By Steve Robinson | December 6, 2019 - 10:43 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – In a first of its kind event, Town of Normal officials invited residents to provide input on a number of issues at a Town Summit meeting held Thursday, Dec. 5 at the Community Activity Center at One Normal Plaza.

Participants were invited by Normal Town Council members where 60 residents gathered around seven tables to discuss varying topics concerning the community. At each table, a Town official took notes which would be turned in to Normal Town Council members. A Normal Town official took notes at each table, including Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner and Normal Fire Chief Mick Humer. Mayor Chris Koos and the Town’s six Town Council members sat in at each table but their assignment, under the rules established by the facilitator of the event, Lou Sumek, were strictly to be observers. He referred to those participating at each table as “discussion teams.”

Sumek, who operates a Florida-based firm which specializes in planning and overseeing such functions, explained that after the three-hour session, he would write a summary of what the citizens had to say which he would present to Council members to mull over during a Council summit scheduled for Dec. 7.

“Citizens will give you, if you engage them, a couple of hours,” Sumek said. “But they need to be engaged during the session. This isn’t the Council giving a presentation. This is Council listening to its citizens.” Sumek said from what he was witnessing at the event, “There were some real common themes emerging here.”

Sumek said he tries to hold the discussion teams at each table to six people each. Any larger than that, he said, and some drop out of the conversation. From his perspective, Sumek said, “You warm them up and then you let them go. The more ideas we hear, the better off we are.”

Sumek added the Town came to him wanting to know how residents felt about the current version of the Town’s Strategic Plan for future years. He said Town officials were looking for input on the plan and get it in a short amount of time. Sumek said he recommended the format for the meeting which was held, and Town officials agreed to try it.

“Our strategic plan look out 18 months to 24 months, really, kind of short term,” explained City Manager Pam Reece, who was among the officials present. “The Council is always looking at it and updating it. She explained the session Council members had scheduled for the day after this summit, Friday, Nov. 6, would involve thinking about things the Town could do over the next 18 to 24 months to get to where residents think the Town ought to be on certain matters.

Many of the summit participants raised their hands when asked by Sumek if they had lived in the community for 25 years or longer, with only a couple lifting arms if they had been here less than 25 years.

Jim Riker would qualify as one of the folks who has been in the community 25 years and said the folks at his table seemed in agreement on many of the things they felt the Town needed to accomplish going forward into the future. “We’re concerned about the Town’s debt,” Riker said were among items concerning the group he sat with.

In addition, Riker said the group at his table agreed that “we want the Town to stop the Uptown Normal project beyond where it is, and to not go beyond that, to the south side.” The project he was referring to not wanting to see started is the proposed Trail East project, which would include a 5-story mixed use building situated on the east side of the Town Roundabout.

He said the people at his table were of the belief the Town needs to stop increasing fees and “see where we are at and pick the right projects. We need to attend to infrastructure and roads, sewers. We need to get police and fire pensions fully funded.” That last item referred to the Town voting to fund those pensions at 90 percent rather than 100 percent by 2040 as proposed by the State.

Rachel Hile-Broad said she was at a table with folks who agreed the Town is headed in the right direction in a number of ways and if an improvement could be suggested, it would be that “there needed to be more avenues of communication for citizens with Council members and the Town, such as this one.” Hile-Broad said the Trail East project did not come up at her table. “There was a lot of affirmation about what the Town is doing at our table.”

Hile-Broad, however, did say there is always room for the Town to improve. She did say the Town’s debt did come up and was a point of disagreement among participants at her table. On that issue, Hile-Broad said, the members at her table came to an agreement the Town should employ “sustainable financing” as a means how to pay for projects going forward.

NORMAL – At their regularly-scheduled meeting Monday night, Normal Town Council members were supposed to approve the 2019 tax levy, as other governing bodies have done in recent sessions for the levy to move on to the county clerk’s office. But getting the approval accomplished turned into a tangled discussion concerning, among other things, setting aside enough funds for the Town to hire a communication specialist.

Council Member Kevin McCarthy said he wanted to see the levy altered so that the Town could add money to afford to pay for someone to fill the position of Communication Specialist, a person who would, among numerous duties, serve as a liaison to local media and help Council and Town staff get information out through local media. McCarthy said he would like to see the tax levy amount altered to reflect the Town having the funds to pay for that position. The amount needed for the Communication Specialist’s salary, which McCarthy asked be added to the levy, is $96,834.

