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Ask The Mayor: Bloomington's Hamilton Answers Your Questions

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Unknown Speaker
Hello, everybody. We're just getting started here with ask the mayor. It's our monthly meeting with Bloomington Mayor john Hamilton. We do this every week in Columbus, Terre Haute and Nashville. And this is the third week of March. Thank you, Bloomington Mayor john Hamilton for being with us.

Unknown Speaker
Great to be with you again. Joe. We're close to spring. It's getting there. But Nice to be with you again.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah.

Unknown Speaker
A little reminder of winter still this week. I just wanted to start because we didn't get a chance to talk about the state of the city address. That was a couple of weeks ago. The two I guess big questions that I have. And you talked a lot. But the two things that I think resonate most with people was when you mentioned annexation and more revenue. So do you have any more specifics on that moving forward? Can we start with the annexation plan?

Unknown Speaker
Sure. Yeah. And thanks. You know, that's an annual event we do it was different this year, of course, it was virtual. It reminded us last year in February was I didn't I mentioned in the State of the City that in the February speech I gave last year I didn't mention the word COVID or pandemic, it really was. We were aware of something in the state of Washington and there was a little going on, but not much ensure has changed this year. And the theme was to remember to recover and to renew. And yes, Joe, as you mentioned, among other things, I did talk about annexation. And where that is we are, as folks probably know, we we won a lawsuit in the Indiana Supreme Court late last year that ruled a state law state statute that the legislature passed as unconstitutional that they did to stop annexation. So we're, we're really talking with folks now inside government outside county city about the next steps. No decision has been made about that. But, you know, I've made no secret of the fact that for a number of years, I've believed it's important for the city of Bloomington to continue to grow our boundaries, as we have for 185 years. And then we've kind of stopped the last 17 years. those boundaries haven't changed, while the growth has continued. And we have as in as Bloomington has for its own history, growing the boundaries to accommodate the densifying urban city. And we I think we need to keep looking at that the legislature makes it difficult sometimes, but it's the right thing to do for our community and frankly, for our whole region, I think to move forward that way.

Unknown Speaker
So what some what happens in 2021 with that?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, I think, you know, ultimately, this is up to city council, they have the votes, they take the actions on this, and I'm talking with them now. I would I would actually Back then in 2021, we'll try to move forward and make some decisions. But we haven't made any decisions yet. And again, it'll be up to, you know, President City Council, Jim Simms and his colleagues to work with the administration to decide if and when to schedule it.

Unknown Speaker
Okay. Then there was the local income tax increase, it did not pass last year, is this something you're looking for reboot this year?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah. You know, in the State of the City, I talked about how important coming out of this pandemic and the terrible recession that's hit so many of us how important it is to come out of that strong to recover and renew, to pivot out of the worst year of 2020, into a much better year of 2021, we hope and really the decade of the 20s. And I've made no secret that I believe revenue is important for that. We are the lowest tax rate, income tax rate of our of all seven contiguous counties, and among the lower tier in the whole state. But there has been a change. So I did talk about that in the State of the City. But I will say, Joe, that the American rescue plan, the Act, which was the big Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Biden, just a week ago is a is a big deal. There, there is very significant local revenue. We expect. We don't know all the details, but it may well be that that national stimulus and rescue package will mean we don't need to do immediate local revenue generating because of that. So we're studying that we have to see the details. And I'm talking to colleagues around the state and with our county. But I do believe we need revenue to recover forward correctly and well and help our community get back on its feet. But it may be that that revenue can come from the federal government in the short order as we look at the longer term questions.

