higher than FY21’s $230.3 million, the increase almost entirely reflects capital projects. Finance Director Scott Rathbun said the $20 million increase is part of the year's $61.3 million allocated for infrastructure projects. The projects represent careful planning, he said.

“A significant portion of that is being paid from accumulated reserves,” said Rathbun, noting years of planning and saving allows the the city to efficiently handle the projects.

The budget approved Monday includes two changes from the proposed version. It increased theO’Neil Pool and park renovations projectfrom $10.3 million to $11.7 million. 

It also temporarily eliminated an item related to the McLean County Museum of History. Because Ward 4 alderwoman Julie Emig is the museum’s executive director, the council voted on that item separately. A later 8-0 vote amended the budget to include a $45,000 donation toward museum operations, while allowing Emig to abstain.

The nonprofit museum, located downtown in the old courthouse on the square, also operates the Cruisin' with Lincoln on 66 Visitors Center. The museum donation is an annual budget item. The city makes similar contributions to other community organizations integral to Bloomington, such as the Bloomington-Normal Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council, according to city staff.

The topic of Bloomington's police department budget has come up before at council. That's part of the larger national conversation about police funding that’s developed since last summer’s protests surrounding police killings of Black men, and the related high-profile trial of Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin.

At Monday's meeting, a lengthy discussion followed Ward 8 alderman Jeff Crabill’s proposal to amend the FY22 budget, reducing police funding to its FY21 level of $20.1 million. However, when that motion failed 7-2, Crabill did vote in favor of the original budget as presented.

In the end, Carrillo was the only council member who opposed the FY22 budget. “I won’t be supporting the budget on the basis of the increase to the police budget, because it’s a commitment I made to my constituents,” she said. But she praised Rathbun and the finance staff for their dedication to crafting the document, and improving community engagement on the process.

Several council members, including Ward 5’s Julie Emig and Ward 7’s Mollie Ward, said they still wanted future discussions of police funding, and the option of amending the FY22 budget’s allocation to police. 

Others, including Ward 3 alderman and Mayor-elect Mboka Mwilambwe, said they were confident in city staff’s careful consideration of the funding needs of BPD for the upcoming year, and that the opportunity for feedback on the budget had passed.

Ward 2’s Donna Boelen said she supported the increased police budget for this year, especially with new state mandates on the way. But she agreed with Emig about the need for the council to have a deeper conversation about the future of police funding.

The conversation got heated after Ward 6 alderwoman Joni Painter said because Crabill had nearly a year to suggest a budget change, his 11th-hour proposal Monday was "one of the most outstanding displays of laziness" she'd ever seen. At that point, Carrillo called a point of order, only to have Bray then criticize Carrillo for interrupting Painter. Mayor Tari Renner stopped the argument, and moved on to other comments.

City won’t shut off water, for now

In a 5-4 vote, the council voted against a proposal to once again begin water shutoffs for non-payment of bills. Since the pandemic began in spring 2020, unpaid water bills have not meant interruption in service.

Those opposed to the measure said they’d rather wait and see what federal and state assistance might be available to families. Several felt the proposed shutoff restart of June 1 was too early.

“Frankly, the pandemic isn’t over,” said Ward, who noted the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

Gleason said the city is $1.2 million behind on collecting payments. Among other reasons he cited for ending the moratorium was that the unemployment rate had been 13% a year ago, but now sits at 5.1%. He said if shutoffs began, assistance still would be provided to cases of extreme hardship.

Gleason also noted landlords are liable for unpaid water bills, too. Some Bloomington landlords have said the current situation puts them in a tight spot.

Council members Jamie Mathy, Emig, Carrillo, Ward, and Crabill voted against the measure; while Boelen, Mwilambwe, Painter, and Bray supported the idea.

Innovation project

Also Monday night, the council voted 8-0 to formalize a collaboration to harness technology in a way that best serves central Illinois residents and college students. Mwilambwe abstained since he works at ISU.

The intergovernmental memo of understanding would include the Town of Normal, Illinois State and Illinois Wesleyan universities, and possibly McLean County.

It formalizes what already has been in place for some time, said Deputy City  Manager Billy Tyus. The city and county governments, along with the local universities, and the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council have been working jointly to build on the technology-related advantages in the region, he said.  

“I’m excited about what this will represent,” said Tyus.

