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Aldermen Cool To Raising Taxes, New Gambling Fee In Next Year's Budget

Pool entrance
Ryan Denham
O'Neil Pool on Bloomington's west side.

Bloomington aldermen said Monday they might approve some sort of gas tax increase next week to pay for street repairs. But not the full 4 cents per gallon put forward by city staff.

The council has also rejected a funding plan to raise utility taxes and implement a new fee for video gaming terminals to pay for a new aquatics center to replace the aging O'Neil Pool.

Monday's discussion came as aldermen try to close next year's projected $2.9 million budget deficit. Solid waste makes up nearly half of that total, and aldermen signaled last week they were ready to raise garbage fees and cut back on services to help balance the budget.

City staff proposed doubling Bloomington's local motor fuel tax, from 4 cents to 8 cents per gallon. That would have raised an additional $2.3 million for streets and sidewalks.

"We’re still behind the eight ball with how much money we’re putting into our streets," said Public Works Director Jim Karch.

Diana Hauman and Jamie Mathy were the only aldermen in favor of the full 4-cent gas tax increase to pay. (Those funds do not include brick streets.) Others seemed open to a smaller increase in the gas tax.

Alderman David Sage said Bloomington revenue is declining with the loss of large businesses.

"We have to start coming to grips with the fact that we're going to have to cut expenses somewhere."

"We have to start coming to grips with the fact that we're going to have to cut expenses somewhere. And, again, that's going to be the trade-off for me," Sage said.

Aldermen also discussed the scope and funding possibilities for replacing the aging O'Neil Pool. Parks and Recreation Director Jay Tetzloff said the aluminum pool was only built to last 25 years. The pool is 44 years old and cannot reopen in 2019 without a total facelift.

Aldermen, including Karen Schmidt, did not favor a proposed licensing fee for video gaming machines and an increase in the utility tax to fund repairs to the pool. Together those new taxes and fees would have generated an additional $600,000 in new revenue for the pool.

"Neither one of these things are related to pools, so, to borrow Mr. Sage's phrase, 'I don't see the line of sight' between utility taxes, gaming and a pool. I'm very much interested in this project but I don't like the funding model," Schmidt said.

Schmidt is a landlord. She said she's uncomfortable with taxing utilities, something residents cannot live without.

Aldermen rejected a full-scale aquatic park but did discuss renovating and enclosing the pool itself to make it a year-round facility.

Downtown Improvements

The 100 block of Jefferson Street in Downtown Bloomington could potentially close and be repaved with bricks to create a gathering space in front of the McLean County Museum of History.

That's one of the ideas aldermen discussed based on the Downtown Town Force recommendations to inject new life into the city's central business district. Other ideas include new lights, street art, and festivals.

Downtown Division Manager Tricia Stiller said the city is continuing to review parking availability, zoning changes, opening public restrooms, improving way-finding signage, and installing permanent solar-powered recycling bins.

At least one aldermen noted some urgency to the recommendations.

"As we talk about a very difficult budget cycle, we can't let some of these things go on the back burner," Alderman Scott Black said. "If we're going to be intellectually honest with ourselves about downtown being a priority, it's on our top five priorities for the community. If we can't do these things or are unwilling to do some of these things, I'd say we take it off because is it truly a priority if we're not willing to invest resources, time, staff energy on downtown specifically?"

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Baylee Steelman joined us in November 2016. She is a journalism major graduating in May 2018. She mainly covers Bloomington City and Normal Town Council meetings, Unit 5 School Board meetings, produces the weekend News In Review, and helps run GLT events. Baylee also produces and anchors at TV-10, Illinois State University's student TV news station.
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