Unknown Speaker
Interesting. Okay. We'll keep on that and ask you about that again, next month. I know there's been a lot to talk about in your state of the city address about the homelessness issue in town and how many affordable housing beds that this administration has created. But what's your plan? Just getting on the same page with all these organizations that provide services to the people experiencing homelessness? What what's your plan for the lowest income? no income housing? Yeah.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, look,

Unknown Speaker
you know, City of Bloomington we've had people experiencing homelessness for for years, of course, and I mean, I used to be the chair of the board of the shalom center, it was, as it was called, then have been very involved in the work as many in this community have been this pandemic in this recession have definitely been a body blow to all of us. And particularly, there are people who've really taken, you know, been really seriously affected. We have more people experiencing homelessness now than any time I'm aware of, we have about 250 200 to 250 people a night sleeping in emergency shelters. That's much bigger than it was a year ago, or, or five years ago. So that those individuals who are in and of our community are really on a lot of our minds, both in government, city, Township, county, as well as nonprofits, providers, partners in the community as a whole. So the immediate the immediate work has been through the COVID pandemic and through the winter, and on into the spring here to help make sure everybody can stay safe, that they have emergency housing. We believe I believe in this community endorses the housing first model, which says, if you're if you're without housing, the first thing that needs to happen is housing, not trying to fix everything else all at once but get people into housing. That doesn't mean emergency shelter, it means it means reliable long term housing. So that effort is underway. I've asked and we have a wonderful group now led by Tina Peterson of Community Foundation in a frat Fefferman of the United Way that has brought a regional effort to this housing insecurity question. So we have short term triage and emergency things we need to do longer term, it's really how do we help more people get into housing you mentioned you know, we've created 1400 bedrooms of affordable units over the last five years. That's a big step, but it's not enough. That's out of about 6500 market rate total to 6500 total bedrooms, so we're chipping away at it, but there's more work that needs to be done. The funding. We need more funding for this fordable housing isn't free. And we'll continue to work on that. But the short term is keep everybody safe, make sure people have food, lodging, health care in our communities really stepped up to help make that possible.

Unknown Speaker
And just a quick follow up just getting all those organizations on the same page to is, is there progress on that?

Unknown Speaker
Well, it's it's complicated. Now, you know, there's a really strong Housing Partnership network, and there's been actually being revisions to, to a plan focused on homelessness that's a few years old, and it's getting revived and reconsidered and looked at, and the the gist of that plan is summarized in three very simple concepts, which is, we want to make homelessness, rare. We want to make it brief. And we want to make it non repeating. That is, if you get into homelessness, you you're only there briefly, there's not too many people experiencing that. And it doesn't happen to you again, you know, it's so disruptive to families, we think about kids who go through this. And so the partners are working together, there's there's always some, there may be different viewpoints and different tacks on this, but I'm really pleased overall, I think people are pulling together and trying to solve this problem.

Unknown Speaker
We have a lot of questions being emailed in this week. And if anyone is listening or watching news at Indiana public media.org, you can submit your question there. If we don't get to it today, we'll make sure to get to it next month or for any of our mayor's that we speak with. Let's just start with read heard that Indiana that's greater than 18 years of age would be eligible for COVID-19 vaccine and the vaccine this week, but can't find the info. Do you by chance know anything about veterans?

Unknown Speaker
The thing I'd say is just call 211. If you can't find info, there's a lot of information online in the state Coronavirus website is a good place to start. But if you if you feel frustrated or can't find that information, just call 211. And people can help steer you and answer the questions that you have about that.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah. Constance wrote in how many have had the disease and are therefore now immune? What percentage of the population is that and i'm i'm assumed that this person is getting toward this herd immunity that we've been hearing about.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, and I'm, I'm always cautious say I'm not an epidemiologist, I'm not a health expert. I hang around with some of them. So I picked things up. But But ultimately, I think we estimate something around 10% of our folks overall have gotten the disease tested positive for the disease. But from what I understand, there's probably three times that many that have actually had the disease that is own two thirds of those who have gotten sick just never got positive tests. So something in the order of a third of our state, our community, our country has probably had the disease, give or take. And that means there are some immunities. But we still want to have virus vaccines to everybody. I have antibodies I didn't, I tested negative twice. But then I had a positive antibody test last summer. So it means I have the disease. I'm still getting a vaccine actually, tomorrow and this week and look forward to that. So the main point is really encouraging folks who when it's your turn, whether you're a veteran, or whether you're now 45, and over or whatever it is, please get a vaccine. That's that's what's going to get us through this pandemic.

