Chamber Pushes for Safer Streets
Last night, during public comment, The Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Eric Spoonmore passionately advocated for improved public safety before the Bloomington Common Council. He provided a sobering assessment of the situation highlighted by the shortage of police and the uptick in crime.
HERE is the video of his speech with the transcript below.
Eric Spoonmore Statement to the Bloomington City Council
Good evening, Council. I’m Eric Spoonmore, President of the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce.
Over 80% of our members are small, locally owned enterprises. We also partner with our public-school corporations, numerous non-profit organizations, institutions of higher education, local government, and many large corporate employers. We believe that membership in the Chamber is a statement that you care about our community, and you want Bloomington to thrive for generations to come. In other words, we recognize that our businesses and employers are instrumental in achieving the high quality of life that our residents deserve.
And so, the quality of life we all want is dependent upon our residents and visitors feeling safe in our community. And when I say safe, I don’t mean relatively safe. We need people to feel very safe. I know you’re aware of this….we’ve experienced a disturbing number of violent crimes over the past several months and weeks. Rapes, stabbings, shootings, arson, murders, attempted murders in broad daylight….these things simply cannot be tolerated under any circumstance. And ensuring the safety of the public is local government’s most important and fundamental role.
I also want to let you know that too many businesses in our community are having to commit substantial resources to protect their safety and to protect their property from damage related to vandalism and other illicit behaviors that are contributing to a general degradation of our quality of place. The Chamber of Commerce even keeps our front door locked during business hours because we have experienced too many situations that have put our staff and property at risk of harm. It’s sad to me that a Chamber of Commerce – of all places – has to keep the doors locked so that our staff feels safe. And we’re not the only enterprise taking these measures.
Numerous businesses are having to hire private security services, they’re installing security doors and expensive intercom systems and surveillance cameras to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. And the businesses aren’t just eating these costs – at the end of the day, they have to pass the cost on to the customers – they don’t want to do that, but that’s the only way they can stay in business. So, this is not a good situation – especially considering the 51% increase in local income tax that workers are all now paying largely to address public safety.
And so, I don’t know all the answers to addressing the very significant concerns we hear about perceived and actual safety in the community. But, I think we clearly need to look into some new crime prevention strategies. But, in the meantime, my first suggestion would be to employ the number of professional police officers that we need to provide effective public safety services. We used to have them, and I don’t know where they all went. Not too long ago, we had over a hundred sworn officers. And now we have somewhere around 80 and we need to make progress on getting back to where we were.
And then another suggestion – I appreciate the weekly reports on the number of city employees who have COVID, I know there’s a lot of diligent record keeping with that data and the staff works to distribute that information to the public very reliably each week. And so, I would also be interested in using that same model to generate a detailed weekly report that shows the progress we’re making on hiring police officers to address the current shortage. And so, I cannot emphasize enough that the business community is not just concerned – we are gravely concerned – that we do not have enough employed police officers protecting the safety of our community.
And then, finally, I would also suggest just more overall police visibility – day and night – especially in the high-traffic pedestrian areas. I’m sure there are community policing strategies that numerous other communities have used and do this effectively. There are a lot of theories about crime deterrence, but I think even the most progressive criminology experts generally agree that there is no better deterrent to violent, criminal behavior than knowing you will get caught in the act of doing it.
So, let’s do everything we can to prevent the kinds of reprehensible, violent crimes that occurred just last week in this city. If we want people to use public transportation, if we want people to visit our city to spend their dollars here to support our businesses, and if we want our residents to enjoy our downtown and parks facilities with their families – they need to feel safe when engaging in those activities.
Please always keep public safety as your number one priority. Thank you.
As the calendar changes, the Chamber advocacy reflects on the past year while also looking forward to the work ahead. After years of grumbling, we have finally witnessed real progress in the expansion of the Monroe County Convention Center. This development project required shuttle diplomacy by our President and continued public comments by the Chamber to drive this message home. The result is a Capital Improvement Board (CIB) that provides for shared governance. The county commissioners formed the CIB before it was later affirmed by the city council. This breakthrough was only after the Chamber and its partners earlier in the year were able to prevent the state legislature from sunsetting the food and beverage tax.
Next year, the Chamber plans to focus its work on continuing to support public K12 education, expanded owner-occupied housing, and most importantly, improved public safety in our community. The essential duty of our government is to keep its citizens safe. To do that we need to have an appreciated, well-paid police force at full capacity to address the problem behaviors our members deal with daily. There is a need for immediate remedies that can address the problem. We cannot tolerate people feeling threatened walking down the street on a way to a downtown eatery. These behaviors must be addressed and not accepted as the permanent backdrop of our community.
The Chamber has been in full support of the work of the county’s justice response committee. We need real reform that entails a bigger emphasis on mental illness/addiction programs that address our recidivism rate. The current jail housed at Charlotte Zietlow Justice Center is completely inadequate in all respects. However, we are years away from seeing this type of transformative change in our justice system. In the meantime, short-term solutions must be sought.
On January 9th, 2023, the Indiana General Assembly will convene its members for a "long" legislative session that will determine the state's annual budget for next two years. Despite this official start date, senators and representatives have already begun to file bills in anticipation of what is expected to be a very busy session. Below is a list of deadlines that lawmakers must follow in the coming months:
For more information on 2023 Legislative Session, visit the Indiana General Assembly website by clicking HERE.
It is a budget year for the Indiana General Assembly (IGA). This entails that the legislation during this session will focus more greatly on financial issues as opposed to social issues. Bills proposed during this long session will determine the state's budget for the next two years. Looking ahead of the official January 9th start date, there is much anticipation surrounding legislators' plans to remedy the issue of inflation and how they intend to help Hoosier families. Another topic of much discussion is education. Larger investments for K-12 and higher education are expected with increased funding in categories influenced by the business community, i.e., workforce development and job training. A number of recommendations from commissions have been given to the governor and legislative committee members on topics regarding public health and affordable housing. How these suggestions will be implemented are of great interest to the Chamber's business members.
To follow all the action and deadlines, follow this LINK to the IGA's website.
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?
City Council Votes to Approve 2023 Budget, Negotiations with Labor Union Continues
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: