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Renner: After Cuts And Fee Increases, Time To Focus On Capital Improvements

Tari Renner
Breanna Grow
Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner at a city council meeting Monday, Jan. 14, 2019.

Cutting back may have helped Bloomington balance its budget, but Mayor Tari Renner says it’s going to take more than budget cuts to help grow the local economy.

Renner delivered his annual state of the city address during Monday night’s regular city council meeting.

He categorized the city’s financials as “fairly stable,” citing state and federal political instability as reasons to be “cautiously optimistic.”

"You don't change a community and make major progress by sitting on the wayside and being indecisive."

City Manager Tim Gleason said last week he’s projecting a $500,000 surplus in the upcoming fiscal year. That’s after the city made cuts and raised fees to close a nearly $3 million budget deficit for FY2019.

Renner said the city has been slimming down for years, reducing its staff by the hundreds and eliminating services like biweekly bulk waste pickup.

“We’re always looking for efficiencies,” he said. “But you’re not going to cut and gut your way to prosperity ... and you’re not going to tax your way to prosperity.”

Instead he said the city should focus on intergovernmental and public-private partnerships to make long-neglected capital improvement projects a reality.

“We’ve neglected capital investment for quite some time,” he said. “Moving forward we know we have a lot of capital needs.”

Renner said those not only include sewers, streets and sidewalks, but also major projects like O’Neil Pool, an expanded Bloomington Public Library or downtown transfer center.

He pointed to the newly expanded McLean County jail and the city’s agreement with the local Boys and Girls Club to build a new clubhouse as models for future strategic partnerships.

While opinions differ on which projects the city should fund, Renner said capital investments must be a top priority for the city to be successful.

“It’s not just important for the short-term jobs and economic activity that it produces, but future generations,” he said. “Even 10 years from now, imagine what Bloomington will be like if we have a much more revitalized downtown, if we have a state of the art library ... other things that improve the quality of life in our community.”

It’ll take greater focus and decisiveness from local leaders for that vision to come true, he said.

“You don’t change a community and make major progress by sitting on the wayside and being indecisive.”

Shortly after Renner’s address the council flexed its decision-making skills with a final vote on what has been a lengthy process to help visitors navigate Downtown Bloomington.

Applause broke out in the council chambers as aldermen unanimously approved spending $580,000 to install 34 wayfinding signs in and around the city’s central business district.

City Engineer Kevin Kothe estimated the city’s downtown signage committee has met some 60 times since the group was created in August 2015.

Council members in September 2017 delayed action on Pittsburgh firm KMA Design’s original concepts after receiving negative feedback from residents. The process hit another snag when the city put work on the signs out for bid in April 2018 and received no bids.

Alderman Jamie Mathy said he could recall conversations with local leaders about adding wayfinding signs as early as 2010.

“I’m very excited we’ve got to the point where we can do something,” he said.

The city’s agreement with Ace Sign Co. of Springfield requires that the work be completed by Aug. 31.

Mayor Tari Renner spoke about capital project priorities Tuesday on GLT's Sound Ideas:

Full interview

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Breanna Grow is a correspondent for GLT. She joined the station in September 2018.