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Ask The Mayor: Bloomington's Hamilton On Annexation Questions, Police Pay

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Unknown Speaker
We are live on Facebook. I believe we'll let it settle in here just a second. Hi everybody. I'm Joe Hren from WFIU news. And this is our weekly ask the mayor show and this time of the month we always get Bloomington Mayor john Hamilton and he allows us to do Facebook Live. So we really appreciate that and welcome, Mayor Hamilton.

Joe, thanks so much. Good to see you. Good to be with you all.

And thanks to those who already sent in questions. We'll get to those in just a minute. If you'd like to send a question to Mayor Hamilton or even Mayor Bennett in Terre Haute, Mayor Lynn up in Columbus or municipal consultant DAX Norton in Nashville, you can send to news at Indiana public media.org. So let's start like how we always do a COVID update. Monroe County at this will will change when this airs also on Wi Fi you tomorrow morning. But is one of three in the yellow metric by the state for the positivity rate, the rest are in orange or red or red mean, you still don't want to be in in the yellow, but yet it's one of the best counties in the state right now. Is that due to the mask mandate that mask mandate that that Monroe County is under or what what what would you attribute to that?

Unknown Speaker
Well, thanks, Joe, for pointing that out. It's you know, we are pleased that we're really in the top two or three counties in the state in terms of how we're weathering this terrible resurgence of the Delta variant. So it's still very perilous time. There are a lot of people in the hospital, it's really intense challenging. As this experience spreads primarily to unvaccinated folks, we we don't know, of course, exactly what's causing and I probably attributed to three main things. One is I think this county and this community has been stricter and more careful. We are the only county with a mask mandate in place, I believe for indoor public places. We've been aggressive over the last year and a half trying to make sure we we protect people as much as possible and typically more than the state in most other places. That's one second, I think it is relevant that some of our really big institutions, like Indiana University, like you health, like school Corporation are taking very active steps to support increase require vaccination. So we have that benefit locally with more vaccinations. And then third, I think it's just we have a group of residents who are who are more careful than average. We have some higher vaccination rates. We have good behaviors in general. So I think it's hard to tell exactly what but while the while the surge is very real, the danger is very real. I'm glad our community to weathering it a little better than average, I

Unknown Speaker
suppose. There's also that influx of students this past month, I use students of course, returning to Bloomington so a greater pool could also maybe more people kind of bring that positivity rate down. Are there any new plans in the works? What are thoughts for the upcoming fall?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, we're sorry. Yeah, we're continuing weekly meetings with health, the health leaders that institutional leaders, public leaders to check and think and review what the data show. You know, we have had 1000s of people coming back. The great thing is the vast majority of the IU community is vaccinated so that helps enormously compared to last winter at this time last fall at this time. So we're just going to keep monitoring we were having the mask order stay in place for indoor public accommodations. We have not put in place gathering limits and stuff. We're just going to keep keep monitoring the data and stay in touch week to week as we go.

Unknown Speaker
I'm not sure if you caught any of the IU game on Saturday. But what was your thought? Or maybe you saw photos of a seeing a full stadium? Does that scare you? Or is that a sign of progress?

Unknown Speaker
Well, I suppose it's both Right. I mean, actually went to the, to the inter inter City High School football game Friday night, which was not as big as dance, but they were as crowded. And I have to say, it concerns me to see so many people so close, even outdoors, which is definitely better, but almost all unmasked and yelling and screaming and excitement and and it is certainly a place where the parent can get past. So that's of great concern. Absolutely. We understand how valuable it is to be able to get out and do those kinds of things. being outdoors is much better than being indoors. So it's both so short. And to not it's just a reminder to that it is the vaccine that helps and they're safe and they're effective. We have people dying in the state and dying in our county, basically all unvaccinated due to this spread. So please talk to your your own health provider, your friends and family about how important and how effective the vaccine is.