Unknown Speaker
I'm going to combine these two questions together. Carolyn wants to know where to get the Johnson and Johnson vaccine at and then Amy writes and she appreciate appreciates the updates, but has ethical concerns about the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. We're not accept that. So is there a way that people can from I know a lot of medical people we talked to say just get the vaccine but if someone has a question about getting an individual one, can they do that?

Unknown Speaker
Well, the You're right, the basic point is when it's your turn to get vaccinated, go get vaccinated regardless of which vaccine it is. There is not much Johnson and Johnson available now. It's pretty unusual to have that is being used in some of these kind of pop up even these big pop up clinics where people are traveling long distances. I know they did that at the speedway for example. So it's a one shot regimen. Most of the vaccine that's being delivered in our community and in the state are the two other vaccines, the Pfizer and the Madonna. And those so if you if you set up an appointment for almost any place in any place in Monroe County, you're very likely To get to Pfizer and Madonna, you can ask again, when you check that up, check that out. But the basic point I think I want to just keep saying is, all three vaccines are safe. They're all effective, they have some differences among them. If there's a particular difference for your for a medical reason, or an ethical reason that you have, you can explore that I would encourage though most of us just get the vaccine that's available at the soonest appointment that you qualify for.

Unknown Speaker
And I think when you sign up to it says which stations vaccine centers have what vaccine to? So that's something that you can look into this one is Mayor Hamilton, if I have an appointment for a second shot at the convention center, on Saturday, April 3, should I still go to the convention center? I think this is because they've been talking about moving that to assembly hall.

Unknown Speaker
Right, there is a transition happening from the convention center. This is the this is the program run by the county health department and it's being picked up by Indiana University as a delivery site. Basically, my understanding is any second shot, you can still go to the convention center where you originally got it even when the other ones stood up. But if you want to be sure, again, I'd call 211. As an answer, just to lock that in. But I do believe the health department is planning to provide all the second shots from the same place you got your first shot. If that's different. We'll try to clarify that in a press conference in the upcoming Fridays. And we can we can try to make clear of that. But I believe that's the case.

Unknown Speaker
Sherry emails in Can you please tell me when the rental assistance opens up? What do I need to do to sign up?

Unknown Speaker
Well, rental assistance is available to people right now. If what you're talking about is the program locally here that can help through the township trustees. That's a level of government A lot of people don't really pay attention to or aren't aware of, but every county in the state and every resident in every county has a township trustee that that serves. And the county has helped to provide funding through the township trustees to help people if they have emergency needs related to rental costs or other issues. So contact your township trustee. Now there there may be federal or state programs that I'm not as aware of the details of that. Happy to try to figure that out if you want to call my office if that's if if what you're talking about your state or federal programs.

Unknown Speaker
Alright, Jamie writes in allowing family members to attend basketball games indoors, but not allowing family members to attend graduation in a stadium makes no sense.

Unknown Speaker
Is that a question? Or is that a stick?

Unknown Speaker
I think it's more of a statement.

Unknown Speaker
Okay. Well, look, I mean, it's complicated this stuff, everybody's trying to do the best we can to protect public health. On the one hand, job one, and on the other hand, to allow life to proceed as we can, you know, their hospitals have to make decisions on who can visit in, you know, in a room where somebody is sick or even dying. Churches are making decision schools are making decisions, everybody's restaurants, bars, universities, everybody's doing the best they can to balance those protecting public health first, but also allowing things to happen that we can, there are differences that are sometimes not obvious, you know, in, in, in venues in protocols. For example, you know, the basketball games that are being held this week in the NCAA NCAA tournament, an extraordinary safety protocols underneath them behind them that are allowing people to attend schools. We've learned a lot over the last year so I do. I know it can be frustrating. It's frustrating for everybody but try just try to be patient and understand. Nobody is the enemy here. Nobody is nobody's doing anything to harm anybody. Everybody's just doing the very best to protect everybody's health, while also letting things happen when we can and it'll it'll get better. It is getting better. It's mostly going to get better as we get vaccinated.