Council members approved the levy by a 4-3 count with Mayor Chris Koos, joined by Council Members Kathleen Lorenz, Chemberly Cummings, and McCarthy in favor. Council Members Stan Nord, Karyn Smith, and Scott Preston voting against. The votes sized up in the same manner when Council members voted on a motion by Nord to table voting on the measure until the Council’s next meeting scheduled for Dec. 17.

Projections indicated by the Town show income from the property tax levy would result in the Town taking in $13,055,328. A person with a home costing $165,000 would see an increase of roughly $6 added to their bill. The levy’s total amount before the request to add the communication specialist position into the equation was $12,958,494.

At their first session in November, Council members decided to reduce the dollar amounts that would go in the pension funds of retired police and fire fighters. The Council wanted to maintain the Town’s contribution to that fund to be at 100 percent by 2040, surpassing the mandated 90 percent mark set by the State.

The Town had a Communication Specialist for a few years in the person of Dan Irvin, who came to the Town to fill the post having had experience in a similar position with the former Mitsubishi Motors North America plant on the Town’s west end. Irvin retired from his communication position with the Town earlier this year.

Abatement Of 2019 Property Taxes For Debt Service Approved: By a 6-1 count, Council members approved ordinances authorizing abatement of 2019 property taxes for debt service. Mayor Chris Koos, and Council Members Chemberly Cummings, Kevin McCarthy, Scott Preston, Kathleen Lorenz, and Karyn Smith approved the measure while Council Member Stan Nord voted against it.

A total of $6,204,878 in property taxes for the following bonds were abated as a result of the vote. They included: 2009 bonds issued in July 2009 to repay a 2003 bond; 2009(A) bonds issued in July 2009 (Build America Strong bonds); 2010(A) bonds issued in November 2010 (Recovery Zone bonds); 2012 bonds issued in September 2012 to refund 2004 bonds; 2013 bonds issued in November 2013 to refund 2005 bonds; 2014 bonds issued in November 2014; 2016(A) bonds issued in March 2016 bonds to repay 2006 bonds; 2016(B) bonds issued in March 2016; 2017(A) bonds issued in March 2017 to refund 2007 bonds; 2017(B) bonds issued in March 2017 to refund 2007 bonds; 2018 bonds issued in March 2018 to refund 2008 bonds; 2019 bonds issued in October to partially refund 2009 bonds; and Special Service Area bonds, or SSA bonds, issued in December 2004.

Community Development Block Grant 2020-2024 Draft Presented: Council members were given a brief presentation by Town Associate Planner Taylor Long concerning the Community Development Block Grant draft which citizens will get an opportunity to provide input on at a session scheduled for later this month.

Long explained the draft plans for CDBG will be available for public comment for a 40 day period running from Dec. 3 through Jan. 11. A public hearing on CDBG draft will be held in the café of the Normal Public Library on Tuesday, Dec. 17. During that session, the draft of the CDBG Consolidated plan will be discussed from 5:30p.m.-6:30p.m., followed by a discussion of the 2020-2021 CDBG Action Plan from 6:30p.m.-7:30p.m.

Members of the public are encouraged to attend the hearing, but if they can’t may provide written comments to either Town Clerk’s office or to Long by way of email. His email address is: tlong@normal.org.

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

• Approval of minutes of a work session held Nov. 18, 2019.

• Approval of minutes of the regular Council meeting held Nov. 18, 2019.

• Report to receive and file Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Nov. 27, 2019.

• A motion to approve the year 2020 Town meeting calendar.

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

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

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

• A resolution authorizing the execution of an intergovernmental agreement with the City of Bloomington, McLean County, and the Ecology Action Center for solid waste management services.

• A resolution reapproving the final plat of the resubdivision of outlots 502 and 503 in Constitution Trail Centre Subdivision (H2 Hotel).

• A resolution amending a reciprocal easement agreement for the Hyatt Place Hotel.

• An ordinance modifying Chapter 25 Division 16 – plan review, building, HVAC, electric, sign, and plumbing permit fees (associated with the implementation of the Central Square TRAKiT Software System.

By Steve Robinson | November 14, 2019 - 10:48 pm
Posted in Category: Unit 5

NORMAL – There was plenty of recognition to go around when Normal-based Unit 5 Board members held their regularly-scheduled meeting at district headquarters Nov. 13. Veterans, the girls’ cross country team from Kingsley Junior High School, an honor bestowed onto Parkside Elementary School, and even Board members themselves received honors at this meeting.