Unknown Speaker
And just a quick reaction to some news as PACs this past week, Governor Holcomb called President Biden's COVID vaccine mandate a bridge too far. What's your response to the governor's response to President Biden's COVID vaccine mandate?

Unknown Speaker
Well, I disagree. I respectfully suggest that this is kind of an example of politics intruding into science. I mean, I understand the governor's position he's trying to navigate a an even more conservative legislature probably in concerns he's obviously in disputes with them about his authorities and he's trying to navigate that I appreciate the governor continues to let local jurisdictions like us have tighter rules. That's really important. But I absolutely do not think it's a bridge too far this country should be out of this pandemic by now we have the answers. We have most people doing the right thing. But we have a millions and millions of people who are not using the vaccine, which will help all of us be safer. We have Americans dying. We have our economy still hurt. And I appreciate the President's leadership to say it is time to move beyond this pandemic. And that's done by getting more vaccines done.

Unknown Speaker
Oh, we have a lot to get to in short time. So I I want to move on to the big week for Bloomington because city council set to vote on eight ordinances that would add x about 9200 acres for more than 14,000 people Wednesday night. I don't know if you've heard of this put it in this way yet but the area to be annexed is more than the area of the town or the City of West Lafayette and it's more people than the communities of Bedford and Morgantown combined, but I know that you would agree this is Wednesday night is a big night for Bloomington.

Unknown Speaker
is Joe. You know, this began more than four years ago in 2017. And of course, we were illegally interrupted by the state legislature that decided they wanted to stop Bloomington and only Bloomington is annexation the Supreme Court said that's illegal unconstitutional. So we had this break and we've come back. It is a major annexation. It's it's I've pursued it with the City Council because it's important for Bloomington future. Bloomington has grown a lot over the last 20 years and we have an annex anything and it's kind of playing catch up. It's it's I look forward to the vote tomorrow night. We've been working closely with the council we've amended the boundaries several times a couple whole areas have been eliminated. Areas six, seven and eight for those who follow the details. We there have been very fine tuned amendments to adjust some neighborhood lines. And tomorrow night. Wednesday Night is the night that the council we hope will vote on the the ordinances and the fiscal plans and move this into the next step of the process. All very detailed. That I think important for the future of our city.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, you mentioned city council did remove 91. There were East Side parcels from the annexation plan and amendments earlier this month. Has the administration talked with could any more adjusting happen Wednesday night? Or maybe Can you give us a rundown of exactly how this is going to unfold? Yeah, so

Unknown Speaker
it's a very detailed and prescribed process. You may recall area six was dropped back four years ago area seven we've all kind of agreed to drop this year. And then as you mentioned a couple other amendments that were done. There should not be any more amendments to One of the factors is you have to have a, an up to date fiscal plan and legal description. And that takes time to do so we really worked with counsel to make clear those amendments when they had to be and they weren't considered 10 days ago or so, to be able to let us get the ordinances into final passing position. Now, of course, the council has to vote up or down on each of the of the ordinances in their eight now, we expect them not to pass one, we all agree on that one, and then hope they'll pass the other seven. Is there a chance for public hearing to? Well, the council sets all of those rules? I don't set those I don't I expect there'll be some opportunity for public comment Wednesday night, but I'm not I'm not positive how that will be handled. When I met with I would just know we've had extensive public comment over the over the years and, and certainly over the last few few months to both formal and informal. And that will continue.

Unknown Speaker
You know, I did I did a story last week, and that was some people that were going door to door getting petitions for romane stration, saying but 99% of signatures coming in for that process that would happen after and found out that a lot of people didn't know about the annexation. So I guess my question to you from that report was wondering how much to the city reached out to the proposed annexation residents this year? Not in 2017 when it's started, and then, you know, was stopped by the state legislature?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, well, we we've reached out we've mailed a notice to every every one of them earlier this year, and certainly have had a lot of public engagement and comment and you know, website and videos and media outreach, there will be another mailing to every one of the residents of the areas for the areas that the city council passes an ordinance will be sending another notice. So that will be coming up in the weeks ahead. And then we'll look forward to hearing from talking to meeting with anybody who wants to talk about it.

