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Bloomington Budget Weathers COVID-19 With Reserves

Bloomington City Council listens to Finance Director Scott Rathbun present a budget update during Monday's regular meeting, streamed online.

Bloomington’s strong budget reserves helped it weather COVID-19 this spring, but the pandemic’s unpredictability means the city’s finances aren’t yet in the clear, leaders heard during Monday night’s city council meeting.

“We’re at a position where we’re not anywhere near out of the woods. But we’re better than expected,” said Billy Tyus, deputy city manager. He credited the budgetary comfort zone to careful projections in allowing the city to realize some savings, as well as good news that some revenues have come in better than projected. 

Also at the meeting, the board approved building a new monkey exhibit at Miller Park Zoo, and OK’d the city’s $170 million master plan for meeting water needs over the next two decades. 

Finance Director Scott Rathbun told the council COVID has had a $1.8 million negative impact on Bloomington’s FY 2020 budget, but that’s less than the city had predicted. Looking at FY 2021, the city projected a $9.8 million hit. But with adjustments, Rathbun said it now will be closer to $8.5 million.

“That’s still in motion,” he added, noting his staff is working to find ways to cover that.

But administrators are far from taking a wait-and-see attitude, he said. Instead, they’ll be continuously monitoring budget categories and updating the council monthly on projection adjustments.

The end of July is the first time to revisit these projections because data has just arrived about April giving  budgeters one full month of data on how the quarantine hit the city’s sales tax, food and beverage tax, and other major revenue streams. 

Earlier in Monday’s meeting, the council approved amending the FY 2021 budget to allow for a $445,000 monkey exhibit, designed by Diamond Design & Construction Inc. The new exhibit, set to open in 2021, will feature De Brazza’s monkeys.

It also OK’d a 20-year, $170 million water master plan focusing on upgrades and additional staff. About $79 million would finance facility improvements, $52.7 million in water distribution improvements and $11 million in water quality and regulatory improvements.

In other business, the council continued discussing a proposal to make Juneteenth an official city holiday. June 19 has long been observed as a celebration of the emancipation of slaves. Ward 3 council member Mboka Mwilambwe formally brought forth the idea last week during a committee of the whole meeting.

During Monday’s meeting, Mwilambwe shared some ideas about how staff might proceed while drafting an ordinance. But while most of the council voiced support for the city recognizing the date, talks stumbled on whether it would be an actual holiday, with city workers getting the day off work. The council agreed to study the issue more before putting forth an ordinance on the matter.

The council also approved:

  • Using an estimated $500,000 in state motor fuel tax funds to cover a year’s street lighting costs.
  • Replacing a water treatment plant boiler; Mid-Illinois Mechanical, Inc. will complete the $253,000 project.
  • Approved two public works-related contracts--with Henson Disposal for excavation of materials, at a rate of $31.50 per ton of  materials; and with Republic Services for street-sweeping debris, at a rate of $54.65 per ton of debris.
  • Approved purchasing for the Bloomington Police Department a $37,000 Ford F-250 pickup truck equipped with a snow plow, from Currie Motors of Frankfort.

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Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.