By Steve Robinson | December 17, 2018 - 10:17 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Regardless of a community’s political climate, any notion of a mayor and city council granting themselves a pay hike will strike residents of the community in one of two ways: One side will see it as a necessary step to continue to help those elected continue to do their job, even if a cash incentive isn’t why those elected serve, while another side will decry its necessity while pointing out a potential financial burden to the community.

And with an election coming for Normal Town Council members in April, some might think it dicey to try to pass any such action now. Yet, at Monday’s regularly-scheduled session held in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station, Council members did approve two ordinances – one granting a raise to Normal’s mayor beginning after being elected in 2021, and one granting a raise for those persons elected to Council after being elected in 2023.

Currently, Mayor Chris Koos earns $18,000 annually for the job. That amount was approved in 2009, boosting the pay up from $10,000 annually. As a result of the vote on the ordinance Monday, whoever runs and wins the mayoral post will be paid an annual sum of $32,000, effective May 1, 2021. The second ordinance passed would see Council members’ annual pay jump from $4,800 to $6,800, effective May 1, 2023.

In fact, the final figures approved by Council members for both Mayoral and Council pay saw amendments proposed by one Council member who is not seeking re-election in the spring. Prior to voting on the ordinances, Jeff Fritzen proposed an amendment to each ordinance lowering the amount of annual pay proposed. In the case of Mayoral pay, he proposed only bumping it to $25,000, and lowering the Council offering to $6,000.

Both of those suggested amendments were defeated – the mayoral pay reduction by a 4-2 count, with Council Members Kevin McCarthy and Fritzen voting for its passage, while Koos, and Council Members R. C. McBride, Kathleen Lorenz, and Chemberly Cummings voted it down. Council Member Scott Preston was not present at the meeting. Fritzen’s other suggested amendment, to cap an increase in Council members’ pay at an annual $6,000, failed on a 5-1 vote, with Fritzen being the only member favoring it.

Voting on the original Mayoral pay raise to $32,000 annually passed by a 4-2 vote, with Fritzen and Lorenz voting against it. Voting on the original Council members’ pay hike also passed by a 4-2 count, with Lorenz and McBride voting against it.

Both the public and Council members had their say during the session. Andy Shirk, president of Beer Nuts, Inc., told Council members said he supported the increase because “I believe the Mayor and the Council are under-compensated due to the time commitment and personal financial burdens placed on each of you for you to serve our town.”

Former Council candidate Ron Ulmer expressed the opinion the Council should consider passing term limits laws for all of its elected offices and appointed boards. Doing that, he said, would reduce any financial burden on the Town. “I do not any longer vote for anyone who has held the same elected office for 12 years or more. I urge Normal to lead the way to vote for term limits.”

Former Normal Mayoral Candidate Marc Tiritilli told Council members some citizens do not see all of the functions Council members attend as being defined as essential to the post, citing marching in parades as an example. “If we can justify that there has been a significant step-by-step increase in duties, then great,” Tiritilli said, adding, “Personally, I haven’t seen it. If this is a 40-hour plus position, then let’s make it a full-time job. But I need to see the justification for why the pay has to go up so much.”

New Fire Station Land Rezoned: Council members unanimously and without discussion voted to approve rezoning land at the corner of N. Main St. and S. University on which the Town’s new fire station and headquarters is located. As a result of the vote, the land will now be rezoned S-2 Public Lands and Institutions from its previous designation of B-1 General Business.

In 2017, the Town and Illinois State University used a land swap so the new fire station could be build on properties previously addressed as 602, 604, 606, and 608 S. Main St., and portions of 601 and 603 S. University St. On Dec. 6, a public hearing was held by Normal Planning Commission but no one spoke at that hearing. Commission members voted 6-0 to pass the rezoning request which was sent to the Council to receive final approval.

Community Investment Plan Approved: Council members unanimously approved a motion approving the Fiscal Year 2018-19 to Fiscal Year 2023-24 Community Investment Plan. Presented in a review to Council members by Town Finance Director Andrew Huhn, CIP is used by Town Council members prioritize capital investments.

CIP for FY 2018-19 through FY 2023-24 includes a total of 124 capital projects with an approximate cost spent on them of roughly $88.3 million. CIP also flags potential additional projects with a total cost to complete them during the period of $111.8 million. Those additional projects, however, are not being recommended during the six year period, Huhn explained.

Five categories CIP is spent on are public facilities, capital assets, developing transportation, development of parks and open space, and utility service. The amount of money sought to be spent during the five year period ending in 2024 is over $6 million less than was planned by the Town to be spent during 2018-2023 CIP.

Committee Appointments Announced: Fritzen announced a number of recommended appointments to a Board and a Committee before the session ended. He announced that Tracie Henry has been appointed to the Children’s Discovery Museum Board of Directors. Henry is an assistant executive director at Illinois High School Association. Henry is filling an open seat on the Board for a term that will expire on June 30, 2022.