Unknown Speaker
Didn't know by chance, how many packets of that you said were mailed were returned? And then how did the city get to those residents?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, I don't know offhand, Joe. It wasn't a huge number. Inevitably, we are again, this is all prescribed by state statute, we're supposed to use a particular list provided by the county property records. And we you know, you just don't willy nilly send them out. We have to use that list. We do use that list. There are sometimes transfers of property or people who who no longer use that address, etc. So we try to reach out to folks welcome anybody who has any question if they're concerned about it reach out to us. We've had office hours and phone, phone lines open. And again, it wasn't a large number, but we we do all that we can to reach the interested parties.

Unknown Speaker
So we did have two emails come in. One is from Eric, he asks, annexed residents who will be paying city taxes for at least a few years before they will officially be able to vote for the Office of Mayor or city council. So why can't you delay the annexation effective until 2027? When all the people paying city taxes would get to have a say in city elections? Or the alternate? Move the annexation date to 2023?

Unknown Speaker
Well, we've gotten this question a lot, I appreciate it. Again, most of this is really set by state law, there's only a window of time under state law that you can make an annexation effective between one and three years or so from the date it is adopted. So I think most people would agree that trying to do this in one year would not make sense. That's how fast you'd have to do it. To get to the 2023 election. Of course, this timing was all affected by the legislature's illegal interference, or it would all be done by now. I will just point out so so we are doing it effective 2024 it's important for people to know that you actually don't pay any additional property taxes until spring of 2025. And your income taxes don't actually kick in fully until 2027. So the first vote that folks will have in a municipal election would be may of 2027. So there is a couple year period there. But there's just no perfect solution to that. And the state law defines when you have to make this effective and we're doing the best we can within that state law.

Unknown Speaker
Susan emails in Could you please provide a yes or no answer to the following? Do you support the grandfathering in of pre annexation property taxes so that the low and fixed income county residents slated for annexation would be able to afford to stay in their homes?

Unknown Speaker
Well, no Don't primarily again, that's all determined by state law, there's no way to adjust taxes for individuals, I will note that it's very important protection for seniors on fixed incomes those 65. And over that own a home that have that's a modest surprise how modest value home that are relatively low income individuals have a in again, in state law, a limit on no increase in your property taxes more than 2% per year. So if you're paying $400, it can't go up more than 2408 the next year and such and that's an important protection that we support. But otherwise, the the impact on taxes is set by state law. I will note as well, Joe, it's really important, I think for folks to know that Bloomington and our county have among the very lowest taxes in our area, both income tax and property tax, we have very low rates compared to the 20 largest city in this state. And compared to our surrounding neighbors, we have among the very lowest taxes. So while they will adjust to city rates, they're still very low compared to most places in the state.

Unknown Speaker
And then just how much during this whole process when the when the lines were being made for the annexation? How much did you and the administration go out? And I guess, observe or look or see the neighborhoods that were being annexed? Or how much of this was done in an office with lines?

Unknown Speaker
Well, I think it's both fair to say, Joe. I mean, there are a lot of people involved in this a lot of ground testing, if you will, and reality testing. It's a big project, of course, and you have to do some inside analysis and map working but definitely a lot of reality checking. I've been to a lot of the neighborhoods involved and and I know that people who were crafting the lines have done extensive field testing, if you would look at that, as I know, a number of city council members have to so it's a it's a combination of on the ground checking, but also looking at kind of legal boundaries and waivers and precinct areas and township lines and those kinds of things, too.

Unknown Speaker
Let's move on to another topic before we have to go and that just came out last week or so. And that's the police department. Just this past week city council wants to boost salaries, kind of pretty much calling this a really dire situation. I did talk to the Fraternal Order of Police President Paul post. He says The bottom line is competitive salary, the city's police salary ranks, he says 68 in the state for municipalities in the pension system. So and I know we've talked about this before you said there are other benefits but but post does that doesn't add up. Why?

