By Steve Robinson | December 4, 2017 - 10:05 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL – With a unanimous vote, Normal Town Council members approved an ordinance authorizing the 2017 property tax levy. The 2017 levy totals $12,958,494, which is an increase of $783,694 from the 2016 levy, an increase of 6.44 percent. Council members reviewed the levy at their Nov. 6 meeting and directed Town Staff to prepare the ordinance. 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 13.64 percent, or $275,600, to $2,296,600; Fire pension contribution was increased by 21.17 percent, or $364,200, to $2,084,200; and Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund contribution was increased by 8.71 percent, to $1,721,930. The Town’s annual Medicare/Social Security contribution registered the smallest increase of less than less than one-half percent, to $1,351,964. The Town, by State law, must maintain contributions to these four funds.

The measure passed but not before local residents had their say during the public hearing. Eleven residents spoke before Council members, most of them opposed to the increase. Craig Stimpert told Council members that he has “the utmost respect for police and fire service employees, and Town employees but he pointed out the Town has increased property taxes each year for the past 11 years.

Ed Neaves, treasurer for Illinois Realtors Group, which represents realtors Statewide, told Council members, “We’re asking government to do no harm to realtors trying to sell a house. Quit going back to property owners every time you need money.” Stimpert and Neaves were among 11 residents who addressed Council members about the proposed increase, the majority of them opposed to it.

During the Council discussion following the public hearing, Council Member Chemberly Cummings told the gathering of between 40-50 residents present about the statute which the Town operates behind which allows for consideration of raising property taxes. She also credited the audience members who spoke for having “trust in a roomful of people to share your heart, and we appreciate that.”

Council Member Kevin McCarthy told the gathering the Town’s general fund has not had an increase to its coffer in 12 years, belaying concerns about how the new money coming in would be used.

The Town of Normal only has control of roughly 17.3 percent of a resident’s tax bill, a report prepared for Council members by Andrew Huhn, the Town’s director of finance. The remaining governing bodies controlling the tax bill (and their percentage of control in 2016) include: Unit 5 School District (60.8 percent); McLean County (10.6 percent); Heartland Community College (6.8 percent); Normal Township (2.7 percent); Normal Water Reclamation District (2.1 percent); and Central Illinois Airport Authority (1.4 percent).

Property Taxes From Certain Bonds Approved For Abatement: Council members unanimously approved 11 ordinances authorizing abating of 2017 Property Taxes for debt service. The ordinances abated over $5.7 million in property taxes for the following bonds: 2008 bonds issued in August 2008; 2009 bonds issued in July that year to refund the 2003 bond; 2009(A) bonds issued in July that year; 2010(A) bonds issued November that year; 2012 bonds issued September that year to refund 2004 bonds; 2013 bonds issued November that year to refund 2005 bonds; 2014 bonds issued November that year; 2016(A) bonds issued March that year to refund 2006 bonds; 2016(B) bonds issued March that year; 2017(A) bonds issued March that year to refund 2007 bonds; and 2017(B) bonds issued March that year to refund 2007 bonds. The total amount of the bonds was $6,543,152. But there were Supranational/Sovereign/Agency bonds, or SSA bonds, totaling $796,899 that was not abated. As a result, the total of the bonds abated was $5,746,253.

Latest Community Investment Plan Approved: Before Council members finished out the roughly 2 ½ session, they received an update from Andrew Huhn, Town Finance Director, concerning the Community Investment Plan for the Town for Fiscal year 2017-18 through FY 2022-23. The proposed plan for that calendar period includes a total of 183 capital projects that are to be completed over a six-year period beginning with this fiscal year. Those projects, Huhn explained, total roughly $94.6 million.

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

• Approval of the minutes of the regular meeting of Nov. 20, 2017.

• Approval of Town of Normal Expenditures for payment as of Nov. 29, 2017.

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

• A resolution requesting permission to close a portion of U. S. Highway 51 for the annual Jaycees Christmas Parade.

• A resolution authorizing the renewal of a joint agreement with the City of Bloomington and the Ecology Action Center for an energy efficiency program.

• A motion to authorize an amendment to the FY 2017-18 Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF) budget for the general fund.

