Public Forum Set to Discuss Sustainability Issues & Possible Income Tax Increase
The City of Bloomington is hosting a forum on Thursday, March 5 to discuss priorities for a new Sustainability Investment Fund and a possible increase in the local income tax to support the fund. The event runs from 7 to 9 p.m. at The Mill, 642 North Madison St.
According to a city press release, the format will include a brief presentation, followed by opportunities to discuss topics with subject-matter experts. Those topics include the city's "comprehensive response to climate change, how the fund might support social equity, and the possibilities the fund could create in areas from transit and other mobility options to sustainable housing and green infrastructure, among others."
A light meal will be provided. The city is also asking residents to share comments and suggestions about the Sustainability Investment Fund via this online form.
On Jan. 1, Mayor John Hamilton announced a proposal to increase the local income tax by 0.5% for Monroe County residents, raising about $16 million annually – half for the city, half for the county – to be used for economic development purposes. Hamilton proposed using the city's share for sustainability initiatives that have not yet been determined. The tax could be enacted if approved by the majority of the Bloomington City Council.
March 6 is the deadline to apply for the 2020 Best Places to Work Bloomington. The awards are open to any business with an office in Monroe County and the equivalent of 10 or more employees. Click here to apply.
Best Places to Work Bloomington is part of a national awards program. Locally, it is sponsored by Dimension Mill, the Bloomington Herald-Times, and the Bloomington Economic Development Corp. An awards ceremony will take place at The Mill on June 9, 2020. Click here for more information.
The Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce supports efforts to make government at all levels more transparent, consistent and accountable. As part of our advocacy efforts on this issue, the Chamber has launched a transparency initiative to track the work of local government and to identify ways that openness and access can be improved.
“Open government gives our members and the broader community the ability to be more informed and to influence decisions, which in turn will help build economic equity, equality and accessibility,” said Erin Predmore, the Chamber’s President & CEO.
The City of Bloomington and Monroe County government already take actions related to these goals. Many public meetings, but not all, are recorded by Community Access Television Services (CATS) and are broadcast live or available later on the CATS website. The agendas, packets and meetings for many public meetings, but not all, are posted online. Many meetings, but not all, are noticed in a timely and accessible way.
The Chamber is tracking 82 councils, boards and commissions that govern and advise the City of Bloomington and Monroe County. We are tracking whether meeting minutes, agendas and packets are posted online in a timely way, and whether contact information is posted for these entities. As of January 2020, 45 are in the “red zone,” with up-to-date information unavailable in at least two of the four categories that we’re tracking. We will continue to monitor these groups and post updates on our Transparency in Government site.
We can do better. Here are some ways that local government can improve.
“Elected officials often encourage residents to get involved in local government, but don’t remove the barriers that prevent people from engaging,” Predmore said. “Easier access to information, a true commitment to transparency, and systemic changes are needed as we aspire to more inclusive decision-making for our community.”
Four state legislators reviewed actions of the current Indiana General Assembly Session and answered questions from residents at a Feb. 15 Legislative Update forum. The event was co-hosted by the League of Women Voters of Bloomington-Monroe County and the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce.
Legislators in attendance were Sen. Mark Stoops (District 40), Rep. Peggy Mayfield (District 60), Rep. Matt Pierce (District 61), and Rep. Jeff Ellington (District 62). The panel was moderated by Mary Morgan, the Chamber's Director of Advocacy & Public Policy.
The final forum of this legislative session will be held on Saturday, March 21 from 9:30-11 a.m. at Bloomington City Hall, 401 N. Morton.
Click here to watch the Feb. 15 forum on CATS. Coverage from the B Square Beacon: "Redistricting question served up to state legislators, talk turns again to local issue."
February is Black History Month, the perfect time to reflect on our community’s diversity. It’s also a time to challenge ourselves, take a hard look at where we fall short – we’re not as diverse or welcoming as we’d like to believe – and take steps to strengthen those areas.
