Bloomington OKs Library Tax Increase; Fire Department Short Staffed | WGLT

Bloomington OKs Library Tax Increase; Fire Department Short Staffed

The Bloomington Public Library will use a small increase in property taxes for future improvements.

The Bloomington City Council signed off Monday on the library's property tax levy for next year totaling $4.8 million, an increase of $140,493. The owner of a $165,000 home in Bloomington will contribute $4 more to the library. 

Executive Director Jeanne Hamilton said the funds will go toward repairs, replacements and development design plans. A possible expansion of the library—at the Olive Street location or at a new location in downtown Bloomington—has been a major topic of discussion for city leaders in recent years.

"We would like to continue to invest in the community by completing our mission statement of offering equal access to the world of ideas, information and supporting lifelong learning," Hamilton said, noting that between 900 and 1,100 patrons visit the library each day.

The library typically makes up around 3 percent of a property owner's tax bill.

The property tax levy for the city of Bloomington overall is separate and will not increase next year. That’s despite a projected budget deficit of $3 million next year.

Instead, aldermen are focused on some combination of service cuts, fee increases, and economic growth to balance the budget. Aldermen will get another budget briefing from Interim City Manager Steve Rasmussen on Dec. 20 as they prepare to make tough decisions, said Mayor Tari Renner.

Appearing Tuesday on GLT's Sound Ideas, Renner praised aldermen for being well-prepared and proactive about next year’s budget shortfall. He said he’s “very confident” he won’t need to use his veto power to resolve the deficit.

“Whether it’s all cuts, or some user fees, like maybe we (increase) golf fees, or maybe we don’t have bulk waste (pickup) or have it only twice a year … whatever those realignment of services might be, we’re gonna have a balanced budget, and we’re gonna have it in time,” Renner said.

Fire Department Response Times

Meanwhile, aldermen also received an update from the Bloomington Fire Department on the city's progress toward reducing emergency response times. That's a top council priority.

Aldermen heard about a labor shortage at the Fire Department that is making life difficult for the rest of the first responders on duty.

The department is short 13 personnel. The city hired seven more people in November but they will not finish training until March. Those seven do not count toward manpower in the department until their training is finished.

Fire Chief Brian Mohr said too many firefighters are having to work overtime.

"I had an individual with over 80 hours of overtime just two weeks ago in a time period," Mohr said. "That's not good obviously for morale and I can't keep that up."

The fire department is working to begin training for three other new hires in January, but will still be three short. Mohr said the department sometimes struggles to keep firefighters who are recruited from the Chicago suburbs. He said they receive job offers back in their hometowns with increased pay, despite an increased cost of living compared to Bloomington.

Mohr said he would like to decrease the response time on calls to six minutes for 90 percent of calls. The current success rate is 75 percent.

A report delivered to aldermen Monday recommended the hiring of six firefighters/paramedics and the addition of a second medic unit at the city's headquarters station on the west side.

You can also listen to GLT's full interview with Renner:

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