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City Council Approves New Finacial Controls After Fraud

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The Bloomington City Council unanimously approved new financial controls for the Bloomington Redevelopment Commission last night. City Clerk Regina Moore presented the synopsis of the motion to the Council.

“This legislation is coming forth from the mayor in concert with the entire council” Regina says. “Its primary purpose is to strengthen the city of Bloomington’s financial policies and to ensure the proper stewardship of taxpayer dollars”.

This reform to the Redevelopment Commission’s internal financial controls will put into code practices already adopted by the commission a year ago. These controls were put into place in the wake of a major fraud perpetrated by a former city employee. In March, Justin Wykoff pleaded guilty to defrauding the city of more than eight-hundred-thousand dollars, while employed as a project manager for the City. He perpetrated this crime while administering concrete contracts for sidewalk work within city TIF  districts. City project work within Tax Increment Financing Districts is administered by the Redevelopment Commission. The misappropriated funds were authorized and overseen by the Commission.  City Controller Jeff Underwood told the council that this kind of problem, and the search for reforms, is common among redevelopment commissions across the state.

“I failed to mention that Lisa Abbott is president of the redevelopment association of Indiana” Underwood reports. “They do meet quarterly and discuss all issues related to redevelopment commissions”.

Under the new regulations, the Commission will review each phase of every contract, and its associated expenditure, for every contract, as it proceeds. Furthermore, all prospective spending will be examined by the city’s auditing department and legal department, after which it will go back to the Commission for its approval. Finally, the City’s auditing and legal departments must sign off on each payment. Council President Dave Rollo made a final comment on the legislation.

“I appreciate the legislation’s diligence and attention to TIF funding”. Rollo exclaims passionately

The City Council passed the ordinance unanimously.

Bloomington Parks Department seeks public input

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The City of Bloomington Parks and Recreation Department is holding a public forum this Thursday to hear from members of the community as it develops its five-year Master Plan. The forum will be held from six-thirty to eight-thirty p.m. in the council chambers at city hall. Parks Department Director Mick Renneisen says some key themes for the plan have already been developed that will guide the department’s actions from 2016 to 2020. Residents also want the department to continue to take care of the parks and facilities currently in place. The forum will allow Bloomington residents to comment on these themes.

Indiana University’s Eppley Institute for Parks and Public Lands is leading the Master Plan team. The Eppley Institute has extensive experience guiding master planning projects for parks and recreation departments across the nation. Institute staff have already begun gathering information from the public. According to Renneisen on the week of May 18th a randomly selected sample of Bloomington households received postcards in the mail with invitations to go online and take surveys about Bloomington parks and programs. The results make up one part of a triangulated approach to creating the Master Plan. The other two are consultations with stakeholders and steering committees and holding public forums. While Thursday’s forum will be the third one held so far, it’s the first one held as a stand-alone. Renneisen hopes between 20 and 40 people will attend.

Anyone needing more information about Bloomington Parks and Recreation’s Master Plan process or further information on how to contribute opinions and ideas can contact The Eppley Institute at 812-855-3095. A finalized Master Plan will be released in November.

Indiana is 8th most obese state in U.S.

A new report from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index ranked Indiana as the eighth most obese state in the US. That puts Indiana four spots higher than the previous year’s ranking. 31.4% of Hoosiers were reported as obese last year, up from 29.9% the year before. The study utilized phone surveys of 176,000 adults across the US. Respondents were asked about their height and weight, which were used to calculate Body Mass Index, or BMI. Americans with a BMI of 30 or higher are classified as obese. BMI is only determined by height and weight, and does not measure other factors like muscle or bone mass. Individuals with higher-than-average muscle mass, for example, could still be classified overweight or obese. Because of these limitations, the CDC’s website advises medical practitioners to use BMI for general screening, and not diagnosis.

High BMI is correlated to increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other obesity-related illnesses. Another caveat to these results is the nature of phone surveys. Respondents could skew the results by over- or under-reporting height or weight. This data follows a February report that put Indiana 48th in the nation for general well-being. Gallup’s researchers stated that high rates of obesity are linked to low levels of well-being. Overall, obesity is on the rise across the country, according to the study. The national obesity rate increased from 27.1% to 27.7% in the same time period. The state ranking highest was Mississippi, with 35% of its population reported as obese, Hawaii was the least obese at 19%.

