In an 11th hour move, the Monroe County Board of Commissioners created a Capital Improvement Board (CIB) as the form of governance for the Convention Center and its expansion. This was after Commissioner President Julie Thomas stated that this elected body would not sell the Center asset nor accept a 501-C3 non-profit as put forward by the City of Bloomington's Office of the Mayor. The City and County are scheduled to meet today, the 9th of November to discuss collaboration on the expansion of the convention Center. In 2018, the County Council passed an increase in the food and beverage tax to fund this imitative.
Part of my role here at the Chamber is to take calls from members on issues they are having with government. One of the areas I hear quite a bit about is the lack of beauty in our Kirkwood-Square area. It may appear to be a trivial issue but aesthetics matter. It is the first impression visitors have of Bloomington. Below are some examples related to planters that do not meet the eye test. One of those planters does not fit where an outside group does the maintenance. it's pretty easy to spot.
At the October 19th City of Bloomington Common Council Meeting, I took the opportunity to both thank them for the council for their role in the budget process and bring up the issue of beautification.
I first want to commend this body for its deliberation on the sometimes-grueling budget process. While the LIT increase created a flush of revenue, it did not make the hearings any easier for the council. The Chamber appreciates making transit, infrastructure, and public safety a real priority in this community. We must never lose sight of local governments’ purpose to simply provide the essentials to its citizens: paved roads, garbage pickup, well-kept parks, and safe streets. Much like all of you, this budget cannot serve our priorities exactly, but through the democratic process, we manage.
Secondly, I want to bring up beautification. I walk around these streets downtown, and I can’t help thinking we as a community can do better. This may appear to be a trivial issue. However, I’m reminded of the work of Lady Bird Johnson. In the midst of her husband’s “War on Poverty,” she made beautification her priority, her passion project. Many visitors whether they are here for Lotus Festival, a football game, or a college tour first impression of our fair city is the Kirkwood-Square area. What do they see? The planters look drab and uninviting, what’s been planted while maybe native to the land, aesthetically does not meet the eye test. Often, we see visibly broken bottles and cigarette butts in these planters. The alleyways we claim as an asset suffers from poor lighting with too many visible above-ground wires to look welcoming. It’s easy for us residents to become numb to some of these eye sores but that is not how visitors see it. Please, take a fresh look for yourself next time you are strolling in the central corridor of our beloved city.
This brings me to my final point, The CRED Funds which were brought up during the LIT debate as means to fund public safety capital projects within the district. My records show the Downtown CRED, Fund 922 with just over 10.5 million dollars in it. These funds were collected from the businesses within the district with the intent to invest this money back into this area for community revitalization enhancement, CRED. We do not want to see these funds simply revert to the general fund with no real purpose, used for the next pet project. This obliterates the initial legislative intent and does a disservice to the business community that paid into the fund. We need to invest these monies back into the downtown district, maybe that includes beautification?
On October 12th, 2022, city councilmembers voted unanimously to approve the mayor's proposed budget for the 2023 year. Last year's Economic Development Local Income Tax (ED-LIT) rate increase helped to expand the city's combined budget to 228.5 million dollars, a 28 percent increase from last year's 178-million-dollar budget. Under the requirements of the ED-LIT additional funds were allocated to areas like city services and workforce investments, climate change preparedness and mitigation as well as equity and quality of life for all.
The biggest topic of discussion that night, however, was the five percent salary increase to American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) employees. Members of this labor union argued that this percent increase is not enough to meet higher costs of living. Negotiations between the city and AFSCME are still ongoing despite the budget's approval.
To read more about Mayor John Hamilton's 2023 proposed budget, click HERE.
Back in May, the Bloomington City Council approved a 50 percent local income tax hike that affects all Monroe County residents. The tax will produce around $14.5 million in annual revenue for the city. It will also generate $9.2 million for the Monroe County government. One of the key initiatives from the Mayor that the Chamber supported is to strengthen our public transit. The culmination of this has been a Bloomington Transit (BT) $34 million proposed budget for 2023. This is more than doubles the $15 million approved for the current budget.
Now is the time to take the initial step to expand BT Service beyond the city limits. Presently, chapter 2.76 Bloomington Municipal Code prevents this from becoming a reality. . The City Council can start this process by simply passing a resolution proclaiming their support for extending Route 3 to Ivy Tech Bloomington and the Cook Group, a mere 1.5 miles. Last week, I spoke to the Council on such action. You can find my public comment HERE and the transcripts below. Contact your City Council Representative HERE.
Good evening Common Council, this is Christopher Emge from the Bloomington Chamber. I hope everyone had a well-earned restful recess. I want to commend the work of the Council on behalf of the residents of Bloomington. You have had big lifts with both the LIT increase and the Meridian deal. These were not easy issues to navigate. I thank you all for your deliberation on these two issues.
Speaking of LIT (Local Income Tax), if you recall one of our economic development priorities was the expansion of transit. The Chamber has long advocated an enhanced system that provides greater access to employment prospects. With the influx of new revenue, now is the time for the Council to act in the first step of providing access outside of the city limits. Your constituents’ transportation needs do not arbitrarily end at the city limits.
