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Ask The Mayor: Bloomington's Hamilton on budget rift, remonstration, re-election

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Hello, I'm Joe Hren from WFIU and every week were with a different mayor. This week is with Bloomington john Hamilton. Hello, Mr. Mayor, thank you so much for being with us today.

Unknown Speaker
Joe, good to be with you again. And all your viewers and listeners, thank you for taking time to chat a little bit about Bloomington.

Unknown Speaker
lots to talk about. Especially, you know, after a month, a lot has happened. And so we want to get to a lot of that annexation budget hearings. But we always start with COVID numbers seem to be going down. But the weather's cooling off people be spending more time inside. Do you have any insight with this wave of COVID? And where we're at right now? Well, Joe,

Unknown Speaker
you know, you're right to point out we're very happy that the numbers are generally going in the right direction, we want to, we want to celebrate that improvement. Fewer people in the hospital, fewer people getting sick, fewer people dying locally at the state level, even nationally, generally. So that's all really good. You know, it is it is sobering to remember that July four months ago or so five months ago, we were very hopeful that things are moving very well. And then the Delta variant hit in that variant really threw us for a loop and killed a lot of people and spread so dramatically. So I'm always careful, we're not out of the woods by any means. More and more people are getting vaccinated, which is ultimately the big protection. But it's a good thing that our numbers are going way down as the weather gets colder, and we're likely to spend more time indoors and longer periods of time with other people and holidays and such. So we know I just keep remembering the CDC director who reminded us You just have to be humble with this virus and keep taking it a step at a time.

Unknown Speaker
How are the hospitals? I don't know if you're still getting updates on from IU health there. But there's you know, two things in the news one governor Holcomb having deploying National Guard to help in some hospitals, and also getting worried that the flu season is approaching and Indiana just recorded its first flu death yesterday. So that's something that don't want to complicate matters even more.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, you know, last winter, we were very, very concerned about the flu and its double impact with the cope the pandemic the COVID virus but it it turned out that generally all that we were doing to protect against COVID was extremely helpful to protect against the flu as well. It's there's a little concern this year that there's we're doing less in terms of masking and isolating, obviously than we were last winter so there's a there is a concern about that. Hospital case loads are down from COVID but there are flu patients now arriving and I do think it's important. It hits me it's sobers me when the hospital reminds us that those who are in the hospital are tending to be sicker and stay longer with the Delta variant than those before so it's a very serious disease. You know, we're we're our workforce is mostly vaccinated but only about two thirds. So there's a lot of people in our workforce aren't vaccinated. There are a lot of people in the county that aren't vaccinated that can spread we We worry about a new variant that might come and of course around the world, the vast majority of many, many people are unvaccinated. And that's that's always concerning. But we, you know, are masking our vaccinations locally, our distancing protocols have really helped us locally. And we just need to keep doing that. And and hoping in taking those steps to try to make sure the progress continues.

Unknown Speaker
And I did see the city said Trick or Treat is back on I believe ours 530 to 830. But bear in mind those same CDC instructions to write,

Unknown Speaker
please. You know, a lot of kids are not vaccinated, some are not authorized, many are not authorized to be vaccinated. And while the school systems have done a great job and they've really helped keep people safe, there are occasional eruptions and you know, classrooms that have to be sent home for quarantine. So out trick or treating it's good as outdoors please try to avoid parties that would be indoors and have a bunch of people share an air for a long time because that's how will we continue to spread this delta variant which is still dangerous and it's it's more dangerous to younger people than the previous version. So we really want to be careful.