Nick’s English Hut hosts meeting to discuss panhandling

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The owners of Nick’s English Hut are leading an initiative to challenge panhandlers and others they refer to as bums in downtown Bloomington. Susan Bright and her husband, Gregg Rago, are hosting a meeting tomorrow afternoon at their restaurant with city officials and other business owners. A message that Bright sent seeking support for the effort was titled, “Bum Commerce on Kirkwood.” That title, as well as other parts of the message, were criticized on social media today after the message was posted to Facebook.

Nick’s English Hut will host the meeting about panhandling tomorrow at 3 p.m. in the upstairs attic of the restaurant. This afternoon a volunteer at Boxcar Books said volunteers there are opposed to the wording used in Bright’s letter and that some local residents are planning a measure in reaction to tomorrow’s meeting. So far there is no set time or meeting place, but those interested in the counter action can contact Boxcar Books.

Annual Beanblossom Festival celebrates legacy of John Hartford

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The Bill Monroe Music Park in Beanblossom was host this past weekend to a festival celebrating the music of folk and bluegrass legend John Hartford. Hundreds of people attended the event, which featured three stages and dozens of bands. Hartford released twenty-six albums before passing away in two-thousand-one at the age of sixty-three. He is credited with helping found a strain of progressive bluegrass music known as newgrass. WFHB correspondent Hondo Thompson was on hand at the festival, where he spoke with its founder, John Hotze.

Monroe County Council Gives More Life to West Side TIF District

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The Monroe County Council voted four to three Tuesday night to support extending the life of the West Side TIF district by 15 years. The Council also showed approval for issuing a $3.5 million bond to pay for road projects there. A TIF district allows the local government to spend property tax collected within the district exclusively on projects in that area. The Council meeting was held at the same time as a meeting of the County Plan Commission, which was addressing the same issue. At one point, the Council temporarily adjourned its meeting to attend the Plan Commission meeting and await its decision on the issue. After the Plan Commission approved the TIF proposal, the Council resumed its meeting. Before opening up debate on the issue, the Council heard from Greg Guerretaz, a consulting auditor to the county Redevelopment Commission. Guerretaz discussed tax revenues and expenditures within the west-side TIF. One issue of concern he addressed was the potential departure of the General Electric facility from the district.

“No matter what we talk about on this bond issue, we have to be concerned with GE” Guerretaz explains. “Its not to protect the bond holders its to protect, ultimately, the county”

Guerrataz then explained the rationale behind the proposed amount of the $3.5 million dollar bond. He said there is a need to balance anticipated expenditure needs with anticipated tax revenue, to cover annual bond interest payments. He also talked about why the Redevelopment Commission, which controls TIF tax revenues, had never released any of its TIF revenue to other local tax assessing bodies, such as the Richland Bean Blossom Community School Corporation. Council member Marty Hawk commented on this policy.

“I just have to say the people in Richland and Beanblossom would appreciate a tax relief even if it was occasionally” Hawk had to say about the TIF Policy”

The proposed bond is to help build a road between Daniel’s Way and Hartstraight Road. The county highway department estimates the project will cost four-point-one million dollars. Council president Cheryl Munson asked about this and other possible road projects in the TIF district.

“One thing, that I think is very important and I’m not sure is well understood that has to do with the project, is that the bond will fund”, Muson says.

County Attorney Jeff Cockerill re-iterated that the prime project is the Daniel’s Way-Hartstraight extension. Richland Bean Blossom school district superintendent Mike Wilcox and School Board president Dana Kerr again re-iterated their opposition to the west-side TIF extension and bond, due to the loss of tax revenue to the district. Bloomington Chamber of Commerce president Jim Shelton and Redevelopment Commission chairman Lynn Coyne spoke in favor of the TIF extension and the bond, saying they would stimulate economic expansion and job creation in the district. In the end, the County Council voted four to three to approve the three-point-five million dollar bond.