Three new members were appointed to the Sister Cities Committee and were announced at this meeting. Patrick Clapper of Normal will join the committee. An employee of State Farm Insurance, Clapper formerly lived and worked in Japan and has been active in the Sister Cities Program. Hudson resident Sally Modine is employed by Normal-based Unit 5 School District, assigned to Kingsley Junior High School. In addition to her own involvement with Sister Cities, Modine’s son, Nicholas, participated in the Program’s Junior Ambassador exchange to Asahikawa. Ryan Apple, the third appointee to the committee, was himself an exchange student in the Junior Ambassador program. His grandmother also had served on the Sister Cities Committee. One of these three will fill a vacancy on the committee created by the departure of Toyoka Nishikara.

Convention And Visitors Bureau Bylaws Change Allows Appointments: As a result of Bloomington-Normal Area Convention and Visitors Bureau adopting a revised and updated set of bylaws, part of those bylaws allow for Normal’s mayor to appoint four board members to CVB. The four Koos appointed are: Migidi Tembo, general manager of Bloomington-Normal Marriott Hotel; Beth Whisman, cultural director for the Town; and Council Members Kathleen Lorenz and Kevin McCarthy.

Liquor Commission Approves License, Levies Fines: Serving in their capacity as Normal Local Liquor Commission, Council members approved a liquor license application for Kam Liquors, Inc., doing business as Budget Liquors at 200 S. Linden St . The establishment applied for a Class A (All Liquor – Off-Premises Consumption — Package).

Commission members voted unanimously to approve settlements with six establishments, the managers of which have all submitted guilty pleas and paid fines to the Town. Normal Catering, doing business as Bloomington-Normal Marriott, 201 Broadway, was fined $500 for what was a second offense in two years. The Town discovered the violation during a liquor audit on Sept. 20.

Also fined $500 for a second offense was also levied against Freedom Oil Co., 601 S. Main St . , for selling alcohol to a person under age 21, the result of a liquor audit on Nov. 5. This business has paid the fine.

Three other establishments saw settlements with the Town of their cases, as well. All three were fined $250, which as been paid. Highland Management Group LLC, doing business as Diamonds, furnished liquor to a person under age 21 during a liquor audit Sept. 20. This was the first offense for this establishment.

Freedom Oil Co., doing business as Freedom Oil Co., 601 S. Main St ., furnished liquor to a person under age 21 during that same audit. The Town fined the business $250 for what was a first offense in the last four years, and the fine has been paid.

Also fined as a result of the Sept. 20 audit was Schnuck’s Markets, Inc., doing business as Schnuck’s, 1750 Bradford Lane . The business sold alcohol to a person under age 21. Schnuck’s management was fined $250 which it has paid to the Town. This was a first offense for this store in 11 years.

Two other establishments were in the midst of negotiating a settlement with the Town when the Council agenda was released Dec. 14. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., doing business as Chipotle Mexican Grill #1633, 701 S. Main St., was found to have furnished alcohol to a person under age 21. Settlement arrangements with the Town are in progress. The other establishment is Bradford Lane Italian Foods, LLC, doing business as Rosati’s Pizza of Normal, 1720 Bradford Lane , which was found to have furnished alcohol to a person under age 21. Rosati’s is also in working out settlement arrangements with the Town.

Omnibus Agenda Items Approved: Council members used an omnibus vote to approve the following agenda items:

• Approve the minutes of the Strategic Planning Session Oct. 18, 2018.

• Approve the minutes of the Strategic Planning Session Oct. 19, 2018.

• Approve the minutes of the Special Meeting Nov. 2, 2018.

• Approve the minutes of the Public Hearing Dec. 3, 2018.

• Approve the minutes of the Regular meeting Dec.3, 2018.

• A resolution waiving the formal bid process and authorizing the purchase of a 2018 Ford Explorer in the amount of $25,380 from Greenfield, Ill.-based Morrow Brothers Ford, Inc., an authorized vendor for the State of Illinois Joint Purchasing Program.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of an intergovernmental agreement with McLean County for centralized booking services.

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding process and executing an agreement with Chicago-based Redbox Workshop for design, fabrication, and installation of the ImagineAir exhibit at the Children’s Discovery Museum in an amount not to exceed $127,500.

• A motion extending the Diabetes Management Program for one year.

By Steve Robinson | December 13, 2018 - 10:07 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – After no public comments were made to Board members of Normal-based Unit 5 School District during a public hearing at the Board’s regularly-scheduled meeting on Dec. 12, Board members unanimously approved levying taxes and authorizing a certificate for a tax levy for 2018. Unit 5’s tax levy is about $121 million, up 9.2 percent from this year’s levy, largely due to the board’s decision to borrow $16.5 million over the next two years to overcome an education fund deficit.