Unknown Speaker
Quickly I know it's also mentioned Kirkwood Avenue will reopen to traffic I believe right after Halloween. What's been the reaction to that?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, Joe, I think people have really enjoyed the access the establishments, the restaurants, the merchants there have generally been very supportive they've invested in you know, equipment and tables and and coverings and such to help make that possible. I know I've been there a bunch of times and seen a lot of people enjoying it. I think the merchants and most customers recognize it when you get into November December January, that very cold weather it's just less likely for the establishment to make that work for them. So we've tried to really work closely. I personally think it's quite possible in the spring. We'll want to re reopen this have have the have the outdoor seating again, that's not settled. We work with City Council and the merchants on that but I think it's been very popular over the last several months. But as the cold weather approaches our restaurant tours are saying we're not really going to be seating people out there so let's open this open it back up for regular traffic and shopping and and downtown commerce that way to any word, even the even some of the pickup drop off zones those are those are still popular at least we're looking at that so it's look this is going to keep evolving. We're going to stay flexible. And how it may or may not even relate to the pandemic in the future may just be things that people like to do on Kirkwood.

Unknown Speaker
any indication about that new canopy of lights down Kirkwood I know they were put up temporarily they added more on the west side. I assume people like it

Unknown Speaker
I think those are charming and and people enjoy them and they may even stay without the seating I'm not sure those are kind of a street feature now and we'll again a lot of this is a lot of this is kind of played by ear and move forward in ways that people seem to find attractive. I personally, the view from sample gates at night when those are lit up on Kirkwood looking west is really lovely I think and and appealing. And even if you're not going to eat outdoors walk in there can be nice, too. So we'll see how that plays out too.

Unknown Speaker
Well, since we last talked of course City Council passed the annexation ordinances. Still some council members had serious concerns about being able to expand police presence and most people that did talk during the public speaking moment said that they were against this moving forward. I guess my question would be how do you move forward now with these concerns from council members and those who were so adamant against annexation?

Unknown Speaker
Sure. In Look, I'm I'm pleased that city council voted six to three I think pretty much on most of the ordinances to move forward with the annexation, something we've obviously been working on for more than four years. It's been a long haul I believe strongly it's important for the future of the city to continue to expand our boundaries as people move here and grow and the and the development urbanize is around us. It's been long planned. That sewer coverage for most of these areas. We need we need the city to grow with the with the reality on the ground. You know the public safety concerns that were I think the motivating factor for for any of the nape votes on Council. We been talking to them a lot. I'm very confident that we can provide the full public service, public safety services that are needed. Of course, it's not till 2024. and thereafter we have time. We have many plans in place that will help move that forward. We do go into the legal period Now, under state law that allows people to protest or remonstrate against annexation. There's, there's a lot of legal niceties to that people who have waivers because they already agreed to be part of the city and the impact of those. And it's a 90 day period that we're in the midst of and kind of have to sit and wait and see what happens at the end of that. And then we'll move forward early next year, depending upon those what what kind of results we get from that.

Unknown Speaker
Right. And that's you just led me right into the next part of this is the remonstrance period now goes through early January. And waivers have a big impact on this. Now, I believe from some of our reporting some of that we've talked about the waivers that are in effect have about maybe half of the number of parcels have have waivers. But there is we can keep talking about this 2019 law that could have an effect on those waivers. how big an effect could that have?

Unknown Speaker
Well, just so to frame it, you know, cities under Indiana law actually are usually required to get a waiver when we extend sewer service outside the city limits. We generally through the sewers, it's through the sewer system, we generally get an agreement from a person that says if we put sewers into your residence or into new development, you agree that when it comes time you will join the city. That's what a waiver is. It's a waiver of your right to protest joining the city. So there are 1000s of those waivers that have been developed over the years as sewers have been extended to a bunch of new areas and dense developments and housing and all that stuff commercial areas. And shortly after the legislature illegally stopped our annexation in 2017. With the law that was later found unconstitutional. It came back a year or two later and said, Well, that wasn't enough. Let's do this other thing. Let's say if your waivers are older than 15 years, they don't count anymore. Our view is that's illegal also. But it's also kind of unfair. We did our part of that bargain. And we think the the property owner should be now part of the city. They've been getting sewer service for years, most of them. And so that may end up in court. We don't know how that will all shake out. But in the end look, Joe, you know, I've tried to be kind of common sense about this cities grow Bloomington grew our first 185 heaters boundaries grew from a six, six block area of downtown to incorporate all the areas that are part of Bloomington now. And that's a natural process that should continue. And it just got stopped for a 17 year period, unfortunately, partly from my predecessor not pursuing it and partly from this from the Indiana legislature illegally stopping us so we're trying to play catch up. Once we get there, we can do a bit more incremental approach. And I'm hopeful that it will proceed positively that way.

