The Bloomington City Council heard presentations Monday night from several social service agencies addressing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as numerous citizens upset over last week’s vote against a possible direct aid program.
“Frankly, it’s disappointing to see some of you shift responsibility when you have the power that no one else does,” said Cecelia Long. “We need direct financial assistance that’s easy to apply for, and people need it now.”
The remarks came in response to last week’s 5-4 Committee of the Whole vote against council member Jeff Crabill's proposal to provide financial assistance to residents impacted by the statewide shutdown. Public comments were extended beyond the normal 30 minutes, with all but one of the 15 speakers advocating for direct aid.
“Our most vulnerable demographics are getting hit hardest during this time, and I would argue that it is morally imperative that if we have some way to help directly that we do so immediately,” said Matthew Sims. “People are being affected now not later, and it’s only going to get worse.”
“Government should do everything in its power to make charity unnecessary,” said Matt Toczko. “Sitting back to see what nonprofits accomplish and then potentially filling in the cracks is the exact opposite of what you’re elected to do.”
Monday’s protracted three-hour virtual meeting also featured presentations from McLean County Administrator Camille Rodriguez, Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council CEO Patrick Hoban, United Way of McLean County Board Chairman Phani Aytam and Executive Director David Taylor, and PATH Executive Director Karen Zangerle.
The United Way representatives discussed their COVID-19 relief efforts and the organization’s “Feeding BN & Beyond” program that has provided more than 26,000 meals to those in need across McLean County since March 30.
“The need is much bigger than what we’re doing right now,” stressed Aytam.
“Collectively as a community, we have the means to solve this. The onus for solving this is not on one person or entity; I think it requires collaboration. It requires us to think outside the box and think about philanthropy from a different view.”
The United Way has identified four key areas of emphasis during the pandemic: food insecurity, unemployment, shelter, and child care assistance. Aytam said the shelter and child care needs have not yet emerged, but will in the near future.
“I don’t think we truly know what the extent of the need is, and more importantly how long the need is going to be,” he said. “We unfortunately don’t have an end in sight for COVID at this time.”
Rodriguez and Hoban discussed recovery loan programs and other assistance available for small businesses, while Zangerle focused on how the pandemic is affecting those experiencing homelessness.
During his remarks at the end of the meeting, Mayor Tari Renner said Bloomington is at a “crossroads” in regard to handling the crisis.
“We need to make sure we exercise strong leadership and do the best job for our community,” said Renner. “There are so many, as we see, unmet needs, some things we can help address ... but then there are still certainly other things.”
The council unanimously approved an amendment to the current local emergency declaration, prorating the license fees for video gambling terminals. The Illinois Gaming Board halted video gambling on March 16 and it remains unclear when those operations might resume.
The city will reimburse $60 per terminal – 12% of the $500 fee – for current license holders, covering 46 days the establishments were closed from March 16-April 30. For the upcoming license year, refunds will be issued based on how long the businesses remain shuttered.
The consent agenda also passed on a 9-0 vote with none of the 18 items pulled for discussion. Among them were $6.5 million worth of infrastructure improvements, including $4.16 million for road resurfacing.
Expenses approved include: $1.6 million for utility maintenance; $1 million for sidewalk and curb ramp replacement; and $822,000 for the Lutz Road Improvement Project.
In his monthly report, Finance Director Scott Rathbun said the current projected loss to the city’s general fund from the COVID-19 pandemic is $3 million.
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