This action ultimately will include an amendment to Bloomington municipal code 2.76. However, there is a need to act now, to get this expansion rolling. In the short term, the Chamber is advocating for a simple resolution that puts forward this body’s intent for Bloomington Transit 3 Line to be extended by approximately 1.5 miles to Daniels Way. What this does is open the valuable Park 48 education and employment hub to city residents. Area employers such as Cook, Baxter, Tasus, and their Bloomington proper employees would benefit greatly from these expanded transit options. The students served by Ivy Tech Bloomington’s campus would also have greater entry. This access provides real economic opportunities. Whereas the East/West express line will be ideal, we are firmly aware that such an option will most likely be years, not months away.
The Chamber also recognizes the need for the County to be responsible for a portion of the marginal increases in cost associated with such a service. A preliminary talk with one County Council member appears that they are amenable to such an agreement. The resolution is a good faith effort to make this long-envisioned initiative come to life. It is also the first step in creating a regional transportation blueprint upon which to spring from. I thank you for the time tonight, it is nice to have the council back.
The City of Bloomington will be taking ownership of a portion of the Hopewell site (the former IU Health Bloomington campus) this month. Residents in the area will notice an increase in activity as our contractors work to prepare the area for redevelopment. That work will include the demolition of several buildings in the area as identified in the Hospital Site Redevelopment Master Plan. Learn more about the plan at hopewellbloomington.org. You’ll find a map of the areas impacted below.
Here’s what to expect:
Beginning as early as late July, demolition of existing building structures to make way for the development of Hopewell Phase I East will commence.
Demolition details include:
The Advocacy division of the Chamber often finds itself at odds with pieces of local and state legislation. We do not have the heft to support every item we would like. Many education initiatives fall into this category. Supporting next Fall’s MCCSC referendum to increase property taxes for pay hikes to the teaching and other staff members remains a great use of our limited capital. Quality of life, the largest driver of economic development begins with the value of our schools. Pushing for additional funds for transit, including opening BT to unincorporated areas has also been positive. Ushering people to work without vehicles and providing a less congested means for others enhances our lives.
Recently, I spoke to the Monroe County Commissioners thanking them for their role in several recent initiatives. This is an important aspect of my job. These are hard-working public servants. We will not always agree, which is a positive development. We need to have discourse on issues that affect our community. However, even during disagreements, it’s vital to let these officials know they are playing a positive role in our community. Below is my June 22nd statement:
One of the areas we encourage is promoting civic duty. Part of this includes involvement in our local government, participating on boards and commissions. We encourage our Chamber members to get involved and find an area they have an interest in.
Notable County Openings:
Information on rising fuel costs and Duke Energy electric bills--a message from Duke Energy Indiana President Stan Pinegar
Hoosiers are paying more at the grocery and gas pump and may be noticing higher electric bills as well. We want to share background on what’s driving Duke Energy electricity costs and what we’re doing to help.
Since mid-2021, costs for coal and gas to produce the energy that powers Indiana homes, businesses and assembly lines have increased significantly. Fuel accounts for a significant portion of our electric costs, averaging as much as 30% of a total bill. That’s why when there are volatile energy markets, it can have a big impact.
In fact, Duke Energy Indiana is seeing the highest sustained prices for fuel that we have witnessed in a decade. Global demand and tight fuel supplies as well as labor shortages at coal mines and railroads are affecting the cost of the power we produce as well as what we purchase in the energy markets. We also have been working to overcome supply chain challenges to ensure we have sufficient supplies of fuel available for summer and winter—the times of highest electric demand.
These are not permanent rate increases. Fuel costs rise and fall, and we pass those costs to our customers with no markup, so customers pay what we pay. Our priority is to purchase fuel at the best possible price, through steps such as long-term contracts and using a diversity of suppliers. To lessen the impact on customer bills, we are spreading recovery of some of these fuel costs over a longer period to reduce the rate impact.
Unfortunately, as we approach the summer, the bill impact will continue to increase, and we expect that to continue throughout the year. If you are struggling financially to pay your electric bill, contact us at 800.521.2232. We can discuss payment plans and resources for help.
We also recommend tools such as High Bill Alerts and Budget Billing that can help customers to manage their bills. Financial assistance also is available through our Share the Light program, where eligible customers can receive up to $300 in energy bill assistance. You can find more information on these programs at Lower My Bill ToolKit - Home - Duke Energy (duke-energy.com).
We have found that many of our customers are missing out on state and federal assistance programs for which they are eligible. To learn more, visit Indiana Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program | Benefits.gov.
We know that higher electric bills can be a hardship for many, and we want to connect customers to resources for help.
Last night, primary election candidates waited eagerly to see if they would receive their party's nomination for the general election come this fall. With a number of races being close calls, there was much anticipation as the votes were counted. After a final count, the following candidates have won their party's nomination. If you're still interested in learning more about the candidates, click on their title of office to read their bio. Congratulations to the following winners!
U.S. House of Representatives, District 9