Unit 5 estimated the owner of a $175,000 home will pay an extra $210 next year because of the bond sale, according to the district. The district is increasing taxes to help create an increase in pay for teachers. Other purposes the levy money goes toward include operations, transportation, and working cash.

Charlie Crabtree Remembered: As the meeting started, Board members and those attending held a moment of silence for Charlie Crabtree, the volunteer scorekeeper for Normal Community West High School’s girls’ junior varsity basketball team who was killed when a semi struck a Normal West team bus as the team returned from a game in Champaign Dec. 5. An Iowa man driving the semi which hit the bus was also killed. Freshmen team head coach Steve Price and bus driver Mark Kuhn, a Heyworth resident, were hospitalized. .

“While we are so thankful our eight players on board only had minor injuries, we grieve for those who suffered severe injuries and those who lost their lives in the crash,” said Dr. Mark Daniel, district superintendent, in a statement read to spectators and Board members. “Our hearts go out to the family of volunteer Charlie Crabtree. Charlie was a devoted fan and volunteer for many teams at Normal West. His memory will live on with the Normal West girls’ “Charlie Crabtree Award” which is given annually to a varsity girls’ basketball player who exhibits Charlie’s love of the game, sportsmanship, and selfliessness.”

“I also want to thank the community for their amazing support of our students, staff, and families at Normal West during this tragedy,” Daniel concluded.

Board Member Mike Trask added a tribute to Crabtree, remembering how the 72-year-old would sometimes bring candies to players. Trask brought peppermint patties to the meeting to distribute to all in attendance, as well as another of Crabtree’s favorite treats, bags of a candy called Circus Peanuts, to distribute to each Board member.

Normal Community High School Triples Its “Good News”: Trevor Chapman, principal at Normal Community High School, had plenty to talk about from his school during the “good news” portion of the meeting, and he brought some company with him to share three stories with Board members. First, he was joined by several students and staff members from the NCHS We Dine Together program. The student leaders for We Dine Together include Kaylyn Beyer, Jessica Fuentez, Anthony Nguyen, Karla Ontiveros, and Nadje Spencer. The teachers sponsoring the program are Kaitlyn Baez, LaTishia Baker, Chris Belt, Lauren Chessare, Dave Feeney, Jordan Newton-Gonzalez, Catie Peyton, Stefen Robinson, and Kevin Shackley. We Dine Together is a national program started by high school students in an effort to provide welcoming spaces for students who might not be comfortable in the large cafeteria to eat lunch at school. The group has a Facebook page, too. During second semester last school year, a few teachers and students at NCHS started a small pilot version of the program. These individuals then recruited other teachers and students to implement a full program this year during all three lunch hours.

Not only have the student leaders taken the initiative to invite a variety of students to come and try We Dine Together, but they have also partnered with the school’s Promise Council to provide food for students who are unable to afford lunch items in the cafeteria. In addition to the lunchtime meetings, these student leaders and teachers have planned other extracurricular activities, such as attending a dinner and the Homecoming dance together as a group.

Chapman also introduced Richard B Percy, a 1965 graduate of NCHS, to Board members, and explained Percy, a former Unit 5 Board member, NCHS teacher Liz Harris, and her NCHS agriculture program have enlisted help to keep White Oak in Carlock maintained. Percy and Chapman explained the cemetery like many small, rural cemeteries has limited funds and in order to manage the upkeep solicits volunteers and community support to accomplish the task.

Percy said he contacted Harris to ask her if she and her students would be willing to assist us with the endeavor. Harris and 18 students agreed to help and did so on October 19. They were joined by Harris’ grandparents and other family members, and a cemetery association volunteer to remove trash, weed around headstones, remove bushes and saplings, remove overgrown flower beds and cut limbs on the border of the property. The students who attended were: Bobby Bicknell, Courtney Boring, Mollie Brothers, Alyssa Churchey, Branden Donnell, Paige Kalaher, Kennedy Keim, Maddie Kraft, Emily Krawyck, Georgia Merkle, Gwenyth Parks, Addyson Peasley, Amanda Quigley, Anika Quinn, Jose Serna, Jordan Viles, Lexi Whalen, and Reed Wilson.

Finally, Chapman introduced Board members to NCHS student Christiana Wang. She is one of 20 students chosen to serve on this year’s Student Advisory Council to the Illinois State Board of Education. The Student Advisory Council is composed of motivated high school students who have been selected from a very competitive group of applicants. The Student Advisory Council was formed in 1975 to bring student concerns to the attention of the Illinois State Board of Education. Students from across the State serve on the Council, and each member brings a unique perspective to the diverse group. Wang is involved in Speech Team, Scholastic Bowl, Interact Club, Orchestra and works part-time at Kohl’s. In her spare time, she volunteers at OSF St. Francis Medical Center.

