BLOOMINGTON — A majority of Bloomington aldermen are not interested in  levying a video gambling machine fee and raising the city utility tax to replace the O'Neil Park pool, nor do they want to raise fuel taxes to increase street repair work.

They did not close the door, however, on a scaled-back version of the pool replacement and a smaller fuel tax hike for more street resurfacing.

As part of preparing a balanced budget for fiscal 2019, which begins May 1, 2018, interim City Manager Steve Rasmussen asked at a special City Council meeting Monday for the aldermen to vote on whether the city staff should explore those funding options. 

In a straw poll, five aldermen — Kim Bray of Ward 9, Scott Black of Ward 7, Karen Schmidt of Ward 6, Joni Painter of Ward 5 and Mboka Mwilambwe of Ward 3 said "no" to raising the local motor fuel tax from 4 cents to 8 cents per gallon to pay for an additional $2.3 million in street resurfacing. David Sage of Ward 2 was open to a 4-cent-per-gallon increase only if spending cuts were made elsewhere.

The city dedicates $2.4 million annually from motor fuel taxes and $2.4 million from the local sales tax for street and sidewalk improvements. 

In another straw poll, Dave Sage of Ward 2, Jamie Mathy of Ward 1, Schmidt, Mwilambwe and Painter said they were not interested in imposing a new fee on each video gambling terminal in the city. Painter added she wants the council to discuss at its Feb. 26 meeting placing a moratorium on adding more video gambling machines in the city.

"These were all challenged, but I am not at all discouraged because two things happened," said Rasmussen of the proposed funding increases after the meeting.

"One, we do have enthusiasm to continue to move forward with O'Neil pool," he said. "Nobody said do not do it. We have to come back with some other options and the costs and answer some questions for it.

"So I think O'Neil pool is alive and well, and we'll work on it."

Rather than replacing the 44-year-old pool with a $10 million aquatic park, a majority of aldermen expressed support for the city staff exploring replacing it with a similar-sized pool but adding a cover so it could be used all year. 

"On streets, maybe we didn't get 4 cents, but there was some enthusiasm for something less than than that," Rasmussen said, referring to a suggestion by several aldermen to explore raising it 1 or 2 cents and asking Normal to match that increase. 

"We know we do need to fix the streets so we will continue to look forward to finding other ways of doing it," said Rasmussen. "They wanted us to look at some cuts so we can go back and look at cutting some other programs as well."

Sage stressed the city needs to make some cuts.

"What I am hearing on the business landscape in Bloomington-Normal is we are in the midst of some profound changes, some changes that we have never experienced before in these communities, changes in flatter revenue and changes in some of our larger employers," said Sage. "We have to start to acknowledge that in reality."

Rasmussen plans to present a fiscal 2019 budget to the council next Monday.

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Follow Maria Nagle on Twitter: @Pg_Nagle


Bloomington Reporter

Bloomington reporter for The Pantagraph.

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