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The County Employee Parking Garage Proposal Moves Forward

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Bloomington residents debated the merits of the proposed parking garage downtown at a city Plan Commission meeting on Monday. The Monroe County government wants to build the facility at the south-east corner of Morton and Eighth Streets. County employees would park there. This is the third time in three months the proposal has come before the Bloomington Plan Commission. The original proposal was for a nine story, ninety-four-foot tall facility. The height was well over the 50 foot height allowed by City Code. Since then, the County has downsized the proposed building to seventy feet tall. Bloomington Planning and Transportation Department Director Tom Micuda says changes have been made to make the building more compatible with its neighbors.  He compares the garage height to other downtown buildings and says that it is now in relation to all of the others in terms of the facade.

Micuda pointed out that many of the features of the proposal are still in violation of city code. Mayor Mark Kruzan then spoke in favor of the proposal. Despite the size of the building, Kruzan said the garage will help keep County government facilities downtown.  Kruzan said that Monroe County Government has made a choice loyal to staying downtown and that the parking garage  would benefit this initiative in maintaining a downtown presence.

The County Commissioners are looking into opening the facility to public parking in the evening, on the weekends, and during holidays. During the public comment period, there was both support and opposition to the proposal. Generally, supporters lauded the benefits of keeping county employees and their vehicles downtown. Opponents criticized the garage as expensive and inappropriate for downtown. They said the current shuttle service, which takes County employees to work from the convention center parking lot, is a cheaper option. Ultimately, the Commission voted 7 to 1 to approve the project. Commission member Jane St. John cast the only no vote. The recommendation will now go to Bloomington City Council for a final decision.

Construction Begins in B-Line Woods Neighborhood

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Habitat for Humanity began building homes last week as part of its new subdivision along the north end of the B-Line Trail. This first round of construction was part of what Habitat calls the Women Build Blitz, where all-women volunteer teams construct houses. The entrance to the new neighborhood is located off Diamond Street. The project faced some resistance when it was proposed last year, mostly from residents who opposed clearing part of the B-Line Woods to make way for the homes. A petition from those residents asked the city government to let Habitat build the subdivision on anearby piece of city-owned property, but that deal never came tofruition. The City Council ultimately approved zoning variances to allow Habitat to clear the woods. Last Friday teams of volunteersbegan building the first two homes in the neighborhood, which theorganization calls the Trail View neighborhood. In total there will be 35 homes there. Habitat for Humanity says homeowners will pay interest-free mortgages for their new homes.

City Deals with Pricey Sludge

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The City of Bloomington has hired a company to truck away sludge from its waste water treatment plant. The Utilities Services Board awarded the contract to Young Trucking. The Board recently heard that costs for removal and disposal of sludge has been escalating rapidly over the last few years, approaching three-hundred-thousand dollars for 2015. Utilities Department Assistant Director Efrat Feferman reported on the process leading up to the recommendation to hire Young Trucking.

“The Young Trucking contract is offering a, per ton, flat charge of $32.52″ Efrat explains.

The company would remove the sludge and arrange for disposal of it at a land-fill. The proposed ten-year contract would allow either party to cancel it with one year’s notice. Utilities Department Deputy Director John Langley says the city will continue to use the City’s Dillman Landfill for the occasional disposal of sludge. The Board voted unanimously to accept the contract with Young Trucking. Also at the meeting, Utilities Director Patrick Murphy told Board members of a special service that his department will be providing for IU-Bloomington during its Spring graduation ceremonies.

“We’ve been specifically requested  by the office of the president of Indiana University to provide water stations” says Utilities director Patrick Murphy.

Later in the meeting, Utilities Engineer Mike Bengston reported on the department’s work with Isolux, the principal contractor building section five of I-69. The city is working with the company on necessary adjustments to utility infrastructure near the new highway.

“We have been working with Isolux for 6 months now trying to establish acceptable relocation plans for each one of the intersections” says Mike Bengston.

Costs for this work will be assumed by Isolux.

Tomorrow is Primary Election Day in Bloomington

Tomorrow is primary election day in Bloomington. Voters will cast ballots in races for mayor and city council among others. So far, fewer than 3 percent of voters cast ballots during the early voting period. But County Clerk Linda Robbins says that statistic doesn’t tell the whole story.