Unknown Speaker
And no, this is a lot of numbers games in here too. And it's kind of hard to comprehend. But if half of those parcels have a waiver, do you know how many of those were done prior to 2006?

Unknown Speaker
a fair number. I don't I don't have an exact number, but quite a few. I mean we didn't since we have an annex for so long. There are some waivers that have been in existence for quite some time. So again, our view is whenever you signed a waiver that was a contract in effect between you and the city, we provided sewer service and you agreed to join the city when we asked you to and we did our part and now it's time for you to do your part and look I get it people there. There's lots of different reasons people may not want to be annexed some of its financial, some of its kind of cultural or social but all the city Bloomington residents are paying for all of the parks and paying for all those services and and frankly the repairs have helped build the sewer system out that far and a city to be healthy needs to continue to incorporate people into its jurisdiction and frankly also I think it'll be good to have new voters and new participants in the civic life of many people who psychologically are part of Bloomington they spend a lot of time in Bloomington they may work in Bloomington go to school and Bloomington shop and Bloomington live right next to Bloomington. So we want to we want to right size the borders as I say,

Unknown Speaker
well, we'll find out maybe early February auditor Monroe County auditor Katherine Smith is running the remonstrance period and said talk to Her a couple weeks ago and said she hopes to have something not the end of January the beginning of February to see then how things move forward is that pretty much what what you've been hearing?

Unknown Speaker
Yes. I think after the remonstrance period closes, there's some processing time it's a fair amount of detail work has got to be done all set by state law and probably in February to find out where we are.

Unknown Speaker
Alright, let's move to budget proceedings. So from what I gathered, just kind of bottom line, city council wants an increase in police salaries, police benefits, they want a climate plan coordinator. From what I understand the city administration, you say the budget is is good where it is. are you addressing council member concerns for that October 27? meeting?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, again, Joe look kind of putting this in context. Every year, the mayor of a city under state law proposes a budget and the council disposes of the budget, they decide what to do with it is quite a formal process. We actually do a lot more than most cities, we started in April, nearly six months ago, over six months ago, actually, to work with counsel to to kind of outline what they want to see in a budget, what we're seeing in the budget, looking at the financial realities that we have to make sure we deal with I'm under law obligated to present a balanced budget, that the revenues and the and the assets on hand are enough to do all that we're planning to do in the budget expenses next year. And that's been a back and forth process from April, May, June, July, August, September all the way to now, it's not a surprise that there are some council members who have different views of what ought to be in the budget. I've told them I don't I don't love everything. The budget, you know, it's a it's a document that includes it's complicated includes a lot of things, as you indicated there, there are some who've who've urged that there be more compensation for police sworn officers in particular, we've actually increased that a lot in the budget. There are some who want that in the base of the salary as opposed to a retention bonus. And a lot of that's kind of inside baseball. I think, ultimately, we're talking about are we protecting public safety, crime rates are continuing to go down overall, that's an encouraging thing to see. There's also kind of, in my perspective, an inside baseball question of exactly how do we fund sustainability focused positions in city government, we have accelerated our investment in that dramatically over the last several years, we take the climate emergency extremely seriously. There's some different views about whether this position ought to be there or in that department, or where what level and that's fine, ultimately, you know, I'm presenting a budget that I think moves our city forward, the doors open, I'm continuing to talk with council members, and ultimately they have a vote that they have to pick either the new budget or or if they don't pass a budget, we actually get the same exact budget in 2021 carries forward into 22, which would be a very negative thing. So I'm, I'm pretty confident we're going to get there with a with a new budget. And I think it'll be a very good budget.

