In a speech on Thursday called "Recovering Forward," Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton proposed a raft of spending initiatives aimed at boosting the local economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, including a new 0.25% local income tax.
From his speech: "I know it is rarely popular to raise revenues, and that it is not easy during times of economic pressure. But we cannot Recover Forward without it. Without it, we will shortchange our future and Bloomington’s potential. And, being one of the lowest-tax cities in a low-tax state in one of the lowest-tax countries, we have fiscal room to do so. Recover Forward lets us dedicate these resources toward those most in need, and toward the Bloomington we want to become."
Click here for a transcript. A video of his speech is available at the bottom of that page.
In January, the mayor proposed an 0.5% local income tax for sustainability initiatives, but that proposal was abandoned when the pandemic hit.
The mayor does not have the authority to enact a local income tax (LIT). It would need to be approved by the elected fiscal authorities in Monroe County, including the Bloomington City Council and Monroe County Council, in weighted votes based on the proportion of the population that elected officials of each entity represents. Because Bloomington is the largest population base, an eight-vote majority of the Bloomington City Council could pass a LIT for the entire county.
About half of the proceeds would go to the county government.
If you missed the outdoor dining along closed sections of Kirkwood last weekend, you'll have another chance soon.
The Kirkwood Community Association is planning to close off two sections from Friday, June 26 at 5 p.m. through Sunday, June 28: 1) between Grant and Dunn, and 2) between Dunn and Indiana. They'll check the weather forecast on Thursday to confirm the closing, according to Bob Costello, the KCA president and owner of Village Deli.
The first weekend of closing Kirkwood, from June 19-21, was viewed as a success. Participating restaurants with expanded outdoor seating included Village Deli, Nick's English Hut, Osteria Rago and Lennie's.
They'll skip July 4 weekend, Costello said, but hope to continue the closure for future weekends throughout the summer. The closure allows restaurants to expand their outdoor dining areas and give pedestrians a safe way to walk past as the community continues COVID-19 physical distancing.
MonroeCountyCOVID-19.org is a collaborative effort of many organizations across the entire Monroe County community in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The site is hosted by the Chamber and updated daily by Chamber staff.
The site provides information from federal, state and local sources about economic assistance, help for nonprofits, virtual meetings, basic services, HR and legal resources, and more. We are also gathering information on ways to give back and stories of resilience and care from our community.
We are in this together, and we are here for you. If you have suggestions for other resources to include, please click here to fill out our resource submission from. If you have any questions email email@example.com.
Monroe County is accepting applications from locally-owned businesses located outside the City of Bloomington that need support in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Click here for the application.
The county has allocated $200,000 from its share of Food & Beverage Tax revenues for this purpose. The 3-page application was posted on Thursday, March 26. An introductory section states:
"Completing the application does not guarantee that funding will be made available. The scope of funding will be reviewed weekly by the Board of Commissioners.
In addition to restaurants and bars, other locally-owned businesses that support tourism are encouraged to complete the survey if they have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Board of Commissioners recognize that while there are some long-term funding opportunities for businesses, short-term assistance may be vital for the survival of our local economy."
The City of Bloomington is in the process of allocating up to $2 million of its Food & Beverage Tax revenues for a similar purpose, but has not yet developed an application process to receive those funds.
Community and civic leaders have formed a coalition to coordinate responses to the COVID-19 crisis. The group is gathering resources and sharing information with twice-weekly conference calls. Here is a summary of the recent updates from around the community.
COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund
The COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund has been formed to respond to human service needs. It will launch with $250,000 from partners, including the Bloomington Health Foundation, Community Foundation of Bloomington Monroe County Government, City of Bloomington, Monroe County Community Schools Foundation, Bloomington Township, Perry Township, Van Buren Township, Duke Energy, Cook Group, Old National Bank, and Owen County State Bank.
The fund will be used to:
Monroe County Government
There are no confirmed cases so far. The Monroe County Health Department is working to communicate with the community, including businesses like childcare providers, group homes, etc. where groups gather. Get updates via Facebook @MoCoHealth or on the Health Department’s website.
