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Bloomington Mayoral Candidate Pledges To Provide Budget Specifics


A Bloomington mayoral candidate thinks there's room in the budget to fund priorities such as infrastructure and public safety by cutting amenities.  Ward 1 Alderman and candidate for mayor Kevin Lower also is cool on raising fees or taxes during what he repeatedly called a recession. 

Lower announced his candidacy for Mayor on Oct. 1. He's was elected as Alderman in 2013.  Also running for Mayor are Ward 8 Alderman Diana Hauman, former radio host and congressional candidate Ian Bayne, and incumbent Mayor Tari Renner.

During Sound Ideas, Lower didn't offer many specifics in terms of budget cuts to fund his priorities. When asked whether his mayoral campaign would provide specifics he said "We're going to be talking about those. Yes, I'm sure."

Lower has a self-described reputation looking for every penny and being critical. He's often the lone "nay" vote on many issues on the nine-member city council. 

"Prior to the recession, we had many amenities that came out of our general revenue fund that probably don't belong there any longer" said Lower. "I'm not against those amenities per se, but we have to set our priorities and there are other ways we can find to pay for those and they should be on a demand type basis." 

When asked to cite a particular amenity, he suggested having patrons pay for summer theater performances at Miller Park. "We really should look at who is attending and how those get paid for," said Lower. Lower admitted summer theater admission wouldn't go far to solve Bloomington budget issues. 

"I think we need to be looking at a very, very large or broad number of things," said Lower. "We basically need to reprioritize."

While the budget sets annual spending priorities, Lower said "unfortunately it (the budget) is set by the city manager." Lower said last year the council was not allowed much time to have a discussion as an entire council about the budget.

Some council appointees to the Budget Task Force did deal with the budget, specifically examining possible cuts and revenue. The council also received those recommendations. Lower said he was concerned he was not part of the task force, named by Mayor Tari Renner, which met over the summer of 2015. 

One of the recommendations of the task force was to eliminate the operating deficit in the city's solid waste fund. The task force recommended a half-million dollar cut in services or add $1.5 million in fees or a combination both. The council ultimately tabled action on the solid waste program. Lower said raising fees is regressive, meaning the fee takes a larger percentage from low-income earners than from higher wage earners. He said the best course at this point was to continue fund solid waste through current fees and general revenue tax dollars. 

Lower said his spending priorities include public safety and infrastructure.  The council is currently hearing from city staff about the Capital Improvement Plan, which will be part o the next budget process. The plan identifies about $337 million dollars in capital needs, including a backlog of deferred maintenance on sewers, roads, and sidewalks. Lower says he's willing to consider a bond, or a loan, to address capital improvements.  

Several times during the interview Lower cited a recession as a reason for opposing economic development tools, such as tax increment finance districts, or raising fees or taxes to help pay for his own priorities, which are also core city services such as public safety or infrastructure. Tax increment finance districts can boost economic development, eventually adding to the tax base. He said his view that the area hasn't fully recovered is based on walking neighborhoods and talking with constituents in "addition to national and statewide numbers."