Robins said,  ”Well it tells us that we’ll have about twelve percent of the registered voters that will all show up for everything… We have just only 35,000 voters who are considered active voters within the municipality so we could double that say of our active voters we’ll have nearly a quarter of our active voters voting.”

In Bloomington, all the contested races are among Democrats. Voters who choose Republican ballots will not be able to vote in those races.

Robbins added, “They’ll need to remember that they have to pick a party because this is a primary and they will need to make sure, I can’t emphasize enough, that they bring their government issued ID.  That’s a driver’s license, a passport, a military ID and IU IDs and Ivy Tech IDs will also suffice.”

To find your precinct and where to vote, visit monroecountyelections.com. Tune in to WFHB tomorrow night beginning at 6 p.m. for exclusive election coverage, including a conversation with IU political science professor Marjorie Hershey.

Early Voting Ends Monday at Noon

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County Clerk Linda Robbins said today that absentee voting has gone smoothly so far in the lead up to the municipal primary election on Tuesday, May 5th. Early voting ends Monday at noon. Voters can go to the Johnson Hardware Building, on West Seventh Street at Madison, to cast early votes. The polling station is open tomorrow from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. and then Saturday from 9 to 3. At a meeting today of the County Election Board, Robbins reminded voters that the deadline to request a ballot by mail has passed

Budget Hurts Some Schools, Spares MCCSC

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Changes to Indiana’s school funding formula are expected to hurt large urban districts throughout the state. But they may benefit some local schools in Monroe County. Indiana lawmakers finished the 2015 legislative session last night. The legislature passed a two-year budget that includes a $464 million increase in education spending. State Representative Matt Pierce, a Democrat who represents most of Bloomington, is critical of the education budget. But he says the Monroe County Community School Corporation should do comparatively well under the new funding formula.

“MCCSC does fairly well  in the funding formula” Pierce says. However State Representative Matt Pierce when on to say, ” People who attend more rural schools are going have difficulty…then you have urban schools like, Gary or Indianapolis public school systems, they’re getting really hammered”.

Republican leaders in Indiana, including Governor Mike Pence, praised the new state budget today. They issued statements pointing out the budget is balanced and includes no new tax increases. In a press conference this morning, Pence indicated he would sign the budget bill into law.

State Senate Pro Tem David Long issued a press release today stating QUOTE “The budget maintains Indiana’s hard-fought reserve funds and prioritizes education funding” UNQUOTE. But statements like those from Pence and Long don’t tell the whole story.

“They’re not going to talk about about the things that aren’t getting done so they had to take several million dollars out of local road funding” Pierce exclaimed. He continued  ”So we’re going to have more pot holes, more crumbling infrastructure and the transportation system is going to decline.”

Despite his criticisms, Peirce was supportive of a part of the new budget targeted at criminal justice. The legislature allocated $60 million partly to help pay for local probation and community corrections programs. Those programs have been strained after the legislature changed the criminal code last year. Many offenders are now being sent to local programs rather than state prisons. Pierce said the local programs need the money but he was frustrated the legislature insisted on funneling the new funding through the state Department of Corrections.

“I think that’s a big mistake because the department of corrections has been missing in action in trying to improve our system” Pierce says. “Their hearts not going to be in what we need to get done on the local level.”

The legislature also passed a measure allowing limited needle exchange programs to open around the state. Indiana law generally outlaws those programs, but Governor Pence has suspended the rules recently in Scott County, where an HIV outbreak is linked to sharing needles. Under the new law, a county would have to prove there is a public health emergency in order to set up a needle exchange program.  Critics say counties will probably be reluctant to declare such an emergency for fear of attracting negative publicity.

Single Lanes Begin Tonight On State Road 37

Starting tonight shoulder lanes on State Road 37 will be closed for construction.  The I-69 Development Partners Team announced single lane closures of both the northbound and southbound driving lanes on State Road 37 from That road to State Road 46. Weather permitting the construction will be finished by May 31st.