• A resolution to accept bids and award a contract to Bloomington-based Stark Excavating, Inc. in the amount of $59,799 for the Adelaide Street sanitary extension project along West College Ave.

• A resolution authorizing the City Manager to accept a bid in the amount of $904,063.06 from New York-based Presidio Networked Solutions Group, LLC for the purchase of network infrastructure.

• A resolution to conditionally approve a final plat for the Miller Storage Subdivision (2717 N. Main ).

• A resolution approving a property tax settlement agreement.

• An ordinance approving a redevelopment agreement for the property located at 1404 Fort Jesse Rd.

By Steve Robinson | November 20, 2017 - 10:01 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL – Without an objecting vote, Normal Town Council members passed an ordinance approving the Town of Normal 2040 Comprehensive Plan. The unanimous vote took place during the governing body’s regularly-scheduled meeting Monday in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station. A subgroup of members from Town of Normal 2040 Committee met with Council members addressed Council members in August.

This meeting, Mercy Davison, Town Planner, told Council members the committee now had its proposed comprehensive plan which laid out, among other things, three primary trends in land use for the Town to consider. These items have shown themselves to be desired among Normal residents in the past 50 years.

The first is a desire for the Town to be able to accommodate increasing walk- and bike-oriented lifestyles of residents. Doing this would accommodate a moderate number of businesses located within biking or walking distance of businesses, employers, and services, the report indicates.

The second is a desire on the part of residents from the Town for a need for alternative transportation, the result of a decline in auto ownership and usage the Town has noted in recent years.

The third is noted by the committee in terms of less use of what it called “real life retail,” the result of people doing a hefty percentage of their shopping online currently. The committee report notes that, as a result of online sales “it is almost certain that the current amount of commercial and retail spaces in our community will be more than sufficient for years to come.”

Davison also noted that the Town’s population has doubled between 1970 and 2015, and that in that same period, land use has multiplied by two-and-a-half times in the same period. But she said, the Town’s east side “lacks serious public infrastructure. She said that means buildings, roads, and power supplies will be needed to accommodate an anticipated additional 14,000 people who could live in that part of Town over the years between now and 2040.

She cited for Council members a study done by McLean County Regional Planning Commission which said housing in the area was reasonably affordable. However, the Commission also noted there are very few options available to aid homeless people and limited housing options available to persons between ages 18-64 who are disabled. Most people in this last group, Davison said, live with family while they wait for a place of their own.

Mary Jefferson Reappointed To Regional Planning Commission: Council members unanimously approved reappointing Mary Jefferson to the McLean County Regional Planning Commission for another three-year term. Her current appointment expires at the end of this year, and her reappointment will keep her seated on the Commission until Dec. 31, 2020.

Jeffrey Kroesch Appointed To Sister Cities Committee: Council members unanimously approved appointing Jeffrey Kroesch to the Asahikawa Sister Cities Committee. A former exchange student, Kroesch is an Illinois State University graduate currently employed as an eighth grade Language Arts teacher at Bloomington School District #87.

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

• Approval of the minutes of the regular meeting of Nov. 6, 2017.

• Approval of Town of Normal Expenditures for payment as of Nov. 15, 2017.

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

• A resolution approving a lease extension for the Ecology Action Center at 202 W. College Ave.

• A resolution to approve a final plat for Lot 1 of resubdivision of Lot 7 in the fifth addition to North-Land Commercial Subdivision (Menards).

• A resolution to approve a final plat for the resubdivision of Lots 9 & 10 in the seventh addition to North-Land Subdivision (Duff St.).

By Steve Robinson | November 9, 2017 - 10:29 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – Local honorees recognized by Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) at a dinner Oct. 28 were introduced to Normal-based Unit 5 School District Board members at the local governing body’s regularly-scheduled meeting at district headquarters Nov. 8.

District’s “Good News” Honors “Those Who Excel” Winners: Four Unit 5 employees and a former district school board member who had received honors at the event at the Carol A. Reitan Conference Center at the Bloomington-Normal Marriott Hotel in Uptown Normal had their contributions to the district mentioned to Board members by Dayna Brown, director of communications and community relations for the district.

