The office of Governor Mike Pence announced in a press release today, December 9th, that a little more than $4.6 million in total federal grants has been paid so far to help local communities and the state of Indiana recover from the 2014 January fifth (5)-through-ninth (9) winter storm. These include thirty (30) Indiana counties, though as yet Monroe County has received no reimbursements. These grants are in the forms of public assistance and/or specifically snow assistance. Public assistance will pay 75 percent of eligible expenses for damage to roads, bridges, utilities, debris removal, damages to buildings’ contents and equipment, and water-control facilities, among other things. Snow assistance covers all eligible costs for either the 48-hour or 72-hour period of the storm associated with the higher costs. Applications from communities are still being processed by the Indiana Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (or FEMA). Said Governor Pence: QUOTE “While that  storm is for many a distant memory, we at the state continue to work through the demanding process to make the most of the disaster funding opportunities available to communities in those 30 counties.”
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In its first-ever distribution of teacher performance grants, or bonuses, the State of Indiana has awarded $30 million in grants to high-performance teachers in more than 1,300 schools . Governor Mike Pence recommended the concept of school/teacher performance awards in his 2013 budget. Criteria for the teacher grants were included in a complex formula of average student ISTEP-plus test performances, graduation rates compared to the previous year, and end-of-the courses assessments with students’ passing rates of 72.5 percent or better. To be eligible, teachers had to be rated effective or highly effective under the Indiana Teacher Evaluation System for the 2013-14 calendar year.
A new residence hall at IUPUI has been approved by the IU Board of Trustees. The 172,000 square foot building will have two residential wings, which will house 700 students. Made mostly of brick and glass, the building’s design includes a dining hall, a multipurpose media room, a semi-enclosed courtyard, two classrooms, space for activities and fitness, a computer lab and game and laundry rooms.
The building will accommodate IUPUI’s growing student population. According to a press release, campus housing is at capacity. At the beginning of this school year, more than 800 students were on a waitlist to live on campus.
Construction is expected to cost $45.2 million and will be paid for with funds from IUPUI. The project will be complete in summer 2016.
Last week Ball State University economist Michael Hicks released an economic forecast for 2015. The report shows separate predictions for the United States, Indiana and East Central Indiana.
The forecast suggests that conditions will improve in the coming year, with gross domestic product and job growth higher than it was in 2014. He predicts that job growth will increase overall next year, and wrote that the unemployment rate will decline to 5.7 percent by the end of 2015.
The forecast anticipates that Indiana’s GDP will outstrip the nation by more than half a percent in 2015. Personal income growth is also expected to increase in Indiana, while the income gap between Indiana and the entire U.S. is expected to shrink.
Job creation should accelerate by the end of 2015, according to the report. Projections say that between 90,000 and 120,000 jobs will be created per month. At the same time, though, the number of unemployed is expected to rise. Nearly a third of these new jobs are seasonal or low-paying, and do not provide many benefits to workers.
Hicks writes that wage growth is “uneven,” which can “brake growth of household consumption and investment over the coming year.”
Hicks’ data comes from his own calculations, which are based on sources such as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Hicks writes that while 2015 will be “the best year of economic performance since 2007,” growth will be gradual. The United States may be in the slowest period of growth it has seen in generations
Last week, The Monroe County Election Board discussed problems with political yard signs in the lead up to the midterm election. The members said an unusually large number of the signs were placed on public property, which is against the law. Board member Lorraine Farrell explained the current rules.
The Board discussed implementing a policy to fine people who violate the rule. But they said it would be difficult to enforce. Robbins also questioned whether the Election Board has the authority to set that kind of rule.
The Board push forward on a policy to penalize violators. Instead they agreed to send out reminders about the yard sign rules before candidates officially file for the municipal elections next year.
A committee of former Red Cross Book Fair volunteers has completed its selection process for a new host for the popular book fair fund-raiser annually held at the Monroe County Fair Grounds.
The new host and organizer is the Hoosier Hills Food Bank.
Noting that Hoosier Hills in the past has conducted a food drive during the book fair, its director, Julio Alonso, noted that this was a logical move for both Hoosier Hills and the book fair.
The next step will be to move the remaining books and book book fair supplies from the American Red Cross Chapter House to new sorting facilities and reorganize book fair volunteers
Just as with the food bank, the book fair will continue to rely on funds and volunteers’ time as well as corporate sponsors and extensive marketing to alert the public to the book fair’s new host. Hoosier Hills is immediately prepared to accept book donations at its office at 2333 West Industrial Park Drive Mondays-through-Fridays from 9-5 PM. If citizens plan to donate more than one or two boxes of books, they are asked to call ahead to Hoosier Hills at 812-334-8374. Future book collection events are also planned for various places in the Bloomington community.
