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Renner Wants Aldermen More Decisive On Funding For Capital Projects

Tari Renner
Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner during a recent council meeting.

Mayor Tari Renner said Tuesday he was disappointed in what he called the city council’s indecisiveness on how to pay for a major renovation at O’Neil Pool and much-needed street repairs.

During an interview on GLT’s Sound Ideas, Renner praised his council for its progress to date on crafting next year’s operating budget, noting last week’s productive discussion on solid waste. The city needs to close a $2.9 million projected deficit in next year’s budget, which begins May 1.

But he said he was disappointed in Monday’s council discussion about the future of O’Neil Pool. The city needs to replace the aging pool, and the city was considering a $10 million renovation that would also rejuvenate the rest of the park on Bloomington’s west side. To pay for it, city staff proposed a combination of increased utility taxes and a new licensing fee for video gaming machines, which together would’ve generated an extra $600,000 per year.

"I thought it was short-sighted for the council to not seriously dig in and consider those two options."

Aldermen on Monday rejected that full-scale aquatic park but did discuss renovating and enclosing the pool itself to make it a year-round facility. They did not favor raising utility taxes or the gaming fee.

“There was very little direction the council gave (Monday) night on capital funding, which was actually quite disappointing,” Renner said. “We will get there, but it is a little disconcerting on the capital side, that we are four years or so into a Capital Improvement Plan—all of these plans were passed—and we had a series of very realistic funding options for streets and for O’Neil Pool, and not a single penny was supported to specifically allocate.”

Renner said he’s generally not in favor of raising taxes and fees unless it’s necessary. But he said he liked the utility tax/video gaming fee combination to pay for O’Neil renovation. He said the increase of utility taxes (for electricity, gas, and water) would’ve been as little as $9 per year, which he said was manageable. And Renner said “video gambling is the most progressive tax we have available,” noting the income the machines generate for bars and truck stops with little overhead.

“I thought it was short-sighted for the council to not seriously dig in and consider those two options. They would’ve been minimal (impact). The impact of a major water park on the city’s west side would’ve been huge,” Renner said.

Aldermen also expressed concern with a proposed increase in the local motor fuel tax, from 4 cents per gallon to 8 cents. That would’ve generated an extra $2.3 million annually for streets and sidewalks. Instead aldermen seem to favor a smaller increase, perhaps 2 cents per gallon.

“The idea that you do 2 cents as opposed to 4 cents, and go on the cheap, when we know we need $80 million to fix our streets, I think is not a wise decision,” Renner said. “There are some pretty clear choices out there, and we need to step up to the plate and do them.”

The Bloomington City Council is expected to see a proposed operating budget for fiscal year 2019 at its Feb. 26 meeting.

You can also listen to GLT's full interview:

GLT's full interview with Renner.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.