Bloomington has new permitting rules and fees in place for boat docks at Lake Bloomington following council approval Monday night.
The ordinance allows dock owners to apply for a permit, so long as they lease lakefront property from the city and have a home or business on the property. Those dock owners must pay a $50 annual renewal fee to register their dock with the city. A permit for a new dock will cost $250, on top of the $50 annual fee.
Dock owners must also have the structures insured, and will be subject to city inspections.
City staff estimates around 236 docks are eligible to receive a permit. The ordinance caps the total number of dock permits at 245 to allow for future docks while curtailing the proliferation of docks staff have said threatens water quality at the lake, a main water source for the city.
Aldermen directed city staff in April to issue compliance orders to the 24 or so Lake Bloomington docks without permits.
City Attorney Jeff Jurgens said the ordinance gives the owners of 17 of those docks the chance to apply for permits. As for the remaining seven or eight docks ineligible for permits, Jurgens said the city will continue to work with dock owners and their lawyers toward a resolution, which could mean settling the matter in the city’s administrative court.
Several Lake Bloomington residents and dock owners spoke against the ordinance during the meeting.
“This started with a dozen or so docks that maybe weren’t in compliance,” said Lake Bloomington Association Secretary Tim Strader. “This has now morphed into what is going to be a $12,000 a year tax on all of the residents of the lake.”
Jurgens said the fees are “not necessarily a money grab or a tax.”
“This is really just meant to be a nominal fee that will help cover the cost of this program,” Jurgens said.
Others called on aldermen to table the ordinance, saying the city needed to give lake residents more time to review the proposal.
City Manager Tim Gleason said after three years of at times very public discussion, it’s time to move forward.
“Understand that there might be some details to work out, which can be done in the offseason before the 2019 boating season,” he added.
Council members seemed to agree, voting unanimously to approve the ordinance.
“This is not a perfect ordinance, to be sure, but each situation is different, so there cannot be a perfect ordinance,” said Alderman Diana Hauman. “This effort begins the process of getting some order in a situation that has been left unattended for far too long.”
Meanwhile, Bloomington will begin work to establish a new business registration program following council approval Monday night.
Aldermen directed city staff to further develop a program proposed in March as they worked to close a multimillion dollar budget gap.
Staff estimates the program could generate up to $225,000 in gross revenue for the city in the current fiscal year. The money would be used to set up and sustain the program, including the cost to set up online registration through the city’s website.
That revenue will come from a new one-time $50 registration fee for all existing and future businesses. While businesses will need to update their information with the city every year, the fee only applies for first-time registration. The fee is waived for home-based businesses and charitable organizations, but all businesses failing to register will be subject to a $75 fine.
Economic Development Director Austin Grammer said for a business with multiple locations, the city will assess registration fees and fines for each property.
Alderman Jamie Mathy worried business owners may not hear about the program in time to comply.
With one goal of the program being to pinpoint just how many businesses operate in Bloomington, the city can’t reach out to those it doesn’t know about, he explained.
“I have some concerns as to how we’re going to find these businesses,” he said. “Somebody who doesn’t see articles in the media or something of that nature, I would hate to see someone get penalized for a program that they didn’t even know existed.”
Jurgens said if staff discovered an unregistered business, “absolutely our practice would be to let them know and give them an opportunity to register before we would start trying to enact a penalty.”
Mathy and Alderman Scott Black voted against the program.
Another goal for the program is to address safety concerns over bad or missing contact information for business owners. According to a staff report, the program will not only consolidate data collection between the city’s police and fire departments, but also help first responders reach the right person faster in case of a fire, break-in or other emergency. The information may also be used to notify business owners about upcoming construction or utility work.
Staff say data collected through the program will also help provide a more accurate picture of the local economy. Grammer said staff plan to share program data with agencies including the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council, BN Advantage, the McLean County Chamber of Commerce and the Small Business Development Center to help them meet their own strategic goals.
Increases to various city fees will provide another estimated $225,000 to help pay for programs in the city’s police, fire and community development departments.
Aldermen voted 7 to 1 to approve several one-time fee increases, with biannual increases of up to 5 percent scheduled to begin in 2021.
Community Development Director Bob Mahrt said the increases target fees that hadn’t been been updated in years, or in some cases, decades.
The ordinance approved Monday also creates a consolidated list of fees and scheduled increases across all city departments.
Mahrt said the new format will make it easier for residents, developers and staff to navigate the city’s municipal codes and anticipate the true cost of a project.
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