Unknown Speaker
On then Suzanne writes in why no fans in Bloomington? So I don't know I can't remember. Are there no fans at assembly hall?

Unknown Speaker
Well, let me give credit to this is this is Indiana University taking what I believe is a very prudent and careful approach. They're allowing 500 people into Simon Scott assembly hall during the game, but that includes coaches, trainers, immediate family members of the of the teams. So 500 isn't very many the the tickets that were left are being dedicated to first responders and Direct healthcare workers, which is great, so they're going to get to go see some of the game. I you took that stance because of their awareness of the risks. other communities, Indianapolis, West Lafayette have taken perhaps a different approach. But this county has been very careful. And that's one of the reasons we've done, I think relatively well, in protecting against the surge. And I want to thank you for that. It's not an easy decision, the NCAA didn't love it, all of it. But they've worked together. And again, this is people of goodwill, making really hard calls, making judgments. And again, I'll encourage patients and, and and understanding that this is complicated, and we're all doing the best we can to protect public health.

Unknown Speaker
Paul writes in kind of a two part question, Are there plans to upgrade the entire water service pipes throughout the city? And then the second question would be what is the dollar amount total, and dispersed of the funds collected from developers for affordable housing?

Unknown Speaker
Okay, sure. You know, the water system, I don't want to get all geeky and everything, there's really kind of three water systems, there's the there's the drinking water system that provides water to all of us that comes out of our tap that we use. There's the wastewater system, that's basically the sewer the when we flush our toilets, when the drains out of our showers and sinks and all that. And then third, there's a stormwater system. And that's the system that collects rainwater, essentially, that flows and on all three systems are under the city of Bloomington utilities management. All three systems are definitely upgraded regularly. Now, you will hear about the drinking water system, those water mains, that's the high pressure water system that delivers it to our our taps. When I came into office, we were on a schedule to replace each pipe every 300 years or so. That's not enough, they break and they fail faster than that. So we are improving that system it takes money to get a better replacement system and and rhythm going to get it down below 200 years and then ultimately, it really needs to be below 100 years to replace those pipes. The then the other two systems are separate systems. But they're all being upgraded that you may notice in Bloomington downtown, what we call the hidden River Project. What what used to be known as the Jordan River now the campus river and Clear Creek flows right under downtown Bloomington. And there's a $13 million project. It's working to upgrade those 100 year old pipes. The second question was about affordable housing. We have an affordable housing fund that's gotten between three and $4 million. I think I don't know the exact number offhand that that is been coming into that fund and we have more coming, that we then push back out to help support those 1400 new bedrooms of affordable housing. And that's been a program over the last five years, it's been really important and helpful.

Unknown Speaker
We just have four minutes left, I'll just try to sneak this in because it's so important to so many people. But the plan commission now is started the month long public hearings on the you do what's the So the plan is for them to have the hearings and what make a recommendation to city council. Is that right? Yeah,

Unknown Speaker
so this is the zoning update for the city. The unified development ordinance is a long name for zoning, a new map and new zoning. It came out of the comprehensive plan process, which is a regular review the city does. The zoning involves both the map of where the zones apply in every tract of the city. And also the rules that govern and those are getting evolving, changing the plan commission which is a citizen resident led group of folks do the first step and they're spending most of this month reviewing that they then make a recommendation to City Council, which ultimately votes on both the map and any new rules. So for example, the new rules include a new district designated for high density, Student Development basically focused on kind of undergraduate development at Where's a good place for intense development for it to happen in the city. That's a new zone. There'll be a map a new rules for that. There's also consideration about allowing duplexes, where should they be allowed new ones to be built in the city? We have 700 or so now but where should new ones be allowed? There's accessory dwelling units, there's setbacks, and all those requirements are being reviewed. They're very technical, hundreds of pages. But for those interested playing commission this month, basically city council next month

Unknown Speaker
and last question, any update on enclosing Kirkwood avenue for dining. The spring

Unknown Speaker
working discussions going on right now about that we as a city basically are trying to partner closely with the vendors, the restaurants and proprietors long Kirkwood or other places in the city to look at what would make sense of parklet. Would you like to close a couple parking spaces and create seating close Kirkwood on the weekends like we did I expect we'll see that this spring. We're working on that with folks who as the weather improves, it all depends on we don't want to close the street unless the restaurants want to use it. So we're working with them to make sure it meets their needs. But I I think the community really enjoyed it. It's it's again, this balance, it's safer to eat outside. So if we can do that, while helping the restaurants and proprietors that serve their customers. I expect we'll see that pretty soon this spring.