Unknown Speaker
You say the doors open, but it seems like there is a big divide or conflict between the budget that you prepared and the council, what what's the relationship like between you and the City Council, when you say the doors open? Well, I

Unknown Speaker
don't think it actually is a big divide. Joe, if you look at the 100 $70 million of the budget and all the issues that are presented, what typically happens is it comes down to out of 300 things that are in there, there may be one or two or three that that people are less happy about and of course there are nine council members and there are different views on the council about different approaches of Public Safety's a very real divisive issue in some ways on the council there's they're they're quite different views of how to approach this. And as mayor, I need to try to balance all that and of course, listen to the public. So the relations are good. I sometimes, you know, stress levels can go up people can pound the table a little bit. But in the end, you know, the the areas of agreement are are vast, and in our areas of direction of where we want to go are commonly shared in deep ways. So these are, I've view them as kind of last minute, maybe some posturing, maybe a little political maneuvering, but I'm confident we'll move forward for the city as a whole and it's a really good budget to help us get out of that. Remember, these are really extraordinary times with the pandemic that we've been through the economic collapse that came with that pandemic and our communities, doing a lot of things very well and we want to make sure that budget helps keep that going. Keep recovered forward as we talk about

Unknown Speaker
Sure. I think what I'm trying to get to is for those who don't see what goes on, you know, behind the scenes, for those of us who just were just watching what happens during City Council, it just seems like I know you sent a memo before the last budget meeting saying, Well, here's what you get, here's what happens. If you don't add it just kind of came off as a take it or leave it type of thing. And maybe wonder, Well, are you do you guys talk behind the scenes about this stuff before having meetings?

Unknown Speaker
Absolutely. I mean, I'm I meet regularly with leadership of the Council. And, look, the council, again, is nine individually elected folks, and they're all of one party, they all have different views. And if you took $107 million of the civil city budget, that's excluding water and housing and transit, if you took that 100 $7 million, we're probably discussing, if you will, less than a million dollars of question about that, you know, and, and so there's a vast area of agreement or some areas of concern, still discussion, and I've had conversations in the last several days with different council members. You know, the but but it's important that they can only take action as a council by voting, because three of them may want this and to want that, and four want that a different four want this and a different three want that and, and in the end budget is a is a coherent document that I'm proud that we have. And we'll keep talking about how to move it forward. Well, and and conversations will continue, I'm sure over the days ahead. But ultimately, the City Council needs to vote on October 27. on whether to adopt the new budget or not, and the numbers in the budget are actually set because they have to be publicly noticed it can't be changed. So this other thing, these other things we're talking about are kind of some nuance behind the scenes.

Unknown Speaker
And one more just the budget wise suggest $5,000 in retention bonuses for police officers, rather than reopening the collective. Sure. Bargaining Agreement.

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, I mean, the basic point is, Joe, I am I don't feel it's responsible for me to to put in place salaries and positions if we don't have a long term way to pay for those. And that's what I've expressed to the to the council is that's why a retention bonus, which is which is contemplated in the American rescue plan, act that one time money is very appropriate for that. But putting something in a base, I have to tell you, as mayor, I want to know that I have that money, not just in 2022, but in 23 and 24 that I've if I'm hiring people and paying them that I want to make sure we have a fiscal position to continue to do that. So that's why the one time bonus is is is the direction to go from my view now from a from a police officers who are an officer that they're getting the same money one way or the other. And we'll be actually beginning bargaining with the police union next week to start the bargaining for the 2023 budget. And I'm sure all this was is gonna be on the table and the $5,000 retention bonus is going to be kind of a starting point in a way for their for the next year's negotiations.