Rebekah Hagberg, Bloomington Area Career Center Cosmetology graduate, will represent `United States in August, 2019, at the WorldSkills competition in Russia. She was introduced to Board members by Tom Frazier, BACC’s director. The rigorous pre selection process to find a finalist to take part in that competition started with over 35 students across the United States. The final two were both BACC Cosmetology graduates. Laura Coronel, a Bloomington High School student turned out to be the other finalist. and Hagberg. The pair were chosen to compete for a spot on the SkillsUSA Worlds Team in the Hairdressing Competition.

After two days of head-to-head competition in June, 2018, which included demonstrating men’s hair and facial hair cuts, women’s haircuts, formal up dos and coloring techniques Hagberg was chosen to represent the United States in the Hairdressing Competition in Kazan, Russia, in August, 2019. She will spend the next year along with 19 other young competitors chosen from all over the country, training for the WorldSkills event with various industry professionals. For the 2019 WorldSkills competition 76 countries and regions will compete in more than 50 different career and technical based events.

Parkside Junior High School’s “Good News”: Parkside Junior High School Principal Darrin Cooper presented information to Board members concerning the school having recently hosted the IESA Area 11 State Speech Contest. A total of 13 area schools participated in this contest, competing in six different events with 106 entries in all of the events. Not only was the event a success, but for six PJHS Speech Team members, the event was pleasing for six of the school’s students who received high honors for the day in the form of the Judge’s Choice Award.

The six Judge’s Choice Award Winners: Isabelle Carlson Erin Jenkins Gabby Montgomery Abby Morse Madison Schweizer Katie Van Heuklon.

As part of the contest, each judge is allowed to select one exceptional performance from all of those they judged. The PJHS Speech Team meets during the fall semester to practice and prepare for the November IESA Speech Contest. Students work throughout September and October to memorize a solo, duet, or small group skit which they perform for a judge at contest. They practice before school to memorize, add blocking and actions as well as make sure performance pieces meet the time requirements. Students are not allowed to use props or wear cost. or wear costumes for performances, so they have to make sure that the characters and their conflicts are portrayed clearly through facial and vocal expressions.

Cedar Ridge Elementary’s “Good News”: Also submitting a Good News Report was Cedar Ridge Elementary School Principal Karrah Jensen, to acknowledge community support the school has received from Roger Aschbrenner, Manager of Main Street McDonald’s. Aschbrenner has dedicated himself to Cedar Ridge Elementary School. Aschbrenner, in recent years, has shown support for the school and its students, Jensen told Board members. He takes a vested interest in each student’s success and well-being. Each year, through his efforts, the school is able to partner with McDonald’s through their educational program. This gives school staff the opportunity to have “McTeacher Nights,” she explained. On McTeacher Night students can visit McDonald’s and see their teachers work in the restaurant. At Cedar Ridge, this is highly attended because of the reasonable price point and teacher dedication. The partnership also allows student artwork to be displayed within the restaurant. This provides our students an opportunity to see their schoolwork within the community.

This year, Jensen told Board members, Aschbrenner approached Jensen about a new opportunity for the students at Cedar Ridge, asking to partner with the school during its “Student of the Week” program. Jensen said Aschbrenner presented her with certificates for free Happy Meals, which are awarded each week at each grade level. He also attended a recent early morning assembly to share the news about our partnership to the students.

2019-20 School Calendar Draft Presented: Dr. Ray Epperson, assistant superintendent, presented a draft of the 2019-20 school calendar to Board members. The school year will consist of 176 days as required by the State. Built into that period, Epperson said, are five emergency days, such as snow days, and four Teacher Institute Days. The finalized version of the calendar will be brought to Board members for approval sometime during next semester.

Payment Approved For New District Information System: Board members unanimously approved spending over $393,000 for a new information system known as Infinite Campus, manufacturer by Greeley, Colo.-based Computer Information Concepts, Inc. Infinite Campus would replace the current information system the district has used over the past decade, known as Skyward. Unit 5’s first payment of $206,000 is scheduled to be made a few days before Christmas, according to the copy of the agreement between the company and the district provided to the media.

A second payment of $88,883 would be due in March, followed by a third payment of $64,326 would be made July 1. A fourth and final payment of $34,550 would be made in mid-August.

District Addressing Substitute Teachers’ Concerns: At a September Board meeting, the issue of helping substitute teachers being able to receive their pay in a timely manner was among a handful of issues presented before Board members by substitutes who were concerned about the matter. In an effort to address substitutes’ concerns, Unit 5 established a work group for those persons employed by the district. At this meeting, the district explained what else will be done to help those employees.