He told the council that while the universities bring talent and research opportunities, major insurance providers and electric automaker Rivian will make the Twin City community a home base for the growth of more Americans using electric and self-driving vehicles.

The memo creates a framework to pursue projects on the topic, and showcase the area in this light. Goals include addressing big picture issues, creating an equitable access to the area’s technology advantages, and by working to attract and retain talent by encouraging college students to settle in the region after graduation.

Ward 1's Mathy was a leader in developing the collaboration. The council’s past approval of ideas such as pursuing smart street lighting and a 5G network laid the groundwork for this idea, he said.

Mathy told the council Monday’s vote creates the memo, which is required for the next step: The city would apply to Metrolab, a network of city-university partnerships.

System for brush disposal changes

In another matter, the council voted unanimously to buy a new incinerator for brush disposal, expected to eventually save the city up to $300,000 annually.

The setup costs should be about $165,000, including a one-time $128,000 purchase from Air Burners Inc. of a refractory walled air curtain burner, a specialized ash rake, and virtual training. The city also will erect fencing around the rural site of the burner.

Public Works Director Kevin Kothe detailed the machine and system change during Monday's meeting, noting the device reduces smoke and other air contaminants.

Officials expect to spend about $9,000 for annual operating costs, and use existing city staff at the site, just outside of Bloomington on Rivian Motorway, near Six Points Road. Brush will be piled at the site, and generally be burned once a week, he said.

Currently, the city pays between $250,000 to $300,000 annually to contract for brush disposal. So, in future years, those savings would be realized, he said.

City contract approvals

Also during the meeting, the council approved about 20 separate contracts, including one for nearly $2.2 million to Bloomington-based George Gildner Inc. for the city’s FY22 utility management program, and its street, sidewalk and maintenance program.

Gildner will handle sanitary sewer, storm sewer, and other water services that are beyond the scope of city work crews’ equipment.

Here are some of the other contracts the council approved Monday:

  • $823,495, with Boston-based CDM Smith Inc., for a pre-design study of the water treatment plan.
  • Up to $536,000, with Clark Dietz, Inc., of Champaign, for engineering services related to Phase 4 of the Locust Colton project. That focuses on CSO (combined sewer overflow) elimination and water main replacement. Phase 4 construction is scheduled to begin in 2023, affecting neighborhoods south of Bloomington Country Club.
  • $56 per ton, for bulk waste disposal, to Henson Disposal and Recycling, of Bloomington. This is the second amended contract with Henson for FY22. It’s a 2.5% increase over the previous year’s price. The FY22 budget includes $480,000 in the solid waste bulk disposal account. 
  • $219,250 to Decatur-based Bodine Electric, for FY22 traffic signal maintenance. 
  • $213,000 for Lake Bloomington Shoreline stabilization, through a watershed intergovernmental agreement with McLean County, Normal, and the McLean County Soil and Water Conservation district.
  • About $193,000 for a five-year agreement with Pittsburgh-based Evoqua Water Technologies LLC, for supply and delivery of chemicals to control odor and corrosion control issues with the Grove Sewage Lift Station force main. About $35,000 is budgeted for FY22.
  • About $177,000 to Watson Consoles, of Poulsbo, Washington, to replace the Bloomington Police Department communication center consoles. The council waived bidding requirements. Council materials noted the bid came in $45,000 under the budgeted amount.
  • $165,000, for a three-year contract with California-based Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc. (ESRI) for software licensing for the city’s Geographical Information System (GIS).

In other business, the council approved:

  • A new Domino’s Pizza site plan, for 1514 W. Market St., near the Market Square Shopping Center.
  • With a 6-3 vote, amending the zoning map for 3.11 acres (tract 2) in the Hawthorne Commercial subdivision south of General Electric, and west of Towanda Barnes, roads. The zoning change is from commercial to R-3 multi-family residential. Attached townhomes are planned there. Mwilambwe, Painter, and Bray voted against the zoning change.
  • Changing the liquor license for Iron Coyote Challenge Park from restaurant to entertainment classification, at its 4113 E. Oakland Ave.
  • Casper Brewing Co. LLC’s request for a liquor license allowing beer and wine consumption at the Ireland Grove Golf Course Clubhouse, 3807 Ballybunion Road, and package sales to-go. Casper will use a site at 3803 Ballybunion Road as a brewing facility.
  • Several community member appointments to various boards.

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Michele Steinbacher was a WGLT correspondent, joining the staff in 2020. She left the station in 2024.