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Mayoral Campaign Proposals Called 'Impractical' and 'Catastrophic'

David Hales
Michael Hill

Bloomington's city manager thinks "you have to look at the reality" when it comes to some of the proposals being floated by candidates running for mayor. 

David Hales has served as Bloomington City Manager for the better part of a decade. During Sound Ideas, he talked about campaign proposals to lower the city's sales tax to 6.5 percent and to sell the coliseum.  

"You'd probably only get pennies on the dollar of what we've invested. Coliseums, arenas like these are not, in and of themselves, revenue generating facilities," said Hales. "They do add significantly to the overall economic impact of the community." 

Hales called selling the facility "impractical." He estimated over $100 million of economic benefit to hotels and restaurants. Even selling it for a loss as one candidate suggested would not eliminate what the city owes on the coliseum, which Hales said was around $20 million.  The facility opened April 1, 2006 and was in place when Hales became city manager.

Credit Emma Shores / WGLT
The coliseum in Downtown Bloomington (file photo).

The city is providing an operating subsidy to the coliseum. Management firm VenuWorks has reported an operating loss of  $674,000 since taking over the coliseum. Hales thinks the coliseum under VenuWorks is on a trajectory to break even.

"We've been close to that and I think will hit that in the near future. It could take two to three years, but I think we'll eventually get there based on everything I've seen and what VenuWorks can bring to the table, said Hales.  

Another campaign proposal from a mayoral candidate is to lower the city's sales tax from 8.75 percent to 6.5 percent. Hales said the effect on the budget would be catastrophic. 

"We estimate if we saw a two percentage point drop, we'd lose $20 million. That would be equivalent to 20 percent of our entire general fund," said Hales. "You could not deal with that kind of loss without significant elimination of jobs and significant elimination of some very significant programs." 

Credit Staff / WGLT
Bloomington firefighters responding to a suspicious package in Nov. 2015.

Hales said it would almost certainly lead to public safety cuts, and layoffs of police officers and firefighters. 

"They are such a large portion of our general fund, I don't think you could get away without addressing reductions of services in those two areas," said Hales. 

Hales said right now, aldermen and staff are discussing spending more, possibly adding a fire station, to reduce fire department response times to the northeast part of Bloomington.