Dr. James Harden, the district’s executive director of human resources and student services, told Board members that a proposal slated to be presented at the January Board meeting would the amount of money subs receive for work on day one on the job. This would apply to regular, retired, or long-term substitutes. An additional daily rate increase based on the number of days worked annually is also going to be proposed. Should the rates be approved by the Board, the pay increase would be retroactive to Jan. 8.

In addition, Harden said, the district would grant subs access to grant access to email and Skyward beginning Jan. 7, and work to improve its regular communications with substitutes.

November Conference Update Presented: Board members attended a two-day conference in Chicago co-organized by Illinois Association of School Boards, Illinois Association of School Administrators, and Illinois Association of School Business Managers. It is commonly known to educators as “The Triple-I Conference.”

During discussion of the conference, each Board members spoke of what sessions they attended and what they came away from the sessions with for district use. Among the session topics mentioned were school security and engaging culturally diverse families.

Next Board Meeting Jan. 16: With the Christmas holiday coming, there will be no second Board meeting this month. The next scheduled Board meeting will be Wednesday, Jan. 16 at district headquarters, beginning at 7p.m.

By Steve Robinson | December 3, 2018 - 10:46 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – Normal Town Council members voted unanimously to approve a resolution authorizing the Town’s Community Development Block Grant Citizen Participation Plan be filed with the Federal government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development, also known as HUD.

Council members voted to give approval to the CDBG Citizen Participation Plan in December 2012, and the plan has received updates over time since then, according to a report submitted to Council members by Town Associate Planner Taylor Long.

The Citizen Participation Plan has outlined within it, according to Long’s report: A cooperative, intergovernmental approach to addressing housing issues in the area; and instructions to guide the public’s submitting of comments and standards for the Town’s and City of Bloomington’s responses to those public submissions.

A 15-day public comment period was in effect for citizens to sign up to speak at a hearing held prior to the vote. That hearing took place prior to the regular Town Council session Monday night in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station. Taylor Long, Associate Town Planner, told Council members what the Town hears at these public hearings will help in determining how the money will be spent.

At Monday’s session, Council members got a sampling of what might come when the public is given the chance to address the plan. John Wolter told Council members a recreational area would be appreciated for consideration for that end of Town.

Former Normal Town Council Candidate Ron Ulmer suggested the Town look to help convert struggling hotel properties into affordable housing. He said the abandoned student housing complex on Shelbourne Dr. would be an example of property the Town could try to make into affordable housing. He points out that housing complex has sat vacant for three years.

Ulmer also said he would like to see area school libraries stay open to help kids keep their skills up to date for when they go back to class in the fall.

City Manager Pam Reece told Council members the Town wants interested citizens to become involved in the process of helping determine ways the CDBG funding could be spent. “We want the public’s help when it comes time to determine our priorities and needs on where it’s most appropriate to spend those CDBG dollars.”

Property Tax Levy For 2018 Approved: By unanimous vote without discussion, Council members approved an ordinance authorizing the 2018 property tax levy. The 2018 levy totals $12,958,494 for the second straight year. That amount is unchanged from last year. It’s an increase of $783,694 from the 2016 levy, an increase of 6.44 percent. A public hearing was required to be held prior to the vote because the increase in the property tax was over five percent.

General fund operations and Normal Public Library operations funding were the only two of the levy’s six components that have no dollar increases mentioned. They are the only funds that have local control, as well.

The other four components do have increases and break down this way: The police pension contribution was increased by 7.92 percent, or $181,991, to $2,478,591, and Fire pension contribution was increased by 7.45 percent, or $155,190, to $2,239,390. However, Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund contribution was decreased by 18.59 percent, to $1,401,811, a change of $320,119 less than last year. The Town’s annual Medicare/Social Security contribution also registered a decrease versus last year’s figures, as well. That Town contribution for 2018 was $1,334,902, a decrease of $17,062, or 1.26 percent. The Town, by State law, must maintain contributions to these four funds.

Normal Town Council controls only roughly 17 percent of a resident’s tax bill with 11.9 percent of that figure going to the Town and 5.1 percent going to Normal Public Library.

Tax Abatement Ordinances Approved: Council members unanimously approved 11 ordinances required to abate $6,148,053 in property taxes from Special Service Area Bonds issued in 2004; 2009 bonds issued in July 1009 to refund a 2003 bond; 2009(A) bonds issued in July 2009 (Build America Bonds); 2010(A) bonds issued 2010 (Recovery Zone Bonds): 2012 bonds issued September 2012 to refund 2004 bonds; 2013 bonds issued November 2013 to refund 2005 bonds; 2014 bonds issued November 2014; 2016(A) bonds issued March 2016 to refund 2006 bonds; 2016(B) bonds issued March 2016; 2017(A) bonds issued March 2017 to refund 2007 bonds; 2017(B) bonds issued March 2017 to refund 2007 bonds; and 2018 bonds issued March 2018 to refund 2008 bonds.