The county has opened an emergency operations center. Monroe County has issued a local disaster emergency declaration, which will help secure resources for this area.
Monroe County has implemented Phase II of its continuity-of-government plan. Many buildings are closed to the public, as are county parks. Courts will hold only essential and emergency hearings. The county has allocated $25,000 to this coalition. Officials say it has a healthy rainy day fund and they want to hear what the community needs.
Cities and Townships
The City of Bloomington continues to maintain critical services, including police, fire, dispatch, water utilities, sanitation, transit, fleet maintenance, and animal shelter, among others. Click here for additional actions taken by the city. There are no directives to shelter-in-place at this time. Updates will be posted to the city's COVID-19 site.
Ellettsville is also maintaining critical services, and reaching out to some of the rural parts of Monroe County to offer help. Updates are available on the town’s website.
Three townships have committed to funding the COVID-19 relief fund. Bloomington Township has offered the township’s former office building as a facility for housing residents who need to be quarantined, if necessary.
Business: In collaboration with other Bloomington and Monroe County organizations, the Chamber has created a resource site to help businesses navigate the impact of COVID-19. The Chamber also compiled a listing of updates, information and resources provided by Chamber members. The resource categories include food, kids activities, housing and utilities, among others. These pages will be updated daily.
Local small business: Retailers, restaurants and other businesses are organizing to support each other and encourage the community to "Shop Local" during this period. The City of Bloomington is offering free two-hour parking downtown daily.
Low-interest loans: The U.S. Small Business Administration disaster loan program will provide 3.75% interest rates on 30-year loans for small businesses, or 2.75% interest loans for nonprofits. Call 812-345-1141 to reach staff of the South Central Indiana SBDC for more information.
Education: Both MCCSC and RBB districts are doing deep cleaning of their buildings and are preparing for remote instruction starting March 23. Both districts are providing food delivery on weekdays.
Childcare: This is a challenge, especially for businesses that rely on in-person employees. The Community Foundation of Bloomington and Monroe County is working to assess childcare and early learning needs.
Blood supply: Many Red Cross blood drives have been canceled, and the blood supply is a concern. The Red Cross is looking for locations to hold blood drives. MCCSC Superintendent Judy DeMuth said the schools are available for blood drives.
Tourism: Hotel business has dropped dramatically. April-May are huge revenue months, and the local tourism industry will likely take a $75-80 million hit during that time. All events have been canceled at the Monroe Convention Center, and that facility might be available for community needs, if necessary.
Even as the community deals with COVID-19, it's important to encourage all residents to respond to the Census 2020 questionnaire. More info here.
In collaboration with other Bloomington and Monroe County organizations, the Chamber has created a resource site to help businesses navigate the impact of COVID-19.
In addition to guidance from the Small Business Administration, Centers for Disease Control and others, the site provides legal resources, economic recovery resources, and links to updates from the Monroe County Health Department, City of Bloomington, and local educational institutions.
We've also compiled a listing of updates, information and resources provided by our Chamber members. The resource categories include food, kids activities, housing and utilities, among others. Do you have an update to include? Click here to submit your information and we'll add it to the list.
A lively discussion on the proposed local income tax increase was the focus of the March 6 WFIU Noon Edition. Panelists included Mary Morgan, the Chamber's Director of Advocacy & Public Policy; Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton; Bloomington City Councilmember Matt Flaherty; and Ellettsville Town Councilmember William Ellis.
Click here to listen.
The panel was moderated by WFIU's Bob Zaltsberg and Sara Wittmeyer, who also took questions from listeners calling in or emailing.
The Chamber has not yet taken a position on the income tax proposal, as few details have been provided about how the money would be spent in the proposed Sustainability Investment Fund. We continue to advocate for transparency and accountability in all aspects of government, as well as for broad public engagement in decision-making.
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.
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.
Director of Advocacy & Public Policy