A law prohibiting dead people from voting was responsible for delays in tallying election results last month.
That’s according to the Monroe County Election Board who oversees the vote counting process. They said most of the ballots were processed by 8 p.m. on election night.
But final results weren’t available until early the next morning. Board member Brian Lemonds said that’s because of what he called the “dead voter law.”
The dead voter law says that if anyone dies after submitting an early vote before election day, then the vote doesn’t count.
County Clerk Linda Robbins said Monroe County has never had to invalidate more than three votes because of the law. Robbins and Lemonds both said the law should be repealed.
“If someone took time to vote, it should count, so I think it should be repealed,” Robbins says.
The law applies to all of the counties throughout Indiana, most of which typically get their results tallied before Monroe County. Robbins said the voting system in Monroe County is responsible for some of the complications.
“As long as we continue with the same kind of voting system, the best option would be to repeal the dead voter law,” Robbins says.
Over 19,000 residents cast their ballot in person this fall and over 7,000 absentee ballots were sent in for the midterm election.
Old National Bank is one major step closer to moving its downtown Bloomington branch.
On December 8, the Bloomington Plan Commission approved plans for a two-story building on the corner of Kirkwood and Lincoln. Old National plans to vacate its current branch, which is just one block west, and move those operations to the proposed building.
The company developing the project, GMS-Pavilion Properties, has been negotiating with the city for years.
City Planner Jim Roach said the Planning Department is happy with the recent progress.
“It’s been a long time coming, but we believe this building meets all city requirements and there are no parking or residential density issues,” Roach says.
Plans for the building originally included a third story as well as 17 apartments. Over the past year the developer scrapped those elements, making the proposal better comply with the city’s zoning rules. Plan Commission members had few complaints about the current proposal.
But Commission President Jack Baker did have an issue with the brick developers plan to use, saying in order to keep the vibrancy and quirkiness of the street, they should use a more reddish color.
The brick currently proposed for the building is more earth-toned than Baker wants.
Steve Hoffman, from Pavilion Properties, said his company can’t do much to change that part of the plan, because it’s what the bank asked for.
Baker proposed an amendment that would require the developer to work with staff to consider a new color of brick. But that amendment didn’t pass.
The Commission later approved the plans for the entire building unanimously. It still needs approval from the Bloomington Board of Zoning Appeals before construction can happen. By moving into a new building, Old National hopes to clear the way for a new hotel on the site of its current branch.
But there have been complaints about the hotel proposal. The Commission delayed a vote on that plan at the December 8 meeting and won’t take it up again until February.
The Bloomington City Council is still struggling with how to regulate food trucks. The Council debated eight separate amendments to the proposed rules governing mobile vendors at a meeting last night. City staff put forward the original draft of the regulations, which establish where and when the vendors can operate and set limits on how much noise they can make. The Council considered several changes to the legislation, including one amendment to the noise limits. Council member Steve Volan co-sponsored the measure. He says that it will increase the generator level from 60 to 70 db.
Although the change increases the allowable noise from 60 decibels to 70, one food truck operator said the amendment would actually reduce the amount of noise her generator could produce. Darlene Gonzalez is the owner of Juancho’s Munchies.
Most Council members were unclear about how to set the noise limit. Although Volan co-sponsored the amendment, he suggested it might be best to withdraw it.
The Council later voted down the amendment, which leaves the noise limit at 60 decibels, which is approximately the level of a normal conversation from 3 feet away. Several Council members said they expect to revisit the noise issue early next year. Council member Marty Spechler said it may be all but impossible to set a specific limit that seems reasonable to all involved.
The Council also heard extensive public comment about a rule that forbids food trucks from operating within 50 feet of restaurants. Talia Halliday, who helps organize the Bloomington Handmade Market and runs a shop called Gather, said she likes to work with food trucks.
Several food truck operators and other members of the public said the rules seem aimed at protecting brick and mortar restaurants from an increasingly popular group of food trucks and carts. Patty Mulvihill, a city attorney who helped draft the regulations, responded to that claim.
Council member Susan Sandberg was upfront about her interest in protecting established restaurants. Sandberg said she wanted to be sure those businesses were happy with the new rules.