State law requires McLean County to levy property taxes for payment of those bonds. Municipalities are allowed to abate bonds provided there is enough funding on hand to pay principal and interest amounts. Rather than tax citizens to raise the funds for this purpose, the Town budgets money from other sources such as its general, sewer, and water funds to handle meeting that obligation.

Omnibus Items Approved: Council members also used an omnibus vote to approve the following agenda items:

• Approval of minutes of the regular meeting of Nov. 19, 2018.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Nov. 28, 2018.

• A resolution extending a license agreement with Peoria Charter Coach Co. for access to Uptown Station as a transportation provider.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of an intergovernmental agreement for the police shooting range facility with the City of Bloomington.

• An ordinance modifying Division 1 of Chapter 5 of the Town of Normal Municipal Code (Police Dept.) to authorize fingerprint services.

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding procurement process and authorizing a three-year service agreement with Evoqua Water Technologies LLC and installation of odor control and corrosion protection measures at the Northbridge Pump Station and authorizing an associated budget adjustment.

• A motion to approve the year 2019 meeting calendar.

• A motion to authorize an amendment to the fiscal year 2018-19 Illinois Employer Social Security and Medicare budget for the general fund.

By Steve Robinson | November 19, 2018 - 10:41 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – Beginning in mid-December, those persons who choose to stay in lodging known as AirBnBs – private residences which offer a room with a bed and breakfast to total strangers for a charge – will, just like hotels and motels do currently, be required to pay taxes to the Town of Normal . That’s the result of a unanimous vote by Normal Town Council members at the governing body’s regular meeting in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station Monday night.

The ordinance take effect April 1, as a result of the Council vote, and would impose a 6 percent rental charge for customers’ lodging bill, explained City Manager Pam Reece. Six percent is the current amount charged as a result of the Town’s hotel/motel tax.

In a report to Council members, Reece less than 25 properties are listed on short-term rental websites with that amount slated to increase. Airbnb states a total of 16 properties are listed for this type of lodging in the past three years – 6 entire homes that could be rented; 9 with private rooms, and one that provides a shared room.

Houses could be rented at $100 per night with individual rooms going for $60 per night, according to Reece’s report. The tax is paid by guests at AirBnBs and collected by that company’s corporate entity. Websites which help promote short term rental companies will be notified by the Town to make AirBnB operators of their responsibility to collect the tax and pay the Town.

In a public comment to Council members, Ray Ceresa, president of Bloomington-Normal Hotel and Lodging Association told Council members hotels associated with the group “are not afraid to compete with AirBnBs.”

AirBnBs “are not what I bought into when I bought in my neighborhood,” stated Council Member Jeff Fritzen. “These are businesses and they should contribute taxes as businesses do.” Council Member Chemberly Cummings said she sees AirBnB operators paying the tax as a means “of paying a fair share.”

Council Member Kathleen Lorenz asked Reece how payment of the tax would be enforced. Reece replied the Town will do “spot checks and respond to complaints from neighbors.”

Ordinance Prohibiting Minors Using E-Cigs, Vaping, Unanimously Passes: Council members unanimously passed an ordinance amending Town Code to prohibit the sale of tobacco, nicotine, and smoking devices including vapor, cigars, cigarettes and pipes to minors. The ordinance will be put into effect December 1, Reece stated in a written report to Council members.

Vendors caught selling tobacco or related products to minors will be subject to a $50 fine for a first offense. Normal Police conducts audits of businesses selling tobacco in Town.

Members of an Illinois State University advocacy group called Tobacco 21 Coalition brought the idea for this action to Council members during the annual Town-ISU Meet And Greet event held Oct. 1 at Medici Restaurant in Uptown.

At least 20 states have adopted legislation at State level and 26 communities in Illinois , including Peoria and Washington, have adopted similar ordinances.

Boy Scout’s Project Leads To Lights At Grandview & Vernon: Council members also unanimously passed a motion approving criteria and analysis for installation of flashing LED stop signs and authorizing installation of the signs at the intersection of Vernon Ave. and Grandview Dr., and approving an associated budget adjustment of $3,500.

But this was one time such action was taken because the Town found it necessary and took action, but rather they were made aware of the situation by a resident – one who approached the Town to aid in a project in order to work toward earning a Boy Scout merit badge in Citizenship.

Jack DeKeersgieter, an eighth grade student at Chiddix Junior High School approached the Town about putting in an embedded LED stop sign or flashing LED stop sign at the intersection in question for among other reasons that the intersection had sight restrictions and cars going through it at fairly high speeds. One pedestrian, Lanny Lobdell, was killed two years ago at the intersection DeKeersgieter was lobbying for installing such a sign.