In the past year, the Chamber has made a commitment to supporting the work of black business owners in Bloomington and Monroe County. We’ve started an affinity group that meets regularly to strategize about how to raise up their voices and tackle issues specific to growing their businesses.
We also surveyed black business owners to get a better handle on their economic impact. The 27 respondents reported a total of $2.557 million in gross annual revenues, employing nearly 60 workers. In total, they reported 237 years in business, reflecting a depth of experience and the important role those businesses have played in our community’s history.
The Chamber is honoring part of that history – and acknowledging the often-uncomfortable legacy we share – by placing an historical marker at People’s Park to highlight the significance of that location.
In 1968, an African American student named Clarence “Rollo” Turner led protests against racial discrimination that were met with open hostility in Bloomington. That fall, he opened the Black Market in the location where People’s Park is located today. It sold books, clothing, records, artwork and other crafts made in Africa or by African Americans and acted as a cultural center for black students at Indiana University.
On December 26, 1968, the Black Market was firebombed, and the entire store destroyed leaving Bloomington residents to grapple with the brutal and harsh realities of racism. Two Ku Klux Klan members were eventually convicted of the arson. In 1970, IU students began developing the vacant lot into People’s Park, a place for activism, recreation and free expression.
The marker, awarded by the Indiana Historical Society, will be placed in People’s Park with a celebration on May 1. We’ll be providing more details about the event soon and hope you can join us.
Before then, February is full of Black History Month events: discussion panels, lectures, performances, film screenings and other activities throughout the community. I urge you to check out the calendars for Indiana University and the City of Bloomington to find at least one way to get involved.
Our past is still very much present – the things that make us proud, as well as the things we struggle to overcome. I hope you’ll join me in working to build a community that embraces everyone.
Note: This column by Chamber CEO Erin Predmore was published in the February issue of BizNet, a Chamber publication in partnership with the Bloomington Herald-Times.
State legislators representing parts of Bloomington/Monroe County met over lunch on Feb. 11 with Chamber members as part of the Chamber's Statehouse Drive-In.
Representatives Peggy Mayfield (District 60), Matt Pierce (District 61), and Jeff Ellington (District 62) joined the Chamber for an informal lunch in the 3rd floor atrium of the statehouse. Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch also dropped by to greet the gathering.
The day included a tour of the historic building and viewing of the Indiana General Assembly in session.
Feb. 7 was the deadline to file as a candidate for the May 5 primary election, and several seats representing parts of Monroe County will have competitive races. UPDATE: The primary election has been moved to June 2, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
See below for a roundup. Click here for a printable one-page list. Click here for the full list of all candidates statewide.
The deadline to register to vote is Monday, April 6. Early voting begins on April 7. Click here for a voter registration form.
Check out the Monroe County Election Central website for more information.
CONGRESS 9th DISTRICT
Incumbent Trey Hollingsworth is unopposed in the Republican primary. Five candidates are competing in the Democratic primary: D. Liam Dorris, Brandon Hood, James O'Gabhann III, Mark Powell, and Andy Ruff.
In District 40, Democrat Mark Stoops is not seeking re-election to this seat. Three candidates have filed to run in the Democratic Party primary: Trent Feuerbach, Shelli Yoder and John Zody. No Republican candidates are running.
In District 44, Republican incumbent Eric Koch is running unopposed in the primary. No Democrats have filed for this seat.
STATE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Incumbent Democrat Matt Pierce is unopposed in the Democratic primary for District 61, and no Republicans are running.
In District 62, Republican incumbent Jeff Ellington faces Greg Knott in the primary. In November, the winner will face Democrat Alyssa Bailey, who is unopposed in the primary.
Republican incumbent Bob Heaton (District 46) is unopposed in the primary and no Democrats are running for that seat. Republican incumbent Chris May (District 65) is unchallenged on May 5 but in November faces Democrat Paula Staley, who is unopposed in the primary.
