NORMAL – One of the owners of the Normandy Village complex addressed Normal Town Council members toward the end of the government body’s regularly-scheduled meeting Sept. 7 wishing to refute comments a Normal Council member made on his Facebook page concerning intentions over the owners’ planned use for the property.

Julie Hile addressed Council members, including Council Member Stan Nord who made a video recapping his concerns for what Hile and her husband, Bob Broad, had in mind for the property. In addressing Council members, Hile said, “Following the Aug. 16 Council meeting, one Council member made a series of misrepresentations regarding our action at and intentions for Normandy Village.”

Hile said Nord “appears to be seeking to discredit us as public servants and business owners.” She said the intention she and Broad have for the property after purchasing it several years ago was “repairing, preserving, and celebrating this special property.” Among the purposes she said she and Broad had for the property when they purchased it was to make it “a place where community members can gather and create future happy memories.”

In a video found on his Facebook page, first term Councilman Nord stood on Normandy Village property as he said, “The Town staff want to allow bars out here.” He then pointed to a small park nearby he referred to as a “children’s park.”

Nord went on to explain the concern over the property with a request for new businesses on the property. “This was all spurred by the owners of Normandy Village going to the Town and saying, ‘hey, it would be great if we could have bars and breweries out here.’” He said Hile and Broad “then got hooked in with a brewery to help start this whole initiative to allow bars to be out here.”

“Contrary to Mr. Nord’s repeated allegations, we have no intentions to open a bar in Normandy Village,” Hile told Council members. She added what she and her husband intend to do with property is continue to rehab the buildings on the property, and “expanding community activities within the greenspaces, and provide a peaceful and beautiful destination for neighbors, community members, and visitors.”

The property in question is known to locals as the former Illinois Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s School, or ISSCS. Founded in 1865, ISSCS began as a home and school for children of disabled and deceased Civil War veterans. The facility housed and educated children for more than a century, and permanently closed in 1979.

Financial Trend Report Looks Good Despite Pandemic: In spite of difficulties the pandemic presented for Normal, Town Finance Director Andrew Huhn presented Council members with a rather positive picture of how the Town has fared so far through the crisis. Huhn said his office looks to see how the Town did in various categories to determine the overall financial health of the Town. As it turns out, Normal has gotten through the pandemic period fairly well.

He showed Council members the Town has positive numbers concerning assessed property value, the number of requests for construction building permits, average prices of home sales, and the unemployment rate. In terms of assessed property value, Huhn said the Town discovered an equalized assessed value growth of at least two percent annually will help generate sufficient property tax dollars coming in to offset increases in expenditures.

The number of construction permits requested went up in 2020 versus 2019, as well, Huhn explained. In 2018, 835 construction permits were sought by builders. But that number dropped by 0.5 percent in 2019, to 831 percent. Those requests for building permits increased in 2020 by 6.7 percent, with 887 permit requests being asked for of the Town. Huhn added residential remodeling also saw a jump last year with 656 requests sought by residents from the Town, up from 571 requests in 2019.

Average home prices saw increases in 2020, too, according to the report. In 2021, Normal is currently experiencing what the report calls “a significant increase” in the demand for housing attributed to “continuing economic development associated with Rivian.” Because of that, the Town’s report adds, “This will likely result in home sales and pricing for future years.”

Unemployment in Normal jumped 2 percent from 2.3 percent in 2019 to 4.3 percent in 2020, the report added. The 2.3 percent figure was one of the Town’s lowest, Huhn said, and then he said because of the pandemic, the Town’s unemployment figure jumped to one of its highest in 2020. Huhn actually rates this subject as “positive – with caution,” explaining in the report, “the recovery of the unemployment rate is trending in a positive direction. Normal’s rate remains amongst the lowest compared to the eight largest downstate communities in central Illinois (south of I-80).”

Galesburg, Peoria, and Decatur all experienced higher unemployment numbers from 2020 into 2021. Galesburg saw a jump from 3.8 percent in 2020 to 8.1 percent in 2021, an increase of 3.8 percent; Peoria saw a jump from 4 percent to 8.8 percent in 2021; and Decatur’s went from 4.6 percent in 2020 to 10.2 percent in 2021.

The number of construction permits requested went up in 2020 versus 2019, as well, Huhn explained. In 2018, 835 construction permits were sought by builders. But that number dropped by 0.5 percent in 2019, to 831 percent. Those requests for building permits increased in 2020 by 6.7 percent, with 887 permit requests being asked for of the Town. Huhn added residential remodeling also saw a jump last year with 656 requests sought by residents from the Town, up from 571 requests in 2019.

Average home prices saw increases in 2020, too, according to the report. In 2021, Normal is currently experiencing what the report calls “a significant increase” in the demand for housing attributed to “continuing economic development associated with Rivian.” Because of that, the Town’s report adds, “This will likely result in home sales and pricing for future years.”

Unemployment in Normal jumped 2 percent from 2.3 percent in 2019 to 4.3 percent in 2020, the report added. The 2.3 percent figure was one of the Town’s lowest, Huhn said, and then he said because of the pandemic, the Town’s unemployment figure jumped to one of its highest in 2020. Huhn actually rates this subject as “positive – with caution,” explaining in the report, “the recovery of the unemployment rate is trending in a positive direction. Normal’s rate remains amongst the lowest compared to the eight largest downstate communities in central Illinois (south of I-80).”

Galesburg, Peoria, and Decatur all experienced higher unemployment numbers from 2020 into 2021. Galesburg saw a jump from 3.8 percent in 2020 to 8.1 percent in 2021, an increase of 3.8 percent; Peoria saw a jump from 4 percent to 8.8 percent in 2021; and Decatur’s went from 4.6 percent in 2020 to 10.2 percent in 2021.