Veterans Day Remembered: In the first of four “good news” reports presented to Board members, district superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel informed Board members and an audience of about 20 people that throughout the day, district schools hosted “dinners, assemblies, classroom visits and parades” to recognize veterans. At the meeting, Daniel added, “Tonight we want to honor all of our employees who are veterans, past and present, whose service and sacrifice enable us to enjoy peace and freedom every day.”

At this meeting, Daniel honored Shane Hill, associate principal at KJHS who had just returned from a recent tour of duty at Bagram AFB, Afghanistan. There, Hill served as with the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing as chief of public affairs. “Capt. Hill is representative of our many employees who selflessly serve our country,” Daniel told the gathering. “We want to thank you for all your service.”

Hill responded by saying, “On behalf of all my family, Unit 5 is an extension of my family and while I was gone, I received over 500 letters from grade schoolers, and junior high and high schoolers. That was awesome.” He presented Daniel with an American flag which was flown over Bagram AFB to recognize all those at Unit 5 who showed support for his family.

Kingsley Junior High’s “Good News”: Dennis Larson, assistant principal at Kingsley Junior High School, introduced the next “good news” report which featured members of the school’s Cross Country team. On Saturday, October 19, the team, aided by the guidance of their coaches, finished 4th in the Illinois Education State Association Girls’ 3A State Meet. The Cross Country Team is coached by Amanda Robison and Shelby Wall. Runners on the team are: Ali Ince, Addie Snoeyink, Maya Lanier, Kaitlyn Ringler, Makayla Jackson, Ryann Bossard, Carly Gorman, Lana Alcorn, Maddie Chapman, and Lydia Plattner.

Parkside Elementary’s “Good News”: Board members next heard about Parkside Elementary School having been named one of just four National Unified Champion Schools in the State of Illinois, celebrating the honor at an assembly in the school gym on Oct. 24. Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools program is an all-ages based program supported by the Federal Department of Education. A primary goal of the program is to motivate young people and give them tools, skills, and opportunities to help change their schools to have a genuine culture of inclusiveness, according to the national office of Special Olympics.

Unified schools have three main goals as set by Special Olympics: Inclusive sports; Youth leadership and advocacy; And Engagement in the program on the part of the whole school. At this assembly, Parkside Elementary was awarded a banner signifying the school’s commitment toward those goals.

Parkside Principal Chris Ellis introduced Kathy O’Connell, the school’s adaptive physical education teacher and Nancy Wojtanowski, a special education teacher whose students, many of them, are part of Special Olympics. “Together, these two ladies, honestly, have pulled this program together and made it one that is respected in our building and in our district.”

Board Members Honored On Their Day: The State has set aside a day to honor school board members for the work do and hours they put in. Illinois Association of School Boards designated Friday, Nov. 15 as Illinois School Board Members Day. Honored this year were Board President Barry Hitchins, Vice President Amy Roser, Secretary Alan Kalitzky, and Board members Dr. Kelly Pyle, Mike Trask, Meta Mickens-Baker, and Taunia Leffler.

Hitchins and Leffler were recognized for having completed IASB courses related to Board membership. Hitchins completed work related to earning a Board Member Level II designation while Leffler completed work related to earning a Board Member Level I designation and Leadershop member designation.

Curriculum Update Presented: Board members heard a presentation from Dan Lamboley, director of secondary education concerning curriculum updates planned to start in the 2020-21 school year. A new course in cybersecurity for high school students is among new offerings planned by the district, Lamboley said. The one credit course would be available to sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Another course dealing with the subject is Project Lead The Way, which he explained offers students benefits to students such as fostering interest in the subject, and acts as a springboard for students to have more opportunities to interact in computer sciences.

Also being planned in an internship in education for seniors for either one or two credits building on knowledge and skills learned in another course, Introduction To Education. As part of this course, Illinois Professional Teaching Standards will be used to guide course curriculum. Necessary career skills will be correlated with soft skills and academic skills in a project-based format. The student will participate in an unpaid internship with a mentor teacher in a community school. Students are required to provide their own transportation for this component.

These two classes are among eight the district is adding to help spark students’ interest. The others are Transitional Math, Pre-Advanced Placement World History and Geography, Transitional Math which includes Statistics, Robotics and Engineering, taught through Bloomington Area Career Center, and AMPED 1 Algebra. AMPED stands for Algebra 1 in Manufacturing Processes, Entrepreneurship and Design). Dual credit courses conducted in conjunction with Heartland Community College are also part of the new offerings.