Unknown Speaker
I have to ask you quickly about the convention center. I know that got left off right before the pandemic and was talking about a Civ board. Is that right?

Unknown Speaker
Yes, we were we were debating and discussing what a convention capital improvement board

Unknown Speaker
capital improvement board. Yeah. And the majority of residents wanting some type of civic center. And I'm reminded by this because Columbus is starting there's the early process Terre Haute already in construction. What would it take for Bloomington Monroe County to get this process going again?

Unknown Speaker
Well, I wish we weren't going obviously the pandemic was an issue. But these are very long term projects. And I think Bloomington is inherently and naturally a destination place and having more destination during the week that which is what a convention center could really help accelerate is very important. I just think there's not a meeting of the minds on moving forward with that. The city is very committed. We've been very clear about the importance and value of that. I think some of our partners are not as sure about it and it takes two to tango and we're kind of waiting to see what comes of that and I hope it will move forward soon. I think it'd be really good for the city and important for the city. We have the land we have the revenue source to do this. It's going to take some will from all parties involved.

Unknown Speaker
I say the Bloomington Fire Department received the rare honor what was that?

Unknown Speaker
Yeah, this is a really big deal Joe. Fire Departments all around the country and there 40,000 of them or something are rated by the insurance industry. Essentially on how well they protect us how well they protect against fires, less than 1% of those fire departments all across the country get this top number one rating, one out of 10. We just got it. We're the first city in Indiana, to have a fire department that's rated at this very high level, it means they look at our fire department, they look at our water system, they look at our dispatch system. So the city as a whole is the first city in the state to be rated this way, it means we have excellent, excellent protection. Really proud of the department, all the people there who work so hard trained so hard, the water system and the hydrants and the power and the availability of water dispatch, what it can mean is assurance that we're doing well, but it also can mean lower property tax rates for for a lot of us for casualty and property insurance. So that'll shake down over the next months and years, we're really proud of that we're the only city by the way in Indiana, to have a kulliyyah nationally accredited police department and a top ranked Fire Department. We've got top flight public safety services here. And I want to thank the council for supporting them and for the public for the way you support them, too. I know this

Unknown Speaker
might be early to ask, but any thoughts about running again for mayor in a couple years?

Unknown Speaker
Oh, Joe, that surely I'll I'll just say this, it is earliest that we got a bunch of elections between now and then. But I love the job. I've always enjoyed being in Bloomington and helping the community get better. It's a great privilege to get to serve. I love what I do every day and we got a lot of work still to do. So we will nothing, nothing to announce about that. But I relish the chance to continue to let this incredible community keep getting better and better and more and more people thrive here.

Unknown Speaker
While we're at two minutes left. So I always like to give the mayor the kind of last two minutes any updates or other special announcements that you'd like to pass along?

Unknown Speaker
Well, no, you know, Joe, I think it's always good just to remember again, in the high level, what we've been going through the last 1819 months with the pandemic, the the importance of our community pulling together, IU went through an extraordinary year, our health system continues to go through an extraordinary challenging time, please be kind to people around you everybody. In some ways, it feels a little stressful and on edge. But we've come through a once in a century kind of challenge, we're coming through it, I should say, and we got people still looking for work, we've got people looking for housing, we've got people looking for health care, please keep taking taking care of each other, and being kind to each other. I use back, we've got employers growing Catalan, which continues to you know, film 1000s and 1000s of files every day of this vaccine to go around the world growing by 1000s of employees and cook and and Baxter and Ivy Tech and a lot of companies that are growing and our community is opening up new trails and new parks and we've found how valuable that is. So there's a lot of good things happening. Let's just keep working together to move forward. And there's a lot of ways to celebrate that watch for news items and get out to your parks and hear concerts and, and eat outdoors. And again, just be kind to each other. And let's try to keep taking care of each other to get to what's been some pretty challenging times. Yeah.