Incumbent Peggy Mayfield (District 60) will run against Dave Rinehart in the Republican primary. Tiffany Grant is running unopposed in the Democratic primary for that seat.
MONROE COUNTY COUNCIL AT-LARGE
Five candidates will vie for three at-large seats on the Monroe County Council in the Democratic Party primary: Incumbents Trent Deckard, Geoff McKim and Cheryl Munson, as well as Karl Boehm and Dominic Thompson.
There are two candidates in the Republican Party primary for those at-large seats: James Allen and Zachary Weisheit.
MONROE COUNTY COMMISSIONER
Incumbent Monroe County Commissioners Julie Thomas (District 2) and Penny Githens (District 3) are running unopposed this year in the Democratic primary. No Republicans are running for these seats. Randy Paul has filed as a Green Party candidate in District 2.
OTHER MONROE COUNTY POSITIONS
Incumbents for four countywide offices, all Democrats, are running unopposed: Cathy Smith, auditor; Jessica McClellan, treasurer; Joani Shields, coroner; Trohn Enright-Randolph, surveyor. No Republicans have filed to run for these seats.
Elizabeth Cure isn't seeking re-election for Monroe County Circuit Court Judge, Division 1. Two Democrats – Geoff Bradley and Alphonso Manns – are competing in the Democratic primary. Carl Lamb is also running for that seat, but is unopposed in the Republican primary.
For Division 8, incumbent Republican Judith Benchkart is unopposed, but will face the winner of the Democratic primary – Jeff Kehr or Kara Elaine Krothe – in November.
Incumbent Democrat Valeri Haughton is running unopposed for Division 2, and no Republicans have filed.
Monroe County Election Central is recruiting 350-360 poll workers for the May 5 primary election. Karen Wheeler, election supervisor, gave that report at the Feb. 6 Election Board meeting.
These are paid positions for Election Day.
To be a poll worker in Monroe County, you must meet these requirements:
For more information about the various jobs available – including the student poll worker program – check out Monroe County Election Central or contact their office at 812-349-2612.
As our community works to strengthen public transit, the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce urges the Bloomington City Council to take an initial step: Amend Chapter 2.76 of the Bloomington Municipal Code, enabling Bloomington Transit to provide service outside the city limits.
According to Erin Predmore, President and CEO of the Chamber, “This is a small but necessary step to make our community’s public transit system even better for city residents, including employers and people who work in urbanized areas of Monroe County.”
The current code states that the boundaries of the Bloomington Public Transportation Corporation, which operates Bloomington Transit, must be “coterminous” with the city’s boundaries. Lifting this restriction, by itself, does not mean that Bloomington Transit will immediately start operating buses outside the city limits. But it does provide flexibility for BT to adjust its routes in the future, if BT staff and board find it to be financially viable.
BT is undergoing a route optimization process. Consultants for this project recommend that BT provide service out to Ivy Tech and Cook Group, located just beyond the city limits. However, this service would not be possible under the current city code. Nor can BT offer service to Ellettsville, under current constraints.
“Most of us don’t constrain our lives to the city limits, even if we live within them. Many city residents need to attend Ivy Tech, or work at Cook Group and other businesses located slightly outside the city, or shop on the western edge of our community. We need a transit system that reflects the realities of our community and serves the needs of city residents,” says Predmore.
Providing reliable public transportation helps all city residents. A recent report by the Bloomington Affordable Living Committee – “Working Hard, Falling Behind” – includes this feedback from Amethyst House, a local nonprofit: “Affordable, reliable and accessible public transportation is critical to many in our community as they work to sustain employment, fulfill basic needs, gain access to social services, and engage in our community.”
The Chamber recognizes there are many challenges to expanding transit, including financial resources and political issues between the city and county. Looking at how to improve public transit in other ways should also be a goal for our community. There’s hard work to be done. But changing this city ordinance is an easy step, and we urge council to take it.