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IURC accepting public comment on fee increases

Tomorrow, beginning at 6pm the Indiana Utilities Regulation Committee will be accepting public comment regarding fee increases for infrastructure improvements. IURC representatives will be at the Monroe County Convention Center to record sworn written and oral comments from the public. Duke Energy is proposing 1.87 billion dollars in updates, including advanced metering and communications devices, breaker and relay replacements, replacement of aging infrastructure and vegetation management. In order to pay for the improvements Duke would be increasing utility rates by about one percent a year over the next seven years. Various organizations and businesses have also filed testimony on this case, with detractors saying that ratepayers should not assume the costs of Duke’s upgrades, and that the proposed “smart meters” are more beneficial to the corporation than to residents.

New apartment building to be built downtown


After being turned down once before, a local attorney now has received permission to build a new 4-story apartment building in downtown Bloomington. David Ferguson, through his company Moonburn LLC, got approval from the Bloomington Plan Commission on November 3rd. The building will be on North Morton Street, near the intersection with 10th Street. It will have 33 apartments, each with one bedroom. Jim Roach, from city planning, said the Commission voted against a slightly altered version of the same project in July, which stated that due to height violation of the building, it was not to be built at that time.

The building is still planned to be two feet taller than the 50-foot height normally allowed. But Roach said the city has allowed other buildings in the area to violate that rule.

Ferguson’s building would be just inches away the Morton Mansions. The new structure did require a waiver from the city’s requirement to reserve half of the first floor for businesses. Plans only include 11 percent of the floor to be commercial space. Ferguson said there simply isn’t enough room to fulfill the requirement.

Olympus Properties manages residential buildings throughout Bloomington, including the Mercury on Morton complex nearby. Ferguson founded that company in 2002 along with other partners. The city’s planning staff agreed with Ferguson about the tradeoff between commercial space and parking. Tom Micuda, the city’s director of planning and transportation, said the city might consider doing away with requiring every downtown apartment building to have room for businesses.

Commission members said they were mostly satisfied with the changes to the project. But Commission member Chris Sturbaum said he’s not ready to dramatically change the requirements for commercial space.

Six Commission members voted in favor of the new apartment building. Commission member Chris Smith abstained.


County Commissioners approve waste-stream MRF project


A Monroe County Commissioner has switched sides in a debate over a proposed recycling plant. Commissioner Patrick Stoffers voted October 31st in favor of pushing forward a plan to build a waste-stream materials recovery facility, also known as a waste stream MRF (“murf”). Until that meeting, Stoffers had been a vocal opponent of the project. At the meeting of the County Commissioners, Stoffers said he’s still skeptical.

The Monroe County Solid Waste Management District already has approval to build what is called a clean-stream MRF, which will process pre-sorted recyclables and so they can be sold. But the measure approved October 31st sets the wheels in motion on a waste-stream MRF project, which would process unsorted garbage and remove the recyclable materials. Steve Volan, the president of the District’s Board of Directors, said a lot more needs to happen before a waste-stream facility can be built.  Stoffers joined Commissioner Julie Thomas in voting for the measure. Commissioner Iris Kiesling voted no. The Solid Waste District now plans to apply to the state Department of Environmental Management for a permit to operate a waste stream MRF. Construction on the clean-stream facility is set to begin early next year.

MCCSC budget includes $4 million for technology upgrades


The Monroe County Community School Corporation is on track to spend up to $4 million on technology upgrades. The Corporation’s School Board approved the spending at a meeting October 28th. Part of the funding will go toward fulfilling the Corporation’s one-to-one technology initiative, which aims to provide every high school student with an iPad or other mobile device. Board member Sue Wanzer asked about the internet bandwidth needed to accommodate more devices.  Tim Thrasher, the business operations director at MCCSC, answered questions. Thrasher said the majority of the funding will come from a general obligation bond, which the Corporation will have to pay back over time.Wanzer asked about how the $3 million in debt could affect taxes in Monroe County.  Board member Judith Butler asked about exactly how the technology money would be spent and who would make the decisions.  The School Board later voted unanimously to approve spending up to $4 million on the technology upgrades. The Board also gave final approval for next year’s budget. That budget amount is roughly $112 million, up from $108 million last year.

Low voter turnout for midterm election


According to Monroe County’s precinct turnout reports, scarcely more than 25% of registered Monroe County voters cast ballots in yesterday’s midterm elections, making this the lowest voter turnout in a midterm election since 1990. While many factors may have contributed to the low voter turnout, one factor that may have been particularly influential was the lack of big ticket ballot issues, according to one Bloomington citizen.

The ballots that were cast yielded two particularly close races for Monroe County. The race for the school board in District 7 saw Jeannine Butler win her seat by only 2.02%, and the race for County Recorder saw Democrat Eric Schmitz win by just under 3 percent.