Unknown Speaker
And again, thank you so much. And I want those that are listening and watching and know you can always comment below. You can also send an email to news at Indiana public media.org. We're on twitter at ask the mayor, Mayor Hamilton appreciate your time and hope to see you next month.

Unknown Speaker
Thanks a lot, Joe. Everybody be safe and have a good fall as the cool weather approaches.

Unknown Speaker
That's right. Thank you
Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton

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

The mayor says there is good communication between the administration and city council despite council objecting to the city budget. The remonstration period begins after city council approved annexation. And the mayor says it's too early to talk about re-election.

In 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.

Hren: Let's begin with COVID, how are the hospitals? Two things in the news, one governor Holcomb deploying the National Guard to help, and also the flu season is approaching and Indiana just recorded its first flu death yesterday.

Hamilton: Last winter, we were very, very concerned about the flu and its double impact with the pandemic, but it turned out that generally all that we were doing to protect against COVID was extremely helpful to protect against the flu as well. There's a little concern this year that we're doing less in terms of masking and isolating, obviously than we were last winter so there's a concern about that.

Hospital case loads are down from COVID but there are flu patients now arriving and I do think it's important. It sobers me when the hospital reminds us that those who are in the hospital are tending to be sicker and stay longer with the Delta variant than those before so it's a very serious disease. Our workforce is mostly vaccinated but only about two thirds. We worry about a new variant that might come and of course around the world, the vast majority of many, many people are unvaccinated.

READ MORE: Hospitalizations for District 8 and state fall to August levels

Hren: I know Kirkwood Avenue will reopen to traffic I believe right after Halloween. What's been the reaction to a pedestrian Kirkwood Avenue?

Hamilton: I think people have really enjoyed the access. The establishments, the restaurants, the merchants there have generally been very supportive. They've invested in equipment and tables and coverings and such to help make that possible.

I think the merchants and most customers recognize when you get into November December January, that very cold weather, it's just less likely for the establishment to make that work for them. I personally think it's quite possible in the spring, we'll want to have the outdoor seating again, that's not settled.

We work with City Council and the merchants on that but I think it's been very popular over the last several months. Even some of the pickup drop off zones those are still popular, we're looking at that. This is going to keep evolving.

Kirkwood Dining 2

READ MORE: Trick-or-treating planned in Monroe County and Bloomington with CDC precautions

Hren: Since we last talked, City Council passed the annexation ordinances. Still some council members had serious concerns about being able to expand police presence and most people that talked during public comment said that they were against this. How do you move forward now with these concerns?

Hamilton: I'm pleased that city council voted six to three pretty much on most of the ordinances to move forward with the annexation, something we've obviously been working on for more than four years.

It's been long planned. We need the city to grow with the reality on the ground. The public safety concerns that were I think the motivating factor for any of the no votes on Council, we've been talking to them a lot. I'm very confident that we can provide the full public safety services that are needed.

Of course, it's not till 2024 and thereafter we have time. We have many plans in place that will help move that forward.

Annexation City Council Final Vote
City council final Zoom annexation hearing.

Hren: The remonstrance period now goes through early January and waivers have a big impact on this. From some of our reporting, about half of the number of annexed parcels have waivers. But we can keep talking about this 2019 law that nulls some of those waivers. How big an effect could that have?

Hamilton: Cities under Indiana law actually are usually required to get a waiver when we extend sewer service outside the city limits. We generally get an agreement from a person that says if we put sewers into your residence or into new development, you agree that when it comes time you will join the city. That's what a waiver is.

So there are thousands of those waivers that have been developed over the years as sewers have been extended. And shortly after the legislature illegally stopped our annexation in 2017, it came back a year or two later and said, well, that wasn't enough. Let's say if your waivers are older than 15 years, they don't count anymore. Our view is that's illegal also. But it's also kind of unfair. We did our part of that bargain. And we think the the property owner should be now part of the city.

It's a fair number. I don't have an exact number, but quite a few. I mean we didn't annex for so long. There are some waivers that have been in existence for quite some time.