Unknown Speaker
Well, look, you know, one of the most important things America does is is make sure we have public safety. And I take it very seriously. I'm incredibly proud of our Bloomington police department, we have in my view, the finest police department in the state. We want to keep it that way. As certainly policing has evolved over the last several years and decades Bloomington has been a an innovative department with a very early adoption of lots of things like body cameras and social workers and community policing and those kinds of efforts we're very proud of. Now, it's also true that in the last few years, the police marketplace, if you will has gotten challenging across the country and in the state. It's there are fewer people choosing to go into policing. More cities are kind of bidding for police officers, and we need to pay attention to that. And we do. Mr. Post to who I know shares this data point. And it's not accurate from our perspective, it's referring actually to pension rates and not salaries. And sometimes pension rates and salaries are very different. But the general point we we I agree with we want our police officers to be fairly compensated and competitively compensated. And we negotiate that every three years. We were in a contract that we negotiated a couple years ago that the Fraternal Order police union endorsed and voted for and we're going to be negotiating actually starting next month for the next round. But I think in the budget for 2022. You will also see significant investment in public safety, including compensation and support for our officers. It's challenging time. It's a fundamental need for city government. And I know the council and the mayor are both committed to that.

Unknown Speaker
budget hearings concluded but it seems like that there are still a lot a lot of work to do. One of the council members rosenbarger A quote from one of our stories says, I think we had a lot of abstentions these past four days. I think that means we all just have a lot of questions to ask in the next month or so. So how was your administration and council coming together to agree on the budget?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, again, you know, the budget process is set by state law, I say that we're kind of we're creature of state law. The mayor proposes the budget, the council Can, can cut the budget, but not increase it. And so what we do in the week last month that we spent in hearings was proposed and kind of outline where the budget is headed to get reactions from council members. And we've gotten some of those and we're tweaking the budget, we'll be submitting it pretty soon for the formal process of adoption. what's gone on to date is really informal review of the budget. And very shortly, we have to present the actual dollar amounts in proposal that the council will have to review and they can vote to adopt the budget, they can vote to reduce parts of the budget, they can't vote to increase it. And then ultimately, we hope and trust that they'll support the budget that we've worked on together over the last six months or so.

Unknown Speaker
I just have a few minutes left, but I really wanted to get to this $3.5 million eta grant for the trades district Tech Center to help advance multi year collaboration of the city be EDC, regional and state partners. So really the what I've seen the first really major development there and that trades district and along long time.

Unknown Speaker
Well, right, it's exciting news, we really appreciate the partnership with the federal government. You know, we many people don't know that Bloomington is home to the fastest growing co workspace in the state. When we opened the mill, just three or four years ago, that has become a terrific beehive of activity of entrepreneurship and innovation. And again, the fastest growing place. The admin building and the kiln building are both either sold or shortly to be sold. But this this project is very exciting. It's really a new office building that will in a way be a sibling to the mill for for companies graduating for companies wanting to bring their employment downtown. That place that trades district is really meant as an employment center and kind of the new economy energies energy center of gravity center, if you will, working with IU and with our entrepreneurs around the city. It's really exciting in that that will help us build an exciting new employment center over the next year and a half or so.

Unknown Speaker
And what's the latest? We have a new information on the I remember the kilm was to be redeveloped as well right

Unknown Speaker
that Kim has been sold and is being redeveloped. That's just north of the mill. The COVID has caused a little bit of delay in that but they're planning to move forward. And then the administration building which is another historic building in the showers complex is is close to being transferred to to accompany to Dubai and rehabilitate that so we are seeing some movement. You know, it's it's been a hard year and a half with the economy. But we're starting to see some good signs in that in that area.

Unknown Speaker
And before we go, I always like to give you the last word I know there's festivals going on or anything else you'd like to announce right now.

