Questions on the 2015 city budget: a snapshot of Bloomington

Summertime means budget time in Bloomington city government. Since my tenure began in 2004, to consider the proposal which the Administration brings forward, Council has held four consecutive weeknights of hearings, at which the Mayor and the heads of each department present their requests, and then Councilmembers ask questions and take public comment. (The ordinance that would make the Budget into law is not introduced until September. Budget Week is sort of like a dress rehearsal.)

Until 2013, Council held Budget Week in late July, before its month-long “August recess.” Last year, to make it easier for the Administration to get state data necessary for the most complete possible budget picture, Council permanently moved Budget Week to late August, after the recess. (Recess in turn has been moved up to July 15-August 15, to better correspond  with the beginning of the school year at IU.) This year’s Budget Week was August 18-21.

Council generally has a weekend to review the budget proposal before Budget Monday. This year, despite the extra month accorded it in 2013, the Administration did not submit the budget to Council until after 9 pm on Sunday, Aug. 17 — less than 24 hours before the first hearing. (In contrast, the 2014 budget was submitted the Friday before, around 4:30 pm, and the 2013 budget the Thursday before, around 5:45 pm.) Councilmembers, feeling this was nowhere near enough time to review the proposal, decided to refrain from asking any questions or making any comments of department heads, in favor of making brief final comments at the end of Budget Thursday and then submitting all questions in writing, which Council staff would then compile and submit to the Administration by the following Monday.

The result has turned into an interesting experiment. In the past, to get the Gestalt of the Budget and the Council’s analysis of it, you’d have had to watch all the hearings. Last year’s were the shortest to date, clocking in over four nights at only 11.5 hours. This year, Budget Week presentation-only hearings totaled a paltry 4.5 hours. And the chart of questions submitted by Councilmembers, the 2015 Budget Questions Master List, is not only quicker to review, but a fascinating snapshot of the condition of Bloomington.

Below are the questions I submitted. I welcome your feedback. # # #


1. In general, the absence of “program budgets” which describe details of departmental operations is increasingly notable. In the cases of ITS, HAND, some aspects of Parks, and in particular the entirety of the new Planning & Transportation department, can the administration prepare a breakdown explaining what programs are enabled by the budget request?

2. Almost none of the department budgets include FTE data any more. While there may be little or no net increase in employees citywide, knowing how many people work for a given department helps us understand budget numbers. Can the administration compile a separate table listing each department/division, number of employees approved in 2014, and number requested for 2015?

3. The absence of program budgets makes it difficult to determine how revenues from parking meters are being used as part of 2015 budget. How much revenue is the administration projecting from meters in 2015, and what departments are counting on such revenue for their budgets?

4. ITS and HAND among other departments have made much of the new uReport system for reporting problems. Police and Fire issue reports of incident data that they collect. (In fact, Chief Diekhoff said, “Using data is something we’re really focusing on.”) When can we see similar data reports from all other departments that use uReport?


5. Can we see a chart of increases in in the Health Insurance Trust fund for the past 5-10 years?


6. ITS is requesting a 54% increase in the Telecom Non-reverting Fund. Where is that money coming from, and what’s it for?

7. Mr. Dietz claims the department maintains “high quality customer service.” Whom specifically does he consider to be ITS’ customers, and what metrics does the department use to determine the quality of its service to them?

8. For several years now, I have heard ITS claim a redesign of the city website is imminent. The current site is long in the tooth: files are difficult to find, the search function is poor, there is no centralized page where all city news releases can be found, and in general I hesitate to recommend to anyone that they can “just go to the City’s website” and find the information they seek. Where is the redesign, and why is it taking so long?


9. There are records of meetings other than just the words in official minutes. To what extent does the Clerk store video records of city meetings? How specifically does the Clerk retain maps, 3D presentations, PDFs, and slideshows?

10. The Clerk has said “Adobe Pro” software is now available by subscription only. Does she mean Adobe Acrobat Pro, and what is it used for? Also, city departments use software versions of varying ages — is there not a recent pre-subscription version of the software she needs that can be owned?

11. The acquisition of software to manage boards-and-commissions appointments is said to have the potential to greatly reduce Deputy Clerk Sue Wanzer’s hours devoted to those tasks. How will the Clerk’s office track her hours post-acquisition of that software, and what will she consider a success?


12. Mr. Micuda gave a date of May 30, 2015 as the deadline for adoption of a comprehensive plan for the Metropolitan Planning Organization. Why is there no specific estimate for an adoption date of the third edition of the city’s Growth Policies Plan, a very similar document?