Unknown Speaker
All right. I know I'm out of time. Do you have any announcements or anything else you'd like to say?

Unknown Speaker
Well, I do want to we got a new Deputy Mayor come and mikron Eisen serves the city for 40 years. he's retiring next month, has done an extraordinary job and really proud of all the work he's done. And Don Griffin, Jr, who is a local institution, many people know Don, he's going to be joining us as the new deputy mayor. So that's a change in my life. And people will see that's a hard working job. They help really run the city. So that'll we'll keep an eye on that. And I want to wish good goodwill to make in his retirement and welcome to Don Griffin two.

Unknown Speaker
All right. Well, thank you very much for joining us. And for all of you watching or listening. Don't forget you can email us at news at Indiana public media.org with your question, and Mayor Hamilton. We'll see you next month.

Unknown Speaker
Thanks so much Joe. Be well
Mayor Hamilton on the Zoom call

Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton (Zoom)

Vaccine preference, fans at NCAA games, city infrastructure, rental assistance, herd immunity, and no-income housing are just a few of the questions submitted for Mayor Hamilton today.

On this week’s installment of Ask The Mayor, Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton addresses these issues and more during a Facebook Live Zoom event Tuesday. Listen to the full conversation with Indiana Newsdesk anchor Joe Hren by clicking on the play button above, or read some of the questions and answers below. A portion of this segment airs 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. Wednesday on WFIU. Here are some highlights.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Rhet: I heard this morning Indiana vets >18 would be eligible for COVID-19 vaccination next week, but can’t find info?

Hamilton: The thing I'd say is just call 211. If you can't find info, there's a lot of information online in the state Coronavirus website is a good place to start. But if you if you feel frustrated or can't find that information, just call 211. And people can help steer you and answer the questions that you have about that.

Constance: How many have had the disease and are therefore now immune? What percentage of the population is that?

Hamilton: I'm always cautious and say I'm not an epidemiologist, I'm not a health expert. I hang around with some of them. So I picked things up. But ultimately, I think we estimate something around 10% of our folks overall have gotten the disease, tested positive for the disease. But from what I understand, there's probably three times that many that have actually had the disease - that is gotten sick just never got positive tests.

So something in the order of a third of our state, our community, our country has probably had the disease, give or take. And that means there are some immunities. But we still want to have virus vaccines to everybody. That's that's what's going to get us through this pandemic.

READ MORE: Indiana Makes COVID-19 Vaccine Available To Those 45 And Up

Caroline: Where to get Johnson & Johnson at?

Hamilton: The basic point is when it's your turn to get vaccinated, go get vaccinated regardless of which vaccine it is. There is not much Johnson and Johnson available now. It's pretty unusual to have. It's being used in some of these pop-up clinics where people are traveling long distances. I know they did that at the Speedway for example. So it's a one shot regimen. Most of the vaccine that's being delivered in our community and in the state are the two other vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna. You can ask again when you register. But the basic point I think I want to just keep saying is, all three vaccines are safe.

Amy: I appreciate the updates for the vaccine, however I have ethical concerns with the Johnson & Johnson, and would not accept that vaccine. 

Hamilton: If there's a particular difference for you for a medical reason, or an ethical reason that you have, you can explore that at registration.

READ MORE: Monroe Co. Will Administer Pfizer Vaccine At New Assembly Hall Clinic

Email: So, if I have an appointment for a 2nd shot at the Convention Center, on Saturday, 3 APRIL 2021, should I still go to the Convention Center?