Cancer Charities Accused of Fraud; 137 Million Dollar Settlement Already Agreed Upon

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller has joined a national lawsuit against four cancer charities accused of scamming millions of dollars from donors. That’s according to a press release from the AG’s office. The plaintiffs include the Federal Trade Commission and attorneys general from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The FTC has accused the charities of squandering donations on personal expenses, including cruises and dating site memberships. According to the New York Times, the charities collected $187 million between 2008 and 2012, but spent less than 3% on actual aid. They are also accused of filing fraudulent statements with state regulators and making false claims in promotional materials. Two of the charities have already agreed to a $137 million settlement, and will be dissolved. Funds recovered in the settlements will be distributed to the states for donation to legitimate charities. The charities accused of fraud are the Cancer Fund of America, Children’s Cancer Fund of America, Cancer Support Services and The Breast Cancer Society.

Bloomington City Council Borrows $48 Million Dollars for TIF District

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The Bloomington City Council voted last night to borrow up to forty-eight million dollars for the city’s Redevelopment District, also known as the downtown TIF district. The bond funds are to be used to finance infrastructure work in the district. Mayor Mark Kruzan lobbied for the measure at the May 13th meeting of the council. Kruzan spoke again last night.

“Bloomington Indiana in the last decade with this councils support and some of your predecessors have faced down a recession to invest in itself,” Kruzan explains.

About two-thirds of the bond funds — or twenty-five million dollars — are to be spent on the Switchyard Park Development on Bloomington’s south-side. Other priorities include rehabilitation of the city-owned Buskirk-Chumley Theater, promoting construction of affordable housing and installing infrastructure in the Certified Technology Park. A portion of the money is also intended for improvements to city parks, renovation of the animal shelter, and police department and sanitation facilities.

iCan Bicycle Camp Rides into Bloomington

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A bicycle camp for disabled children and young adults is coming to Bloomington this August. The deadline to sign up for the iCan Bike Camp is June 15th with ten spots left. Organizing Committee Member Deborah Meyerson explains the basics of the program.

“It’s designed to help kids with disabilities to ride a two wheeled bike”, Meyerson explains.

Professionals of the national non-profit “iCan Shine” program will host the program with the help of local volunteers. Volunteers must be able to commit to ninety minutes each of the five days and able to walk and jog alongside participants during the three-mile course. This is the first iCan Shine program to take place in Bloomington.

“It’s a real source of independence for kids” Meyerson explains. “Its a wonderful oppurtunity for kids to participate in the community.”

The camp will begin on August 17th at the Frank Southern Ice Arena.

Purdue and IU freeze tuition

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Last week, Purdue University announced it would freeze tuition for a fourth year in a row. And today, IU indicated it would follow suit. IU president Michael McRobbie recommended in a statement today that IU not increase tuition for in-state students for the next two years. The IU Board of Trustees will make a final decision on that request June third. McRobbie’s recommendation comes on the heels of Purdue Trustees approving a fourth year of a tuition freeze at that school. Purdue has frozen the rate of tuition since the 2012-2013 school year and plans on offering the same rate through the 2015-2016 academic year.

A tuition freeze would be something of a change to IU’s past approach. IU Spokesman Mark Land said yesterday that while IU has not offered an across-the-board tuition freeze recently, it has set a fixed rate for some students. There isn’t a huge difference between the two universities’ tuition for in-state students. Full-time Purdue students can expect a rate of $10,002 per year, while IU students can expect to pay $10,388 a year. At Purdue out-of-state students pay $28,804, while IU is more costly at $33,240 a year. Land says in the past IU has offered other strategies to help its students with affordability.

At Purdue, the recent tuition freeze also came with a proposed 3.5 percent merit pay increase for employees at its West Lafayette campus. Purdue Trustees also approved an increase in entry-level wages to $10 per hour for all full-time clerical and service staff. The minimum wage at IU is lower, at just $8.25 per hour. Purdue, however, pays its part-time employees, many of them students, as little as $7.25 an hour. Land says there has been talk of future wage increases at IU.

IU trustees will take public comment on tuition recommendations at their meeting Wednesday, June 3rd. Public comments begins at 3:30 p.m. in Room 450A of the IUPUI Campus Center in Indianapolis.

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