Unknown Speaker
Well, thanks, Joe. There's always so much going on. This is you know, pointing out Indiana University starting up again, it's exciting to have all the students back this coming weekend. If you folks want to wander down to switchyard Park, there's two really good events going on the Fiesta del Tonio and the Blackie brown Arts Festival are two really fun events diverse and exciting on Saturday. And then of course, you can get ready for Lotus which is going to be doing a kind of hybrid version. Again this year, the World Music Festival. So check the websites on the city or elsewhere. There's always tons of things to do in Bloomington and we welcome you to do it safely. And keep protecting all all of us together to get to this pandemic to

Unknown Speaker
All right, thank you very much. Don't forget if you're watching or listening, you can send a question to Mayor Hamilton or any of our other mayor's news at Indiana public media.org. Mayor Hamilton again, thank you so much for your time, and we'll see you in October.

Unknown Speaker
Great Joe. thanks so very much be well

Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton

Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton during Tuesday's Zoom call. (Zoom)

Monroe Co. is one of only three in the state's yellow COVID metric, annexation final vote is scheduled for tonight, the mayor disagrees with FOP city salary ranking, and Bloomington is home to the fastest growing co-work space in the state.

In this week’s installment of Ask The Mayor, Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton addresses these issues and more during a Facebook Live Zoom event Monday. 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.

Hren: Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb calls President Biden’s recent COVID vaccine mandate "a bridge too  far" – what’s your response to that?

Hamilton: Well, I disagree. I respectfully suggest that this is kind of an example of politics intruding into science. I mean, I understand the governor's position - he's trying to navigate an even more conservative legislature probably in concerns he's obviously in disputes with them about his authorities and he's trying to navigate that.

I appreciate the governor continues to let local jurisdictions like us have tighter rules. That's really important. But I absolutely do not think it's a bridge too far. This country should be out of this pandemic by now. We have the answers. Most people are doing the right thing. But we have millions and millions of people who are not using the vaccine, which will help all of us be safer. We have Americans dying. We have our economy still hurt. And I appreciate the President's leadership to say it is time to move beyond this pandemic.

Fans filled most of Memorial Stadium to begin Indiana's 2021 football season.
Indiana opened its season Saturday against Idaho with more than 47,000 fans. (Joe Hren, WFIU/WTIU News)

Hren: I assume you saw a full stadium at the IU game this past weekend, does that sight scare you or give you hope that the vaccine is working?

Hamilton: Well, I suppose it's both. I mean, I actually went to the inter-city High School football game Friday night. And I have to say, it concerns me to see so many people so close, even outdoors, which is definitely better, but almost all unmasked and yelling and screaming and excitement and it is certainly a place where the variant can get past. So that's of great concern.

We understand how valuable it is to be able to get out and do those kinds of things. And it's just a reminder to that it is the vaccine that helps and they're safe and they're effective.

Bloomington Annexation Map
Section 7 has been recommended to be removed from the proposal.

Hren: Annexation final vote is scheduled for Wednesday night - can you give us a rundown of how this will unfold?

Hamilton: There should not be any more amendments. One of the factors is you have to have an up to date fiscal plan and legal description. And that takes time to do. So we really worked with counsel to make clear those amendments when they had to be and they were considered 10 days ago or so, to be able to let us get the ordinances into final passing position.

Now, of course, the council has to vote up or down on each of the of the ordinances and there are eight now, we expect them not to pass one of them [Area 7], we all agree on that one, and then hope they'll pass the other seven.

I expect there'll be some opportunity for public comment Wednesday night, but I'm not I'm not positive how that will be handled.

READ MORE: Annexation Petitioners Going Door To Door; Mayor Says Remonstration Could End Up In Court

Eric via email: "Annexed residents will be paying city taxes for at least a few years before they will officially be able to vote for the office of mayor or for the members of city council. Why can't you delay the annexation effective date until 2027 when all of the people paying city taxes would get to have a say in city elections? Alternatively, why not move the annexation date up to 2023?"