Hamilton: Right, there is a transition happening from the convention center. This is the program run by the county health department and it's being picked up by Indiana University as a delivery site. Basically, my understanding is any second shot, you can still go to the convention center where you originally got it even when the other ones stood up. But if you want to be sure, again, I'd call 211. But I do believe the health department is planning to provide all the second shots from the same place you got your first shot. If that's different, we'll try to clarify that in a press conference in the upcoming Fridays.

Sherry: Can you please tell me when the rental assistance opens up. What do I need to do to sign up?

Hamilton: Rental assistance is available to people right now. If what you're talking about is the program locally here that can help through the township trustees. That's a level of government a lot of people don't really pay attention to or aren't aware of, but every county in the state and every resident in every county has a township trustee that serves. And the county has helped to provide funding through the township trustees to help people if they have emergency needs related to rental costs or other issues. So contact your township trustee. Now there may be federal or state programs that I'm not as aware of the details of that. Happy to try to figure that out if you want to call my office.

Jamie: Allowing family members to attend basketball games indoors but not allowing family members to attend graduation in a stadium makes no sense.

Hamilton: Well, look, I mean, it's complicated stuff, everybody's trying to do the best we can to protect public health. On the one hand, job one, and on the other hand, to allow life to proceed as we can. The hospitals have to make decisions on who can visit in a room where somebody is sick or even dying. Churches are making decisions, schools are making decisions, restaurants, bars, universities, everybody's doing the best they can to balance those protecting public health first, but also allowing things to happen that we can.

There are differences that are sometimes not obvious in venues in protocols. For example, the basketball games that are being held this week in the NCAA tournament. Extraordinary safety protocols are allowing people to attend. We've learned a lot with schools over the last year. It's frustrating for everybody but try just try to be patient and understand. Nobody is the enemy here. Everybody's just doing the very best to protect everybody's health, while also letting things happen.

READ MORE: Monroe County, NCAA Taking Precautions As Bloomington Prepares To Host Teams

Suzann: Why no fans in Bton?

Hamilton: Well, let me give credit to Indiana University taking what I believe is a very prudent and careful approach. They're allowing 500 people into Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall during the game, but that includes coaches, trainers, immediate family members of the teams. So 500 isn't very many. The tickets that were left are being dedicated to first responders and direct healthcare workers, which is great, so they're going to get to go see some of the game.

Other communities, Indianapolis, West Lafayette have taken perhaps a different approach. But this county has been very careful. And that's one of the reasons we've done, I think relatively well, in protecting against the surge. And I want to thank you for that. It's not an easy decision, the NCAA didn't love all of it. But they've worked together. And again, this is people of goodwill, making really hard calls, making judgments.

READ MORE: Utility Crews Repair 12 Water Main Breaks In One Week

Paul: Are there plans to upgrade the entire water service pipes throughout the city? And what is the dollar amount total and dispersed of the funds collected from developers for affordable housing?

Hamilton: There's really kind of three water systems, there's the drinking water system that provides water to all of us that comes out of our tap. There's the wastewater system, that's basically the sewer. And then third, there's a stormwater system. And that's the system that collects rainwater, essentially. All three systems are under the City of Bloomington utilities management. All three systems are definitely upgraded regularly.

Now, you will hear about the drinking water system, those water mains. When I came into office, we were on a schedule to replace each pipe every 300 years or so. That's not enough, they break and they fail faster than that. So we are improving that system. It takes money to get a better replacement system and rhythm going to get it down below 200 years and then ultimately, it really needs to be below 100 years to replace those pipes.

The then the other two systems are separate systems. But they're all being upgraded that you may notice in Bloomington downtown, what we call the hidden River Project. What used to be known as the Jordan River now the Campus River and Clear Creek flows right under downtown Bloomington. And there's a $13 million project. It's working to upgrade those 100 year old pipes.

WATCH: Mayor Hamilton's State Of The City Address

The second question was about affordable housing. We have an affordable housing fund that's gotten between $3 and $4 million I think. I don't know the exact number offhand that that is been coming into that fund and we have more coming, that we then push back out to help support those 1400 new bedrooms of affordable housing. And that's been a program over the last five years, it's been really important and helpful.

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