Budgets aren’t easy. Even for single people who can make all the decisions themselves, it can be difficult to differentiate between wants and needs.
This year, many of us are recalibrating our budgets, including businesses and government entities. At the May 4 Bloomington City Council meeting, staff recommended permanently closing the city’s Driver and Vehicle Services office and Creekside Community Center. I was shocked the city was planning two drastic decisions without engaging the public. After I posted messages on a lot of community Facebook pages, council members received calls and emails from concerned residents.
Later that month, Mayor Tim Busse formed the Community Budget Advisory Committee to get a community perspective on the budgeting process. The nine-member committee has met Wednesday evenings from June through October to help the council “assess budget options, gauge community preferences and shape policy recommendations.”
Councilmember Nathan Coulter often states that our budgets represent our values. This is especially true when money is tight and tough decisions need to be made. And, of course, we don’t all share the same values or have the same financial resources.
Few of us want our taxes to go up, but when it comes to specific cuts, it gets complicated: “Don’t touch the arts!” “Don’t cut parks and recreation!” “Don’t defund the police!” In the end, I’m sure a lot of people will be upset that something they value will not be fully funded or may even be permanently eliminated.
When the committee’s recommendations go before the council on Nov. 9, I hope the council will be very careful about making cuts that are permanent. It’s one thing to scale back programs and not hire for open positions. It is another thing to permanently close facilities. I also worry that if funding for the cultural arts is eliminated or scaled back too much, we will permanently lose some incredible talent we have in our community.
The city had a survey conducted in May regarding options for the Motor Vehicle Office and Creekside. But polls and surveys have their limitations. Accurate results depend a lot on how questions are asked, how much residents know about the subject matter and how representative the sampling actually is. If surveys and polls were more accurate, Hillary Clinton would be our president now.
Also, many residents don’t have the time to be involved enough to understand the many issues facing the city. Others, often seniors, may not be computer savvy or have access to internet connections to take online surveys. This bothered me a lot with feedback sought about closing Creekside, which is primarily used by seniors.
If Creekside is permanently closed, the city claims it could move a little more than half of the programming to Bloomington Civic Plaza. But even that is a disingenuous option. Just last year, the city was hoping to build an addition to Civic Plaza because it was running out of room. They even closed the tiny Rose Schneider gift shop because they needed the space. Now the city claims it can absorb some of Creekside’s activities at Civic Plaza?
Also, as wages and benefits are a huge portion of the city’s expenses, I think there should be more effort to “right-size” public sector pay and benefits to better reflect what is happening in the private sector.
Council members need to reconsider some creative placemaking projects that supposedly “build resiliency and bring the community together.” At the council’s Oct. 19 meeting, Councilmember Jack Baloga moved to strike a $150,000 creative placemaking component from a road improvement plan for 106th Street that included a mural as part of a freeway underpass.
We are adults and shouldn’t need to be coddled and made to feel good with unnecessary projects like that.
The motion carried 4-3, with council members Dwayne Lowman, Patrick Martin and Shawn Nelson agreeing with Baloga. Strangely, the mayor, Coulter and Councilmember Jenna Carter did not agree that it was tone deaf to keep that unnecessary item in the budget.
It will be interesting to see what the council decides on the 2021 budget and how many fluffy wants will be considered needs.
Pam Pommer, a graduate of Lincoln Senior High School, lives in Bloomington, where she enjoys gardening and spending time with her shelties.