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The Strike Mic – December 17, 2013

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This week on The Strike Mic, a weekend march in response to the passing of Ian Stark, and the underlying issues of social services and homelessness in Bloomington.

Bloomington Utilities Department Give Up Trying To Collect Nearly $23,000 Bills

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The Bloomington Utilities Department is formally giving up on collecting almost $23,000 in overdue bills. Each year the department declares certain bills to be, as it calls them, uncollectable.

Yesterday the department’s assistant financial director, Michael Horstman, told the Utilities Service Board that 673  wastewater bills and 691 water bills fit the criteria for the department to officially stop attempting to collect them.

Sam Frank, chair of the board’s finance sub-committee, said that doesn’t mean the city might not collect some of the money.

“The finance sub-committee met before this meeting and went over these and we have recommended that these be approved to be written off,” Horstman says, “These can be collected any time later on, and this is more of just an accounting transaction.”

All of the affected accounts were inactive and more than ninety days overdue. Horstman said no more than forty dollars was owed on a given account. The board voted unanimously to write off the uncollectible bills.

Real Christmas Trees Growing in Popularity in American Homes

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Real Christmas trees are making a comeback this year, according to a specialist at Purdue University. Daniel Cassens, professor at the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, says more than one billion dollars will be spent in the United States this year bringing real Christmas trees into the house. He says the environmental impact of real trees versus that of fake trees has become something of a debate in recent years. A Christmas tree farmer himself, Cassens says there are benefits to avoiding the more convenient, artificial trees.

“It’s a difficult thing to measure because there are so many variables involved,” Cassens says, “If you look at a real tree, you see it takes in carbon dioxide and keeps it in the ground. Depending on how the tree is disposed of, the rest of the carbon is released in the atmosphere and can be

Cassens says artificial Christmas trees are petroleum-based products, which release carbon stored in the ground, becoming directly harmful to the environment. Shipping artificial trees to the United States creates another source of impact.

“About all the artificial trees are manufactured overseas,” Cassens says, “Real trees grown here create local jobs and contribute to the local economy. Fake trees, as they’re shipped, also takes energy and pollutes the environment.”

Proponents of the artificial Christmas tree industry point out that its product can be reused, saving real trees from being cut down, and that artificial trees of course do not need fertilizers or pesticides. If you’ve decided you want a real tree in your house this year, Cassens says there are a few things to keep in mind.

“If you’re a first time real-tree-buyer, you want to be careful not to get too big a tree, “Cassen says, “Stay within the five to six feet category, at the most nine feet. They are more manageable and the bigger the tree, the more difficult to handle. Also, make sure to have a high-quality

When the holidays are over, Cassens says, there are also options to consider when getting rid of a real tree.

“One option, that is the most simple, is to take the tree and put it in your backyard until spring,” Cassen says, “Most towns also have recycling centers that turn real Christmas trees into mulch.”

For more information on real Christmas trees, or how to find a choose-and-cut tree farm in your area, you can visit the National Christmas Tree Growers Association online at RealChristmastrees.org.

 

 

Firm Plans to Build Alongside Bloomington B-Line Trail

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Last week the Bloomington Plan Commission heard a request to build a four-story building alongside the downtown B-Line Trail, to include thirty-five high-end apartments and condos. The building would occupy about half of a city block, and it would also include some space for businesses on the first floor.

The owners currently run the private equity firm Elmore Companies, and they plan to include that business as well as others in the new building. City Planner Patrick Shay says the project needs eight different waivers from the city. One stems from the fact that the building would violate rules about building too close to the B-Line Trail.

“As you know, there’s a ten foot setback within our downtown commercial areas when it’s adjacent to the B-Line,” Shay said, “This is done to create outdoor spaces and to make sure we don’t get a canyon effect where the buildings don’t loom over the trail. We think that the petitioners project has done that some by their own design, such as a plaza that most buildings don’t have.”

The building would be located immediately west of the B-Line Trail, between Kirkwood Avenue and 6th Street. It would be as close as one foot away from the trail in some spots. But Shay says there won’t be what he called a canyon effect, because the other side of the trail is next to the street.

“You’re not going to have another building across from it, creating the canyon effect, because it’s parallel to the street, which is unique,” Shay said.

The building would also be taller than city code allows being about 50 feet tall, but Shay says certain parts would extend above 60 feet.