Cory Bennett, a teacher at Parkside Junior High School, was recognized for his receiving ISBE’s Classroom Teacher Award Of Merit; District employee Nancy Braun received ISBE’s Administrator Award of Merit; A certified student support personal Award of Excellence from ISBE went to Suzann Marcum, who is employed at both Fairview Elementary and Grove Elementary.

A School Board Member/Community Volunteer Award of Excellence went to John Puzauskas, who served on Unit 5’s School Board for 12 years, opting not to run for re-election last spring. The Team Award of Merit went to Normal Community West High School’s Science Department.

Brown credited Braun with heading the district’s wellness committee, which has “contributed many policies” which have aided staff’s and students’ well-being.” In addition, a Non-Certified Educational Service Personal Award Of Excellence was received by Cindy Singley of Chiddix Junior High School.

District’s Other “Good News”: The District’s Other “Good News” item recognized that Nov. 15 would be “Illinois School Board Members Day” as designated by Illinois Association of School Boards. “This day is to honor these public servants for the contributions to our public schools,” explained district superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel. “The decisions our school board members make impact so many aspects of our daily lives that we often overlook the service they provide which allows our community to grow and thrive.”

Among the current Board members, Mike Trask earned his Master Board Membership; Meta Mickens-Baker earned her sixth year of Master Board Membership; and Board Member Barry Hitchins earned Level I Membership.

Unit 5 map“Welcoming Schools” Resolution Approved: Board members unanimously approved a resolution affirming Unit 5 as a “Welcoming Schools” district where, as the resolution states, in part, “students have the right to attend regardless of their immigration status.” The resolution also signifies, “Unit 5 will protect the rights of all students and their families, including student confidentiality rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).”

Board Receives Life Safety Recap: Board members received a recap of numerous life safety projects the district has done in this and the previous fiscal year to date on district buildings. Joe Adelman, operations manager for the district, explained that because of improvements done on the district’s six largest buildings over the last two fiscal years totaling $9.3 million – four junior high schools and two high schools – Unit 5 won’t be spending $6 million on improvements related to heating and cooling.

Adelman said roof work has been done at Colene Hoose, Northpoint, and Parkside Elementary Schools; Parkside Junior High School, and Normal Community West High School totaling slightly over $2 million. Nearly another $248,000 went into chiller projects at Northpoint, Prairieland, Towanda, and Pepper Ridge Elementary Schools. Geothermal installation at PJHS totaling over $561,000 has also been done.

He said work done to Normal West in the last two years will save the district $12,000 in energy costs annually. “All this work helps provide a healthy environment for teachers as well as students,” Mickens-Baker said in appreciation of the effort.

Trask reminded that the district does a 10-year plan to determine where repairs should be conducted.

Other Reports Presented: Board members also heard reports relating to preparation of the annual property tax levy due into the McLean County Clerk’s Office from the district by the last Tuesday in December, and about strategic planning being prepared for the coming year by the district.

No Second Meeting In November: As a result of the Thanksgiving holiday, there will be no second Board meeting in November. The next scheduled Board meeting will be Wednesday, Dec. 13, and will be the only Board meeting before the district’s Christmas holiday break.

By Steve Robinson | November 6, 2017 - 10:22 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL – Normal Town Council members unanimously approved a motion to authorize preparation of the Town’s 2017 Property Tax Levy. Town Staff is estimating the levy be established at $13,016,100 in fiscal year 2018-19, an increase in the Town’s tax rate of 6.38 percent.

The Town’s 2016 tax rate was $1.4115. The projection for this year assumes property assessed valuation will increase by one-half percent. Actual assessed values of property will not be determined until next April.

The majority of the increase will help the Town keep its obligation to continue funding police and fire pensions responsibly, according to a report given Council members which was prepared by Town Finance Director Andrew Huhn.

Through its “Truth In Taxation” statute, the State mandates communities like Normal to meet at least 20 days before approving the property tax levy ordinance in order to determine the amount of the levy. Town Staff will present to Council a levy to consider and vote on at their regularly scheduled meeting on Dec. 4. The Town, as will all other taxing jurisdictions in the county must submit an approved levy to the County by Tuesday, Dec. 26.