In his quest to see the signs getting placed, DeKeersgieter involved administrators at Colene Hoose Elementary School and contacting Town Council members Kevin McCarthy and Lorenz. He said he also met with Lobdell’s widow, as well as with Hoose Principal Adam Zbrozek.

DeKeersgieter was invited by Mayor Chris Koos to sit at the speaker’s table and explain to Council members why he felt the need to take on this project. As he explained his need to become involved in getting the project started, he was flanked by Town Public Works Director Wayne Aldrich and Town Engineer Ryan Otto.

“My mom and I brainstormed ideas and she talked about the intersection, where a car ran a stop sign and accidentally caused the death of Mr. Lanny Lobdell in August 2016,” DeKeersgieter told Council members. “I chose this issue right away because it made me feel sad Mr. Lobdell lost his life there and couldn’t spend more time with his family. I didn’t want any other person or kid from my old school, Colene Hoose, to die, too, when it could be safer for the school and Constitution Trail with a blinking LED stop sign.”

Omnibus Agenda Items Approved: Omnibus agenda items approved by the Council included:

• Approval of the minutes of the regular meeting of Nov. 5, 2018.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Nov. 14, 2018.

• A resolution to waive the formal bidding process and authorize a contract with Bloomington-based Stark Excavating, Inc. to perform emergency creek bank erosion repairs and stabilization in Sugar Creek for an amount not to exceed $319,000 and authorizing an associated budget adjustment.

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding process and authorizing a contract with Electronics Recycling Services for calendar year 2019.

• A resolution authorizing a three-year contract with Monee , Ill.-based Cardno, Inc. fro Riparian area maintenance in an amount not to exceed $80,000 per year.

• A resolution authorizing execution of an intergovernmental agreement with storm water education services provided by the Ecology Action Center for a period not to exceed three years.

By Steve Robinson | November 15, 2018 - 10:44 pm
Posted in Category: Unit 5

NORMAL – Members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board received previews of two items which will show up for votes at the Board’s December meeting: A new Student Information System and the upcoming annual tax levy.

Information On New Student Information System Given: Board members received an update concerning a new Student Information System the district is being asked to consider purchasing which would replace the current system known as Skyward, which the district has had in use since 2006, explained Dan Lamboley, director of secondary education for the district. The new system, known as Infinite Campus, was sought out because “Skyward takes a lot of training and is not very user friendly.”

“As what we’ve tried to do for teaching and learning, the system we have now has not adapted,” Lamboley said during a break in what was a three-hour meeting. “We feel from what we have already seen at other districts, this will be better.”

Initially, with set-up, implementation, and training sessions, the district would be spending $410,095 for the new system known as Infinite Campus. District Business Manager Marty Hickman told Board members that amount would be paid over the course of two fiscal years. After that, Unit 5 would be paying an estimated future annual payment of $266,155. The funds used to pay for the new system would come from money earmarked for technology within the district’s Education Fund, Hickman added.

Hickman said Infinite Campus has video tutorials, each lasting roughly five minutes, to help users learn how to operate it. He informed Board members the district would be signing a base contract which would last one year. There is an option for opting out of the contract provided the district gives 30 days notice, he added. The Board will vote on whether to make the purchase at its next meeting on Dec. 12.

Board members were informed by Dayna Brown, director of communications and community relations for the district, that promotional material will be going out on the district’s website, and will be bilingual, to help get parents up to speed on the change.

Vote On 2018 Tax Levy To Be Taken Next Month: Also at that December session, Board members will vote on approving the 2018 tax levy in time to meet the Christmas day deadline for submitting it to the McLean County Clerk’s Office for filing. Hickman informed Board members. The levy would result in residents’ tax rates going up 36 cents.

For the owner of a $175,000 home, that increase would tack on an additional $210 to their tax bill. Collection of tax levy monies would take place next May and June, Hickman reminded. He added that since the district currently has a deficit in its education fund, and a report from the McLean County Assessor’s Office indicates slight gains in existing property values, the county’s assessor is reporting modest gains in existing property values (EAV), thus making the levy particularly important for residents.

Resource Guide On Dyslexia Coming: Unit 5 will be coming out in the near future with a resource guide for parents and teachers concerning Dyslexia. Jessica Alt, Special Education Administrator for the district, informed Board members. She explained guidelines from the Federal government led to a proposal to hire specialists who know how to help students with the condition which can affect reading comprehension.

State Representative Keith Sommer (R-106th Dist.) was present for the session and has given his backing to help make State funding available to help educators who deal with students who cope with Dyslexia. He told Board members he attended a public session on Dyslexia where parents and teachers would be addressing it and admitted he wondered “if just six people would show up.” He said over 100 came to that public session.