“Most of the building is below 50 feet, but they wanted some bigger

The top floor of the building includes three penthouses that will be occupied by the owners of the building. Greg McHenry, with the firm Milhaus Development, says the apartments in the building are being priced for the professional family or graduate student population.

“One bedroom would be about $1,000 to $1,500 with three bedrooms nearing $2,000 or above,” McHenry said.

Plan Commission member Chris Sturbaum praised the project, which he says required considerable work from the developers to meet the city’s expectations.

“This building has gone through considerable re-design, which the public doesn’t see,” Sturbaum said, “There was a lot of feedback from the planning department. I think that the building is starting to look really good, and the waivers are justified because so much effort has been made into a building that really fits the guidelines of the city. It’s a timeles building, something that won’t look outdated in a few years, and it will be something I think we can all look at for the rest of our lives, and that’s not a small accomplishment.”

The commission voted unanimously to approve the variances for the project.

DNR Hosts Ice Safety Talk on Facebook

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Facebook followers of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources will have the chance to talk about ice safety with Lieutenant William Browne, of DNR Law Enforcement, this Friday on the DNR Facebook page. Dawn Krause, of the DNR Division of Communications, says these talks have been going on for two years, and serve as a link between the department and the public on topics of which some people are unaware.

“It’s a way to also get information out there to people that are unaware of all the different areas the DNR covers,” Krause says, “I find a lot of people that get on with these talks are impressed because they never knew what we covered.”

Krause says the new talk on ice safety should serve as a learning experience for anyone interested in enjoying themselves this holiday season.

“Every year, people want to get out on the ice, and every year people are killed because the ice isn’t actually thick enough or they aren’t aware of how thick the ice should be,” Krause says, “This is a way to re-educate people every year so that they are aware of what kind of ice they should get out on to have a safe experience.”

This will be the last online DNR talk for the year, and Krause says some very popular topics came up in 2013.

“Deer-hunting was popular online,” Krause says.

The talk on ice safety is scheduled to take place from 2 to 3 pm this Friday, December 20th, on the DNR Facebook page. Anyone with a Facebook account can begin sending questions during that time.

Witmer Approved as Monroe County School Resources Officer

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At the December meeting of the Monroe County Community School Corporation’s Board of School Trustees, Jim Witmer was approved as the inaugural School Resources Officer for the district. John Carter, director of planning for MCCSC, told us more on what he will do as school resources officer.

“He’ll be providing resources to staff on mediation training and foster relationships with parents and students and teachers,” Carter says.”The benefits of this are if you have someone in your building that the kids are comfortable telling things to, that’s what you want. For example, threats of violence to other students, sometimes the students know those. We want the students to have every avenue possible to tell us. They could tell a teacher, a counselor, a principal, or even a bus driver. Now we have a school resources officer who is versed in law enforcement and can help.”

A portion of Witmer’s salary will come from a grant from the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, a program added to the Indiana code by the 2013 General Assembly. The code states that a school resource officer may make arrests, conduct search or seizure of property, and carry a firearm on school property. Carter talks about other requirements of the position.

“The state statute has said that the qualifications are important for a school resources officer,” Carter says, “The law enforcement training is the most important. You have to keep up your certifications and go to school resource officer training school. They need to know the difference from being law enforcement and law enforcement in a school setting.”

The matching homeland security grant is on a two-year cycle. Carter says he expects that the school corporation will try to renew it, but that there are no policies in place to measure the effectiveness of the position.

“We hope to keep the school resources officer,” Carter says, “We want to be able to say we feel safer with this extra resource of information to provide to students, parents and staff. That’s probably the biggest benefit.”

Jim Witmer is a 23 year veteran of the Bloomington Police Department and began a campaign for Monroe county sheriff this year.

His campaign website has the following announcement, in relation to his new position: “I am sad to say that in choosing to accept this position, I will need to withdraw from the Monroe County Sheriff’s race. Although I wasn’t able to complete that mission, I feel that nothing is more valuable than our children, and I promise that I will do everything in my power to provide a safe environment for our children to learn and grow.”