But before Council members approved the measure, they received comments from constituents who expressed differing opinions on the effect of the increase. Normal resident Craig Stimpert reminded Council members Illinois pays the nation’s second-highest property tax, second only to New Jersey . “Residents are being taxed to death,” Stimpert said. “How can Normal consider a tax increase?” He also wondered “when is this going to stop?”

Resident Dave Shields publicly credited the Town for how it researches solutions facing the Town and reminded the Town “has a history of conservative financial decisions.” Another resident, Julie Hile, told Council members she sees the Town meeting the pension obligation as upholding “a sacred trust.”

During Council members’ deliberations on the matter, Mayor Chris Koos said deciding on the increase was not “a comfortable decision,” and Normal “doesn’t want to go down the path of the State of Illinois on our obligations.” He reminded 40 people in the audience in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station that wanting to approve this is “not a comfortable decision.”

Council Member Jeff Fritzen said the Town is responsible for delivering necessary services like police protection and fire and emergency services. People sometimes take such services for granted, Fritzen said, but added, “When people have such a need for those services, you don’t want to settle for second rate.”

“The State of Illinois hasn’t done its job on pensions,” Council Member R, C. McBride said. “We shouldn’t go down that same path.”

The State of Illinois gave communities a mandate to have police and fire pensions at 90 percent funding by 2040. The Town used that marker to challenge itself to have its police and fire pensions 100 percent funded by that same deadline.

“I wish I could tell you this will be the last property tax increase you’ll ever have to consider,” City Manager Mark Peterson told Council members. But he quickly added there will be future increases in pension costs which could prompt the Town to consider raising property taxes. He said there have been pension increases in the past and likely, he said, there will be increases in the future.

Council Declines To Release Remaining Funds For Feeney Property Upgrade: By a 4-3 count, Council members declined to approve a resolution which would release the remaining money in redevelopment funds for a project at 208 Parkinson. Until September 2016 when Council members approved a measure offering to contribute $40,000 to property owner Chuck Feeney to help him upgrade the property, the property had sat vacant for 15 years.

Once the resolution was passed, Feeney received $25,000 of the money toward work that had been done up to that point. Feeney began plans for the renovation in February 2016 and it was estimated, before the Town’s contribution, the project would cost around $300,000.

The building underwent a remodel and is now being used as an office by Stout Chiropractic. However, while the building’s look is improved, the Town felt the improvement fell short of what the Town and Feeney agreed upon. Chief among the concerns was a drainage and storm water retention area which still sits where Feeney proposed a sunken patio.

Mayor Chris Koos, and Council Members Kevin McCarthy, Kathleen Lorenz, and Scott Preston voted against releasing the remaining money while Council Members Chemberly Cummings, McBride, and Fritzen voted in favor of releasing the remaining money for the project. “It just seems like there was a change in scope for the project from what was originally presented,” McCarthy said regarding his concerns about the project.

“What was delivered varied too much from what we agreed to a year ago,” Lorenz said after the meeting.

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

• Approval of the minutes of the regular meeting of Oct. 16, 2017.

• Approval of Town of Normal Expenditures for payment as of Nov. 1, 2017.

• A resolution to accept bids and award a contract to Springfield-based Halverson Construction Co., Inc. in the amount of $113,045.74 for timber pile repairs on the Belt Drive Bridge .

• A resolution to approve bids and award a contract to Decatur-based Bodine Electric in the amount of $125,277.73 for communications and traffic signal upgrades on College Ave. and Mulberry Street from Oak Street to Main Street .

• A resolution authorizing the City Manager to negotiate and execute a sublease with Amtrak for platforms at Uptown Station.

By Steve Robinson | November 3, 2017 - 10:53 pm
Posted in Category: News

BasketballNORMAL – Coaches at the level of Missouri Valley Conference play travel to chase down prospects they believe will help improve their team’s fortunes in future seasons. For teams like Illinois State University, it’s a rarity that some of that talent hasn’t lived very far from the shadow of Redbird Arena.