Tax Levy Filing Deadline Approaches: Board members heard from District Business Manager Marty Hickman concerning filing the tax levy by the Dec. 31 deadline. Board members will consider adopting the levy at their next meeting Dec. 11. The County Clerk’s office will verify the levy in March or April and collecting the tax will begin in May or June.

Hickman said tax levy dollars account for nearly 65 percent of money used by the district, with State and Federal revenue, as well as other sources making up the rest of the money used by the district. The percentage taken in using property taxes for Unit 5 is $71.4 million. Federal revenue accounts for 7.54 percent, or over $8.3 million; State revenue accounts for 21.52 percent of what the district gets, or over $23.9 million, and 6.64 percent comes from other local sources, or over $7.3 million.

Next Board Meeting Dec. 11: Because of the Thanksgiving holiday, there will be no second Board meeting in November. The Board’s next meeting will be on Wednesday, Dec. 11, at district headquarters, 1809 W. Hovey Ave., beginning at 7p.m.

By Steve Robinson | November 4, 2019 - 10:55 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – How much Normal residents paid in property taxes in 2018 should be familiar to taxpayers this year when the bill comes due again soon, thanks to how Normal Town Council members voted during their regularly-scheduled meeting Monday. Council members unanimously approved not increasing property tax paid for one year by citizens.

City Manager Pam Reece explained to Council members what was prompting the notion of increasing property taxes was an increase in interest rates for Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund. The Town had voted a few years back to try to fund its share of that fund at 100 percent by the year 2040 while many other communities in the State were given the option by the fund to try to provide 90 percent funding.

As proposed, the 2019 tax levy would increase 4.95 percent above last year’s levy, making this year’s levy $13,600,295, an increase of $641,801.

During a discussion of how to proceed, Council members agreed to the one-year break from increased payments to fully fund the town’s police and fire pensions by 2040.

The decision was welcome enough for one of seven speakers who addressed Council members before their discussion on the matter to quietly applaud after Council members voted for the tax increase hiatus. That speaker, Craig Stimpert, addressed Council members before the discussion, saying, “Here we are again because the Council to raise taxes to meet the Police and Fire retirees pension option.” He added voting for tax increases, as Council members did in 2018 at this time “wasn’t making Normal, Illinois an affordable place to live” and suggested the Town find a new funding formula for the pensions.

Community Development Block Grant Survey Reviewed: Council members also heard a report concerning Community Development Block Grant fund planning from Taylor Long, associate planner for the Town. He explained a total of 430 Normal residents completed a CDBG survey concerning community needs. Respondents to the survey cited a number of items they wanted addressed using grant funds. Among those were: accessibility improvements and sidewalk improvements; water and sewer improvements; demolition of blighted structures; bus facility improvements; and facilities for the homeless.

Council members will hear a draft consolidation plan and 2021 action plan at their Dec. 2 meeting followed by a public comment session Dec. 17 on the draft of the action plan. That will take place at Normal Public Library starting at 5:30p.m. Town Council members will vote on final proposals for both plans at their second meeting in January. The plans would then go to Housing and Urban Development for final approval.

Discovery Museum Board, Planning Commission Appointees Announced: Two residents will join the Children’s Discovery Museum Board, as announced by Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McCarthy during the session. Samuel Gray has been appointed to the Board, as has Tejas Jani. Gray is an attorney in State Farm’s Legal Department. He and his family came to Bloomington-Normal from Boston in 2017. Gray is filling a vacancy on the Board and his term expires June 30, 2020.

Jani is also a State Farm employee who has been part of the community for six years involving himself with a number of non-profit groups and now will become a member of Normal Planning Commission. The term Jani will serve expires on the Commission expires March 31, 2021.

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

• Approval of the minutes of the regular meeting held Oct. 21, 2019.

• Report to receive and file Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Oct. 30, 2019.

• A resolution reapproving the final plat of Lot 1 of resubdivision of Lot 2 in the first addition to North-Land Commercial Subdivision and Lot 7 in the fifth addition to North-Land Commercial Subdivision (Menards, 900 Greenbriar Dr.).

• A resolution authorizing the City Manager to enter into a service agreement with Blackbaud/Altru for January 2020 through December 2022 in the total amount of $35,640.