Bloomington Chamber of Commerce Announces Opposition to HJR 6

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The Bloomington Chamber of Commerce just announced their opposition to HJR 6, the legislation in the Indiana State House altering the definition of marriage. The Chamber’s Board of Directors approved the official documentation of their opposition, saying instead legislators should work on legislation that will bring business to the state, not give them reason to leave. The Bloomington Chamber of Commerce represents over 1,100 local businesses including IU Health-Bloomington and Indiana University, which have both also released public statements opposing the amendment. The Bloomington City Council also made a motion against HJR 6 last week and Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan has joined mayors statewide in opposition to the bill.

Monroe County Treasurer’s Office Late On Financial Reports.

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Two Monroe County officials gave a presentation Tuesday in hopes of quelling fears about a looming financial dilemma.

The officials spoke before the County Council about the fact that the County Treasurer’s Office has fallen several months behind on required financial reports.

Without filing the monthly documents, the county would be unable to distribute tax money to other units within the County, potentially leaving local governments like the city of Bloomington and the town of Ellettsville unable to meet their obligations.

Although the office hasn’t filed a report since May, County Treasurer Cathy Smith said her staff made up for lost time in recent weeks.

“We’ve been working hand-in-hand with the Auditor’s and Commissionors Office in keeping up to speed with where we are each day,” Smith said, “I think it’s fair to say that we are in the final preparations to approve a settlement.”

The County Auditor’s Office needs to approve the reports by Dec. 20 in order to send money on to other governmental units.

Auditor Steve Saulter said he’s confident the money will be distributed, even if the entire process is not complete in time.

Saulter said that’s partly because the law allows him to distribute 95% of the money before all the approvals are finished.

“I can’t promise we’ll get the whole settlement process done with the timing and holidays,” Saulter said, “We’ll complete the process the first week of January.”

During the presentation, Smith made another request to the County for a fifth employee in her office. She said that would help address future issues like this one, which she said was caused by the loss of a staff member.

“We don’t want to lose someone with all the knowledge again,” Smith said, “It just doesn’t make sense.”

Several members of the County Council thanked the Treasurer’s office for working to complete the reports before the deadline. Council President Geoff McKim said the county avoided what could have been a “pretty serious problem,”

IU Trustees Encouraging Development of Women and Minority Owned Businesses

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Last Thursday, during a board meeting at Indiana University East in Richmond, IU trustees talked about the contracts awarded by the school to businesses owned by minorities, women, and veterans.

Governor Mike Pence set diversity targets for all state purchasing from the Indiana government.

According to trustee Patrick Shoulders, IU considers those aspirational goals. The aim is to encourage the development of women-owned businesses and minority-owned businesses, known as WBE and MBE, in the state of Indiana.

Shoulders says IU is one of the leading institutions in the state making the effort to achieve these goals.

“We have not attained the self-imposed aspirational goals and I think there are a lot of explanations for that,” Shoulders said, “It certainly isn’t through lack of effort but perhaps through lack of available, qualified WBE and MBE providers.”

Shoulders explains that the awards are given out based on the lowest bid, which can make it hard for small businesses to win contracts at IU.

“I think that this effort is difficult and we’re fighting against years and years of discrimination,” Shoulders said, “The Board of Trustees was quite clear that We expect IU to be on the cutting edge of pushing for the success of WBEs and MBEs.”
Though IU fell short of the  state’s diversity directives, Shoulders says the trustees want IU to be a leader in the state for awarding these kinds of contracts.

Monroe County School Diversity Offical Declares Most Minority Employees ‘Satisfied’

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On Tuesday a newly assigned diversity official at the Monroe County Community School Corporation said minority employees there are mostly pleased with their work environment.

Diane Hanks, the corporation’s diversity and talent specialist, said her office held forums last month for employees from underrepresented groups.

“Generally the employees were satisfied and feel comfortable in their respected environment,” Hanks said, “Their work environment is inclusive regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability and age.”

The forums were a response to the same controversy that led to the creation of Hanks’ new position.

Many community members were angry when the corporation promoted a white administrator to be principal at Tri-North Middle School. Hanks had also applied for the job, and some alleged that racial bias affected the decision, especially because Hanks had more experience as an administrator.

During that controversy, some MCCSC employees of color said a lack of diversity at the Corporation was a problem. And in her report this week, Hanks said there are indeed still issues that need addressed.

Hanks went on to say that the corporation should address concerns from employees who want more information about how to advance within the corporation.

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