New Courses Coming For Dual Credit: Lamboley and Lindsey Dickenson, a teacher at George L. Evans Junior High School, made a presentation to Board members announcing some new courses which high school students could receive dual credit for. Unit 5 will add four new dual credit courses to the 12 currently offered. Dual credit courses are college courses taught by qualified high school instructors. Students who successfully complete dual credit courses receive both high school and college credit for completing the courses.

Beginning in the 2019-2020 school year, students looking for dual credit will be able to take Introduction to Statistics, Introduction to Education, Principles of Engineering, and Civil Engineering & Architecture. The new offerings will join classes currently offered including Introduction to Welding Processes, Introduction to Oral Communication, Chemistry, and Finite Mathematics.

Cedar Ridge Elementary Doubles Up On “Good News”: With a population which includes a large number of Spanish speaking students, educators at Cedar Ridge Elementary School dedicated themselves to create something which would not only be inclusive for those students but also educational for the entire student body. A program called Cedar Ridge Se Habla Espanol, which in English means “we speak Spanish,” was created and Patsy Weber and Nela Diaz. The Se Habla Espanol program was begun by a grandparent and the district’s bilingual family coordinator, in efforts to share a love of our school diversity and promote a positive school culture. Se Habla Espanol is a program designed to bridge the language barrier between students at Cedar Ridge in both the school’s English and Spanish speaking classes. During school hours students in our monolingual classes participate in a 30 minute Spanish lesson designed by Weber. Students learn basic Spanish words, culture and songs with their peers.

That wasn’t the only item Cedar Ridge Principal Karrah Jensen had for Board members. In addition, she acknowledged the donation and dedication of a former Cedar Ridge Elementary student, Amber Hitchins. Now a student at Evans Junior High, Hitchins recently completed her Girl Scout Silver Award. Part of working toward this award required Hitchins to complete a project to benefit the community. For that project, Hitchins partnered with Cedar Ridge Elementary to enhance that school’s outdoor learning space with student seating. Cedar Ridge currently has an outdoor dry erase board that was donated in a previous year by the school’s Student Council. The addition of seating would complete this project for the school, designing a full outdoor classroom.

Hitchins presented the school with bench options to meet the needs of the students to make sure they were fitting for our learners. The benches were constructed, delivered and added to the outdoor learning space. In addition to the seating, Hitchins created a Kindness Garden outside near the learning classroom. In the Kindness Garden are large river stones. When Cedar Ridge’s 5th graders graduate and advance to junior high school, they will each receive an opportunity to paint a stone with an inspirational message. The stones will then be left in the Kindness Garden for all of the students to see. Amber Hitchins is the daughter of Unit 5 School Board President Barry Hitchins.

Parkside Junior High’s “Good News”: Darrin Cooper, Principal at Parkside Junior High School, introduced Board members to that school’s Girls’ Cross Country Team. The team had the distinction of placing in every invitational they ran in this year, he explained. In addition, the team can lay claim to being champions at four of those meets, including Intercity, Big 12, one held at Kingsley Junior High School, and their own Parkside Invitational. At their own invitational, PJHS was among 49 teams from across the state competing.

PJHS’ team went on from there to win the Illinois Elementary School Association Class 3A Sectional Championship with their scoring runners all placing in the top 16 out of the field of 94 runners. This qualified PJHS’ Girls Cross Country Team for the IESA State Meet which was hosted by PJHS hosted at Maxwell Park. Members of the 4th place Parkside Junior High School State Cross Country Team are: Reinhart, Kylie Childers, Payton Gaddis, Ashleigh Horton, Erin Jenkins, Lucy Koranek, Madison Schweizer, Madi Smith, Ava Starkey and Eve Whitlow. The Pythons are coached by head coaches Brandon Weber and Paul Bliss, volunteer coaches Brad Horton and Jessica Eberley.

Individual efforts singled out for recognition by the coaches were: Erin Jenkins finishing 21st out of over 300 runners in the Class 3A Girls Race with a time of 11:54.0 earning an individual medal as well as her team medal. Alex Reinhart starred in her 8th grade cross country season this year by winning every meet and invitational she participated in. She demonstrated her skill during the Sectional Meet where she was the Sectional Champion as well as the State Meet where she finished 13 seconds faster than the 2nd place runner. That earned her a 1st place medal and title of IESA Class 3A State Champion. Reinhart set a record in the 2 Mile Run with a time of 11 minutes, 18.1 seconds. That time not only earned Reinhart the State championship, but also broke her own school record. At State, the girls claimed a 4th place trophy.

District’s “Good News” Thanks Board Members: In a final “good news” item, district superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel informed those in attendance that Nov. 15 would be Illinois School Board Members Day, and thanked Board members for their service.