City Council Considers Barbecue Smoke

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The Bloomington City Council dealt with smoking last week. Not cigarette smoking but rather meat smoking, specifically smoke exhaust from barbecue grilling at the Short Stop Food Mart on Smith Road. The issue came up after the business owner asked the Council to approve an expansion of the building’s seating capacity. The smoke issue came up because the increase in seating could also mean more customers and thus more barbequeing. City Council member Marty Spechler, who represents the District where the Short Stop is located, raised the issue with the business owner, Chris Smith.  Smith responded by saying that he would not be putting in more grills than he has now unless the smoker’s were indoors.

The barbecue smoke exhaust issue was not technically part of the petition before the Council, since it apparently is allowed by the current zoning for the space. This left a long-time neighbor of the Short Stop frustrated.  Hank West says that he believes that the smoke is an issue and that zoning and planning conditions should be put into place.

West went on to contrast the city’s strict enforcement of the non-smoking in restaurants ordinance with its attitude toward restaurant barbecue smoke exhaust. He said barbecue smoke is considered by the EPA to be more toxic than second-hand cigarette smoke. Several council members noted the city currently has no ordinances restricting restaurant barbecue exhaust. They said it would be unfair to block the Short Stop expansion until such an ordinance is created. The Council later voted to grant the expansion of indoor seating capacity at the Short Stop Food Mart.

 

Indianapolis Improving But Still Faces Pollution Problems

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The American Lung Association released a report today that ranked Indianapolis the 23rd most polluted city in the nation for short term particle pollution. But despite that ranking, the report says Indiana has been making some progress in reducing pollution levels. Ever since the first State of the Air Report was released 16 years ago, air quality in the state has generally improved. Healthy Air campaign manager Mike Kolleng says the Lung Association’s findings this year were mixed.  He believes that new standards should also be unveiled that are capable of getting ahead of climate change.

Kolleng says updating our standards for handling pollution is crucial. Unfortunately, he says Indiana faces trouble making this kind of progress at the state level.  He stated that the governor opposes new ozone standards and this does not reflect the information that we now have.

One of the American Lung Associations primary goals is to update ozone standards. Kolleng stresses that current limits should be reduced by about 10%. He also stresses that ozone management really is a national issue and that anytime that ozone levels decrease it is helping the entire population as a whole.

The report from the American Lung Association presents a more complex picture than a statement released just two weeks ago by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. That statement said simply that air quality is improving throughout the state. It stated “nearly all Hoosiers live and work in areas that meet all federal air quality standards.”  You can read the full report from the American Lung association at StateOfTheAir.org.

Indiana University Offering Free Counseling Services to Students

Indiana University is offering free counseling services to students following the murder of IU senior Hannah Wilson on Friday. IU Counseling and Psychological Services Director Nancy Stockton says counselors have already visited the Gamma Phi Beta sorority, where Wilson was a member. Any students who seek services for grief, anxiety or other issues related to Wilson’s death will not be charged a fee.

Wilson’s body was found in a vacant lot in Brown County on Friday. Police arrested Bloomington resident Daniel Messel on Friday and formally charged him with murder this morning. Stockton says some students may still be in shock after hearing the news.

Stockton further explained, “People are distraught. They frequently go through a period of being in shock, of feeling disbelief, of almost denial that anything so horrific has happened. Slowly psychologically things sink in… Sometimes it takes a little while for things to really sink in and for the student to be ready to talk to someone about it. So sometimes they don’t actually seek out counselling for a few days or sometimes even weeks.”

Stockton encouraged students to keep an eye out for friends who might be in distress. She says these kinds of events can affect more than just those who were close to the victim.

Stockton said, “Others can be indirectly affected… Even though they may not have know Hannah, this can have a considerable impact on them.”

According to a probable cause statement filed by State Police, Wilson’s friends last saw her about 1 a.m. Friday morning when she got into a taxi outside Kilroy’s Sports Bar. Wilson had been drinking and her friends decided she was too intoxicated to enter the bar. When police found her body, they found Messel’s cell phone nearby, according to the statement. Later they found Messel, who they say had claw marks on his forearms and blood splattered on the driver’s side of his car.

Messel is currently being held without bond in the Brown County Jail. Students looking for counseling or other help after normal business hours can call the Counseling and Psychological Services crisis line at 812-855-5711.

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