NORMAL – When we were in grade school, we all sought to be considered part of the group of kids we had classes with. For some students, fitting right in happened almost immediately. But for kids with developmental disabilities, sometimes, those youngsters find fitting in difficult because other kids aren’t able to relate or made fun of them. But youngsters at Parkside Elementary School, through programs at Parkside Elementary School, are finding themselves fitting right in thanks to Special Olympics.

Parkside Elementary was named one of just four National Unified Champion Schools in the State of Illinois, celebrating the honor at an assembly in the school gym on Oct. 24. Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools program is an all-ages based program supported by the Federal Department of Education. A primary goal of the program is to motivate young people and give them tools, skills, and opportunities to help change their schools to have a genuine culture of inclusiveness, according to the national office of Special Olympics.

Unified schools have three main goals as set by Special Olympics: Inclusive sports; Youth leadership and advocacy; And Engagement in the program on the part of the whole school. At this assembly, Parkside Elementary was awarded a banner signifying the school’s commitment toward those goals.

In addition to the school’s 290 students, a number of former staff members and students who were part of the program in the past were invited to return to cerebrate receiving the honor. Also, a group of students who now attend neighboring Parkside Junior High School and were part of the program at the grade school in the past were invited to attend the celebration.

“It’s a tremendous honor for Parkside and we’re really proud of them,” stated Marty Hickman, Chief Operating Officer for Special Olympics Illinois, who represented the organization at this function. “They have exhibited all the things you would want a school to exhibit with regard to inclusion and helping students with intellectual disabilities to be part of their school community.”

A total of four schools in Illinois were receiving this honor and Parkside is the only elementary school in the State to claim the honor. The others are two high schools and a junior high school. There are a total of 400 schools Statewide which participate in the Young Athletes Program. Schools applied for the honor and needed to meet 10 excellence standards to qualify to be awarded the national recognition.

The program has been in place for 11 years, Hickman said, adding, “It creates an environment in this school where students with intellectual disabilities are more accepted, more included, and can have a richer and more full elementary school experience because of how they’re treated here.”

Fifth graders serve as peer coaches for students in Special Olympics’ Young Athletes Program, a program that involves students who are younger than age 8, explained Kathy O’Connell, Special Education physical education teacher at both the grade school and PJHS. The next step for athletes once they become 8-years-old is to be eligible to participate in Special Olympics programs and events. The Young Athletes Program has been available at the school for 13 years, O’Connell added.

O’Connell said students are taught lessons in the importance of respect toward people with disabilities. Because she teaches at PJHS, O’Connell sees the lessons at the grade school sticking with kids once they move on to secondary education. “They just grow up with it,” she said. “It just flows from one school to the other.”

To celebrate the accomplishment, the assembly’s audience included current and former students who have been involved in the Unified Sports Programs established at the school through Special Olympics, as well as hearing from some of those people.

Among the speakers were former athletes in both the Young Athletes or Unified Sports Program at the grade school. Eighteen year old Brandon Lake and his mother, Heather. Heather recounted for the audience that her son was a participant in the Young Athletes program starting at age five, and she has kept the first shirt he ever got when he entered the program at that time.

She admitted she was “an overwhelmed mama who was new to the world of disabilities” at the time she and her son came to see O’Connell about Brandon getting to be part of the program. For the Lake family, “Young Athletes Program line of Special Olympics events that Brandon participated over the years,” Heather Lake said. “But for me, personally, it marked a point in time where we were actually empowered to embrace our son’s strengths rather than his deficits.”

The assembly also heard from other parents and teammates in the Unified program who say they have learned from the experience.

Sean Foster, principal of Bloomington Central Catholic High School, also addressed the gathering, saying, “We are here to congratulate you on your accomplishment. It’s really important to have schools and organizations that partner together to help one another and serve one another. He noted that seniors at his school spend one of the last days of their high school career helping with the Young Athletes program. “By helping with this program, our students receive so much more in return.”

Before the program closed, Hickman spoke just before the banner with the national honor was presented. “I want you to understand not every school is able to be a national banner Unified Champion School,” he told the gathering. “A Special Olympics Unified Champion School has an inclusive school climate and exudes a sense of collaboration, engagement, and respect for all members of the student body and staff. “

With that, and after the presentation, school employees, members of the school’s Young Athletes Program, Special Olympics athletes, and coaches gathered around the banner as family and friends closed out the proceedings taking pictures with the newly-attained banner.