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

Hren: Let's move to budget proceedings. Bottom line, city council wants an increase in police salaries, police benefits, they want a climate plan coordinator. Are you addressing council member concerns for that October 27 meeting?

Hamilton: It is quite a formal process. We actually do a lot more than most cities, we started in April, over six months ago to work with council.

It's not a surprise that there are some council members who have different views of what ought to be in the budget. I've told them I don't love everything in the budget. There are some who've urged that there be more compensation for sworn officers in particular, we've actually increased that a lot in the budget.

There are some who want that in the base of the salary as opposed to a retention bonus. And a lot of that's kind of inside baseball. I think, ultimately, we're talking about are we protecting public safety, crime rates are continuing to go down overall, that's an encouraging thing to see.

There's also kind of, in my perspective, an inside baseball question of exactly how do we fund sustainability focused positions in city government. We have accelerated our investment in that dramatically over the last several years, we take the climate emergency extremely seriously. There's some different views about whether this position ought to be there or in that department, or what level and that's fine.

I'm presenting a budget that I think moves our city forward. The doors open, I'm continuing to talk with council members, and ultimately they have a vote that they have to pick either the new budget or if they don't pass a budget, we actually get the same exact budget in 2021 carries forward into 2022, which would be a very negative thing. So I'm pretty confident we're going to get there with a new budget.

Hren: You say the doors open, but it seems like there is a big divide or conflict between the budget that you prepared and the council. What's the relationship like between you and the City Council?

Hamilton: I don't think it actually is a big divide. If you look at the $170 million of the budget and all the issues that are presented, what typically happens is it comes down to out of 300 things that are in there, there may be one or two or three that people are less happy about, and of course there are nine council members and there are different views on the council about different approaches.

And as mayor, I need to try to balance all that and of course, listen to the public. So the relations are good. Stress levels can go up, people can pound the table a little bit. But in the end, the areas of agreement are vast, and in our areas of direction of where we want to go are commonly shared in deep ways. So these are, I've view them as kind of last minute, maybe some posturing, maybe a little political maneuvering, but I'm confident we'll move forward for the city as a whole.

Hren: The budget suggests $5,000 in retention bonuses for police officers, rather than reopening the collective bargaining agreement, why?

Hamilton: I don't feel it's responsible for me to to put in place salaries and positions if we don't have a long term way to pay for those. And that's what I've expressed to the to the council is that's why a retention bonus, which is contemplated in the American Rescue Plan Act - that one time money is very appropriate for that.

And we'll be actually beginning bargaining with the police union next week to start the bargaining for the 2023 budget. And I'm sure all this was is gonna be on the table.

early rendering of convention center expansion
Early proposal of a Monroe Convention Center expansion.

Hren: The convention center expansion project stopped as the pandemic took over. What would it take for Bloomington, Monroe County to get this process going again?

Hamilton: Obviously the pandemic was an issue. But these are very long term projects. And I think Bloomington is inherently and naturally a destination place and having more destination during the week that which is what a convention center could really help accelerate is very important. I just think there's not a meeting of the minds on moving forward with that.

The city is very committed. We've been very clear about the importance and value of that. I think some of our partners are not as sure about it and it takes two to tango and we're kind of waiting to see what comes of that and I hope it will move forward soon. I think it'd be really good for the city and important for the city. We have the land we have the revenue source to do this. It's going to take some will from all parties involved.

READ MORE: Convention Expansion Project On Hold As Leaders Gather Public Input

Hren: Might be early, but any thoughts to running for reelection in a couple years?

Hamilton: I'll just say this, it is early - we got a bunch of elections between now and then. But I love the job. I've always enjoyed being in Bloomington and helping the community get better. It's a great privilege to get to serve. I love what I do every day and we got a lot of work still to do. So nothing to announce about that. But I relish the chance to continue to let this incredible community keep getting better and better and more and more people thrive here.

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