The Bloomington City Council adopted a new parks and recreation plan Monday night that could inform the city’s budget priorities for 2020 and beyond.
The city paid Colorado-based consultant GreenPlay $115,000 to update its 1997 comprehensive parks and recreation master plan.
Green Play inventoried the city’s current parks and recreation facilities and programs and gathered resident input to offer recommendations for future improvement.
Those include adding amenities like dog parks and spraygrounds to renovated parks, and making public facilities compliant with accessible design standards.
The consultant also conducted feasibility studies for renovations at O’Neil Park and a potential recreation center. That includes possibly turning O’Neil Pool into an aquatics center.
Bloomington resident David Kobus told the council the city should be in the business of providing quality basic services—“emphasis on basic, not luxury,” he said.
“Don’t replace a pool with an aquatics facility to compete with Normal,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s a question of being competitive with Normal; it’s a question of delivering public services to our community,” Bloomington Mayor Renner said following the meeting. “And sometimes you can deliver public services and improve economic development.”
In the case of O’Neil pool, a longtime facility that provides critical services to area residents is in need of repair, he said.
“I think it’s very important for youth for the summer, for it to be a community gathering place, and it’s also strategically located right by the interstate,” he said. “So if we were going to have an aquatics center, that’s where it would be.”
However, Renner noted the adoption of the plan doesn’t mean the council will take any specific action, much less build an aquatics center.
“The master plan is just, ‘What do we think we’re going to need based on what we know today?’” he explained.
Renner said he would like to see the city build at least one recreation center.
“When I was a kid, I grew up in an area that had about 7,000 people and they had a rec center,” he said. “It didn’t have a lot, but it did have a pool, tennis courts, it had places inside to shoot hoops. So I think we need to have some kind of series of recreational centers internally, especially since during this time of year you can’t really go out and play tennis.”
One option is to use a projected surplus for the upcoming budget cycle to take on these and other capital improvement projects.
City Manager Tim Gleason said it looks like the city will have a surplus of between $750,000 and $1 million, higher than the $500,000 he projected earlier this month. He said there’s still time for those numbers to change.
“We’re just now really beyond the halfway point for this current fiscal year 2019,” he said. “A sustained winter event, overtime costs, stuff like that could throw that out of whack very quickly. But we feel a little more comfortable projecting slightly higher (surplus) than what we have communicated in the past.”
Renner said the council will prioritize capital improvement projects as budget discussions continue.
That includes projects like fixing up O’Neil Pool, but also repairing streets, sidewalks and sewers, and acquiring strategic properties for economic development.
Gleason said the city has compiled a list of what he calls “one-and-done” capital improvement projects, including maintenance and repair to the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts and remodeling at one of the city’s fire stations.
“Definitely not luxury items, just things that have been placed on our radar and we’ve known for a couple of years,” he added.
Gleason said the council will also explore moving from leasing to owning its service equipment, allowing the city to reduce debt and expenses over time.
Renner said the city has neglected capital improvements in recent years in order to focus on its operating budget.
This year the operating budget is looking “at least OK,” he said. “It’s not fantastic, but it’s OK.”
The city will continue looking for ways to save money, Renner said, whether that be retiring bonds or automating tasks. He used Bloomington’s 60-year-old city hall as an example.
“We’re not building a new city hall, there’s no plans to do so, but we’re trying to stretch the life of whatever assets we currently have to save money,” he said.
Possible Weather Closure
Gleason asked the public to stay tuned for the city to possibly announce the closure of city hall ahead of expected dangerous winter weather.
“I’ve reached out to County Administrator Bill Wasson and Normal City Manager Pam Reece, and we’re going to coordinate whatever efforts there might be if in fact we close our governmental centers for the nonessential positions on Wednesday,” he said.
Public works crews, police and fire personnel would remain on the job, Gleason said.
In other business, the city approved a $25,000 contract extension with consultant Houseal Lavigne & Associates to cover additional time spent community outreach as the group worked to review and rewrite the city’s zoning ordinance.
The council also approved a $25,000 design study for intersection improvements on Washington Street at Euclid Avenue and Brown Street.
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