13. Please break down the “lease payments” line of the department’s budget. What lease is P&T paying?

14. In Fund 455, line 53830, “bank charges” have dropped from $308K to an even $100K. Are these charges related to the cost of processing parking meter payments, and why has this line dropped so precipitously?


15. One of the functions described in the HAND department’s presentation is “Over-occupancy inspection.” How does the department perform this function? How many units have been inspected for over-occupancy in the last year, and what percentage of total units in the city does that represent? How many violations of occupancy were there, and what punishments were issued?


16. What is the “Beat the Meter” blitz described in the department’s presentation?

17. Why is this department responsible, as Ms. Alano-Martin noted, for the design of the new portion of 10th St. through the Certified Technology Park? Why wouldn’t Planning and Transportation be the department to make decisions on how the road should be designed?


18. What is the nature of the one position being cut from the department’s budget?


19. Department claims that it’s one of only 100 departments nationwide recognized with accreditation by CAPRA. Does every department in the country apply? What’s the significance of this statement?

20. From the department’s home page <>, one can find the department’s 2012 annual report, which is apparently hosted offsite. At the offsite location are two previous reports. Where is the department’s 2013 annual report? Are there any online before 2010? Why are PDFs of these reports not also available on the city’s own website?

21. What portion of the department’s proposed increase is due to salary increases, and what portion is due to program increases?


22. How many officers are Downtown Resource Officers? How many total FTEs are DROs?

23. In the 10 years since Mayor Kruzan committed to bringing the department to 100 officers, the population has increased by more than 10,000 people. Is it not reasonable to assume that the city’s need for officers has increased proportionately? If not, why not?

24. In light of the incident in Ferguson, please review the assets BPD has received from the US Department of Homeland Security through its 1033 program. How much military materiel does BPD possess? When and how has it been used?

FIRE — none


25. I understand that federal and state dollars make up 60% of BT’s budget. Revenues from IU represent another 12.7% of the department’s proposed budget. What percentage of BT ridership is students at IU? Is the proportion of dollars received from IU commensurate with IU student ridership?

26. What will happen to the old BT passenger station facility at 4th and Washington? How much is it worth — what is its assessed value?

27. Has an agreement with an airport shuttle service to stop at the new Transit Center been reached? When will a regular intercity bus service begin stopping at the new facility?

28. The 10th St. underpass limits the types of buses that can operate through it. What would the cost of improving the 10th St. underpass be, to the nearest million dollars, and is an 80% federal match feasible for such a project?

29. Capital represents 15.3% of BT’s annual budget. Why include it therein and not have a separate capital budget?

30. Planning has become “Planning and Transportation.” Yet BT, despite requiring our approval for its budget, is a corporation separate from other city departments. How will BT collaborate with P&T? If P&T determines that bus service should change in the overall context of a citywide transportation plan, will BT refuse?


31. How does CBU “cooperate” with infrastructure (e.g., pipes, manholes) outside of the city’s corporate boundary?

32. Mr. Murphy cited an employee with 47 years’ experience. Are people allowed to work more than 47 years for the city of Bloomington?

33. “We were a little robust in our Supplies and Services & Charges [lines].” By “robust,” which Mr. Murphy used to refer to several line items, did he mean “excessive in our estimated requests last year”? Changes from last year to this year were most dramatic in Utilities’ request; why should we not be concerned about future misestimates?

34. Why such a dramatic increase in S&C from 2013 to 2014? It seems to coincide with the $2.1M capital outlay of 2013, which seems to have been absorbed into the 2014 S&C line. Same question for Wastewater and Stormwater funds; the Stormwater S&C request is enormous compared to 2013.





35. Please break down the Cumulative Capital Development fund. Is this simply a shift from the Motor Vehicle Highway (MVH) fund?

36. The request for the Local Road and Street Fund seems to be an arbitrarily exact 10% increase. Was that based on particular needs, and if so, what are those needs?

37. I found the explanation of the MVH supplies insufficient. What was meant by “flexibility” in that line?

38. “You’ll be happy to know Public Works is contracting out sidepath snow removal.” What did this mean…was snow removal from sidepaths simply not done last year? Was Public Works unable to do it sufficiently?

39. Council approved the new parking Zone 11 several months ago. With the new school year upon us, why have signs not been erected and the zone begun enforcement?


40. If there is one division for which I would like a full program budget, it’s this one. Please break down these numbers.


41. Will the Facilities division of Public Works maintain the new Dispatch Center, but BT will maintain the first floor? If so, does this not seem inefficient?

42. What portion of the functions of the soon-to-be-former employees are maintenance and what portion are policy management? How will Planning & Transportation oversee these new staff as to how to manage garage capacity if they report to Facilities?



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