Three statewide races were on the ballot yesterday. Incumbent Secretary of State Connie Lawson retained her seat against democratic challenger Beth White. Republican Susanne Crouch won the Auditor seat over Democrat Mike Claytor, and Republican Kelly Mitchell won the treasurer position. Just under eight hundred thousand voters cast their ballots in the statewide races.   On the federal level Todd Young will begin his third term as the District 9 Representative in congress, securing 66 percent of the vote.

You can view a full list of local results online at wfhb.org

Olympic hero Billy Mills visits Bloomington

Olympic hero Billy Mills, the subject of the biographical film, Running Brave, will visit Bloomington on Monday, November 10th.  His visit is one of many events marking Native American Heritage Month.  Mills grew up on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.  He attended the University of Kansas on an athletic scholarship.  He went on to win the gold medal in the 10,000 m race in 1964 Olympics in Japan in a surprise victory over several favored runners.

There will be a free showing of the film Running Brave at 3 p.m. Monday at the IU Cinema.  In addition to Mills, Robby Benson, professor in the Media School, will also be on hand for a Q and A after the film. Benson starred as Mills in the 1983 film.

Although the event is free, tickets are required and are available at the IU Auditorium Box Office.

U.S. Forest Service seeks public input on road system

The U.S. Forest Service is seeking public input for a study on the road system in Hoosier National Forest.  The Travel Management Rule, adopted by the U.S. Forest Service in 2005, requires every national forest to complete a study of their road system by 2015.  The Forest Service has scheduled two open houses in Bedford at Brownstown/Supervisor’s Office at 811 Constitution Avenue for tomorrow, November 6th, and next week, November 13th from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.  Staff will be on hand to answer questions and gather input from the public. Forest Supervisor Michael Chaveas said,  ”The aim of this study and the public input is to help us identify a road system that serves the needs of the public and the Forest Service, at a cost we can afford to maintain over time”, according to a press release from the Forest Service.

Public input can also be made online at www.fs.usda.gov/hoosier

Shalom Center project aims to end homelessness

The Shalom Community Center will host a presentation on their newest project, “Off the Streets by 2020” tomorrow from 5 to 6:30p.m. The presentation will outline the center’s efforts and plans to end homelessness in Bloomington and surrounding areas. Executive Director Forrest Gilmore will speak to attendees about the future of fighting homelessness in the community. The Shalom Center is a daytime resource center in Monroe County which offers shelter and assistance to guests in need.

Concerns about parking garage plans


A Monroe County Council member is raising concerns about plans for a new parking garage in downtown Bloomington. The County Commissioners have already voted on financing for the garage. But the Commissioners, which make up the executive branch of County government, effectively bypassed the County Council, which oversees County finances. Council member Marty Hawk said there are problems with leaving the Council out of decisions to build multimillion dollar structures.

The Commissioners had apparently discussed the parking garage in work sessions, but not during their regular meetings on Friday mornings. The work sessions are technically open to the public but they are not filmed and broadcast like the regular meetings are. Hawk urged the Commission to hold their work sessions in a space that could be easily recorded.

Commissioner Iris Kielsing was present at the Council meeting. She said it might not be easy to have all the Commissioners meetings filmed.

The parking garage would be used primarily by County employees. The building will also include a space that could be used in case the County Jail needs evacuated. Currently there is no structure to house inmates in case of an emergency. But besides those benefits, Kiesling told the Council the Commissioners have larger plans in mind. She said County employees who would park in the new garage are currently finding parking outside the Convention Center.

If the County sells its portion of the Convention Center to the city or to some other entity, Kiesling said that money could be used to pay for the new garage. The current plan is to pay for the structure out of the County’s cumulative capital development fund. That fund is used for a variety of capital expenses, including some road projects. Although County attorney Michael Flory said there appears to be enough money in the fund to pay for the garage, some Council members voiced concern. Cheryl Munson said the County may soon have to spend more money from that fund on roads.

Hawk said she’s not necessarily opposed to the new garage, but she wished she was consulted about it.

Unless plans change, the Council won’t actually vote on any measure related to the garage until next October, when it considers the entire County budget.

County Commissioners announce Veterans Day ceremony

The Monroe County Commissioners invite the public to a special Veterans Day ceremony to be held at the Monroe County Court House on Tuesday, November 11th at 10:00 a.m.  Their press release also extends a special invitation to World War II Veterans to attend and be recognized. The annual ceremony will honor all persons who have served honorably in our military services. The event is being sponsored by Burton Woolery American Legion Post #18—Richard E. Dunbar, Commander, a primary sponsor of a Veterans Day Event in Bloomington for over 45 years.  The support and participation of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #604—Joe Harding, Commander, and AMVETS Post 2000—John Bowman, Commander, is also noted.

Colonel Turner Nolan, United State Army, retired, will serve as Master of Ceremonies and with weather permitting, a laying of memorial wreaths around the Veteran Memorial Monument on the Courthouse lawn will be conducted, followed by free luncheons at sponsor locations.  World War II veterans are urged to contact Turner Nolan (812) 824-9478 to provide additional information to be used to honor their service.  In recognition of Veterans day, there will be no parking meter costs downtown on November 11th.


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