Hamilton: Most of this is really set by state law, there's only a window of time under state law that you can make an annexation effective between one and three years or so from the date it is adopted. So I think most people would agree that trying to do this in one year would not make sense. That's how fast you'd have to do it - to get to the 2023 election.

Of course, this timing was all affected by the legislature's illegal interference, or it would all be done by now. I will just point out - we are doing it effective 2024. It's important for people to know that you actually don't pay any additional property taxes until spring of 2025. And your income taxes don't actually kick in fully until 2027. So the first vote that folks will have in a municipal election would be May of 2027. So there is a couple year period there. But there's just no perfect solution to that.

READ MORE: Pushing City Limits: Bloomington Annexation Coverage

Susan via email: Please provide a yes or no answer to the following. Do you support the grandfathering in of pre-annexation property tax rates (so that low- and fixed-income county residents slated for annexation would be able to afford to stay in their homes)?

Hamilton: Well, no. Primarily again, that's all determined by state law. There's no way to adjust taxes for individuals. I will note that it's very important protection for seniors on fixed incomes those 65 and over that own a home that have that's a modest value home that are relatively low income individuals have, in state law, a limit on no increase in your property taxes more than 2% per year.

So if you're paying $400, it can't go up more than to $408 the next year and that's an important protection that we support. But otherwise, the the impact on taxes is set by state law. Bloomington and our county have among the very lowest taxes in our area, both income tax and property tax, we have very low rates compared to the 20 largest city in this state and compared to our surrounding neighbors, we have among the very lowest taxes.

Hren: Just this past week city council wants to boost police salaries, calling this a dire situation. I did talk to the Fraternal Order of Police President Paul Post. He says the bottom line is competitive salary, the city's police salary ranks, he says 68 in the state for municipalities in the pension system. So and I know we've talked about this before - you said there are other benefits but Post says that doesn't add up. Why?

Hamilton: One of the most important things America does is make sure we have public safety. And I take it very seriously. I'm incredibly proud of our Bloomington police department, we have in my view, the finest police department in the state. We want to keep it that way.

As certainly policing has evolved over the last several years and decades, Bloomington has been an innovative department with a very early adoption of lots of things like body cameras and social workers and community policing and those kinds of efforts we're very proud of.

Now, it's also true that in the last few years, the police marketplace, if you will has gotten challenging across the country and in the state. There are fewer people choosing to go into policing. Mr. Post to who I know shares this data point, and it's not accurate from our perspective. It's referring actually to pension rates and not salaries. And sometimes pension rates and salaries are very different.

But the general point we agree with - we want our police officers to be fairly compensated and competitively compensated. And we negotiate that every three years. We were in a contract that we negotiated a couple years ago that the Fraternal Order of Police union endorsed and voted for and we're going to be negotiating actually starting next month for the next round.

But I think in the budget for 2022, you will also see significant investment in public safety, including compensation and support for our officers.

Trades District Technology Center render
Trades District Technology Center courtesy Axis Architecture/Rundell Ernstberger Associates

Hren: I really wanted to get to this $3.5 million federal grant for the Trades District Tech Center. So the first really major development in the Trades District in a while. 

Hamilton: It's exciting news, we really appreciate the partnership with the federal government. Many people don't know that Bloomington is home to the fastest growing co-workspace in the state. When we opened The Mill, just three or four years ago, that has become a terrific beehive of activity of entrepreneurship and innovation.

The admin building and the kiln building are both either sold or shortly to be sold. But this project is very exciting. It's really a new office building that will in a way be a sibling to The Mill for companies graduating, for companies wanting to bring their employment downtown. That place the Trades District is really meant as an employment center and kind of the new economy energy center, gravity center, if you will, working with IU and with our entrepreneurs around the city. 

For the latest news and resources about COVID-19, bookmark our Coronavirus In Indiana page here.

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