But sixth season Redbirds head coach Dan Muller has a trio of players who have lived in the vicinity and now will either play for his team beginning this season or will await sitting out a year to join the team next season. Junior transfer William Tinsley, freshman transfer Matt Chastain, and freshman forward Luke Litwiller grew up either in or near McLean County and are on the Redbirds’ roster.

While Tinsley and Litwiller will see action, Chastain, finishing up recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament injury to a knee, must sit out one year per NCAA rules because he is transferring to ISU from Loyola-Chicago.

“To have a whole other year to help get my leg to get stronger is to my advantage,” said the 6 foot-6, 190 pound Chastain said. He can play either at the forward or guard position when he is eligible for action. “I’m sure it’ll be hard to just sit and watch this season, but there’s a reason for everything and the extra time will help me to come back stronger than I would if I was forced to come back this year.”

Colfax native William Tinsley, who transferred to ISU from Lake Land College, will be ready for action this year and will, for a change, be on the same side with Chastain. In high school, LeRoy and Chastain took on Ridgeview and Tinsley High School “seven or eight times,” Tinsdale said. Now the pair “spend hours and hours together off the court. We’re really good friends.”

Tinsley was recruited by Muller after seeing him at a junior college all-star players’ camp in Kansas City, Mo. this summer. “I’ve always wanted to play for ISU, so this is like a dream come true,” the 6 foot-6, 190 pound Tinsley said. “I can remember coming to games here way back when, so now, I’m wearing the Redbirds jersey, so this is a dream come true.” He added he wants to “score and be an all-around teammate” when he’s on the court.

In addition to local flavor those three bring to the team, they’re joined by freshman forward Taylor Bruninga, an Illini Bluffs High School product.

Starting Year With Injuries: The Redbirds may be starting fresh with no seniors on the squad this year but they are also battling injuries forcing some players into unfamiliar roles. Among the injured are junior guard David Ndiaye and freshman guard Elijah Clarance (both stress fracture), and sophomore guard Matt Hein (bone bruise). It will likely be sometime in December before the team as a whole would be on the court.

That situation has meant coaches have had to put in some time playing in practice and those practices have been shorter than Muller would like so as to not wear the team down as a whole. Muller said those practices have shown four consistent scorers – two veterans and two newcomers – Among the vets, 6 foot junior Keyshawn Evans and 6 foot-9 junior forward Phil Fayne, while newcomers Sophomore 6 foot-9 center Christian Romaine and Tinsley have “shown the most consistency,” according to their coach.

ISU RedbirdDefense Will Need To Be “Tweaked”: The situation will require “we’re going to have to tweak how aggressive we are defensively,” Muller told reporters during his Media Day news conference at Redbird Arena Nov. 2. “It’ll also determine how much we attack. We really have to stay out of foul trouble, which is almost always the case. It’ll be a little bit of a work in progress. It’ll be challenging.

“The main thing I want to focus on with these guys is just to keep getting better and understand that if we compete hard enough, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”

Under the circumstances, Muller’s hopes are a far cry from what the Redbirds experienced last year, becoming MVC champs finishing 28-7, which included finishing second to Wichita State at MVC tourney, and being tapped as top seed in the National Invitational Tournament where they beat 8th seed California-Irvine in the opening round but exiting after a second round loss to 4th seed Central Florida.

Muller told reporters he could see Tinsley was “excited to represent his hometown and his high school. “He’s done well now, but I still believe he’ll be a different player a month from now than he is now.

“Hopefully, the fans will come and support their high school athletes,” Muller said of the fans from Colfax and other communities represented on his bench.

Muller said that until he team is fully or near fully recovered, “we won’t see the true ISU team until right around conference play right around Christmas or hopefully sooner. We’re going to grow from this.”

Circle Your Calendars: ISU’s campaign got off to an easy start, beating Lewis University, 79-52. Lewis University head coach Scott Trost arrived there after having coached for five seasons at Illinois Wesleyan University from 2001-2006. ISU’s MVC season will begin on the road at Evansville on Saturday, Dec. 23. Their first MVC home game will be Sunday, Dec. 31 at 3p.m. against Indiana State, and Interstate 74 foe Bradley will visit Redbird Arena Wednesday, Jan. 17.