Normal and the rest of the country may be in the midst of a global pandemic, but from a financial standpoint, the Town appears to be holding its own and even doing well in spite of the drawbacks the worldwide situation has produced for other communities. That was the gist of the annual financial trend report Normal Town Council members received during their meeting Tuesday, Sept. 7, held the day after the Federal Labor Day Holiday.

By Steve Robinson | September 7, 2021 - 10:51 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – Normal Town Council members learned Tuesday that the Town successfully went through another annual audit with no issues registered. And for the second year, the Town was recognized by for its efforts to maintain such accounting records by an independent organization. Town Council members met Tuesday in Council Chambers on the 4th Floor of Uptown Station, a day after the Federal Labor Day Holiday.

Jamie Wilkey, a partner with Naperville-based Certified Public Accounting firm Lauterbach and Amen, told Council members the Town received what auditors call a clean audit, or audit without issues needing to be addressed. Further, she said, the Town has received a certificate of achievement in financial reporting from Chicago-based Government Finance Officers Association. The Town received the honor last year, as well, for its efforts related to financial reporting and recordkeeping.

Wilkey explained the audit received what auditors call an “unmodified opinion.” She explained auditors enter an audit to make sure of two things: To ensure the Town’s financial statements, as they are presented, are materially correct; and to assess the overall environment where auditing measures take place.

She said auditors research samples of transactions done by the Town to complete the audit. In doing this, auditors are looking for items that might be considered issues or findings of concern the Town would then need to address and resolve.

Wilkey told Council members she was pleased to report the Town had no findings needing to be taken care of.

After Wilkey completed her report to Council members, they unanimously approved a resolution to accept the audited Town of Normal Financial Statements and Report on Internal Controls for the Year ending March 31, 2021. The Town’s fiscal year begins every April 1 and ends the following March 31.

Liquor Code Amended To Allow Liquor Sales At Normal Theater: Council members voted 6-1 approving an ordinance which would amend the Town’s liquor code so that alcohol could be sold at the Normal Theater and Town-sponsored events held in Uptown. Council Member Stan Nord cast the lone dissenting vote. Town Staff wrote a report to Council members explaining updating the ordinance allowing the change “would enhance the Town’s opportunities for hosting community/private events and add a consistent approach to alcohol at approved sponsored events in Uptown.”

Nord asked if the Town needed to assume responsibility if it sold liquor to someone beyond a legal limit or to someone who was not 21 or older as State law mandates. Town Corporation Counsel Brian Day explained current liability for the Town currently used at Town-owned Ironwood Golf Course would be used at the theater. He added the Town already has staff familiar with the legal requirements of serving alcohol, and that if Council approved the measure, the theater would need to apply to the Town for a liquor license just as any other liquor selling establishment does.

Nord proposed an amendment to the ordinance separating the types of events so Council members would have to take a vote on selling liquor at the theater and take a separate vote on selling liquor at public events for Council members to vote on. No Council member offered a second to his amendment.

Larry Schumacher Appointed To Historic Preservation Commission: Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McCarthy announced Larry Schumacher has been appointed to fill an open seat on the Town’s Historic Preservation Commission. His term will expire March 31, 2022. Retired from a 36-year career at State Farm, Schumacher and wife Laurel have two daughters. Once he retired, Schumacher, who has a background in construction, became a licensed home inspector and founded LS Home Inspections, LLC. He has a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Illinois State University.

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

• Approval of minutes of the regular Council meeting of Aug. 16, 2021.

• Report to receive and file Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Sept. 1, 2021.

• A resolution authorizing a contract with Peoria-based Hoerr Construction, Inc. for the 2021 sanitary and storm sewer cleaning and televising contract in the amount of $1,181,816.30 and an associated budget adjustment.

• A resolution conditionally approving the final plat for Greystone Fields Subdivision 3rd addition (Parkside Rd.).

• An ordinance to restrict parking in the first block on the west side River Landing St. and Montgomery St. south of Shelbourne Dr.

By Steve Robinson | August 31, 2021 - 10:32 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – When Normal-based Unit 5 School Board members met during their regularly-scheduled meeting Aug. 25, they were informed the current budget includes a deficit which totals $18.5 million. That amount, as it turns out, according to a District official, is not as much as it was anticipated to be.

Marty Hickman, the district’s chief financial officer, explained to Board members the district didn’t spend as much money on transportation because of remote learning during the previous school year. Transportation accounted for $8 million being spent while taking in $11 million.

Informing Board members in the auditorium at Normal Community West High School, Hickman explained the district also transferred $11,750,725 from its working cash fund placing that money into its education fund. That amount, it turns out is lower than was anticipated for the school year, as the district expected that amount to be around $16 million. The district also received a payment of $1.5 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) Grant dollars.

Looking at the eight individual funds the district manages, the coming school year will see half of them with net changes in the red. The largest of those is the district working cash fund with a deficit of $11.3 million. The district Fire Prevention and Safety account has the next highest deficit of $4.4 million, followed by its transportation fund with a deficit of $3.2 million. The district’s educational, operations and maintenance, debt service, and tort funds all currently remain in the black.

With students returning to classrooms this month, Unit 5 officials are working on financial assumptions that, among other things, food service incoming money levels should return to normal with students back in class, Tommy Hoerr, director of financial services for the district, told Board members.

Hoerr added lunches the district dispensed last year during the pandemic were paid with Federal grant dollars. This year, he added, local revenue will pay for that expense. Hoerr said

Among the financial assumptions the district is making concerning the coming school year, Hoerr said, are that income from food service should return to pre-Covid levels at the district’s two high schools and should increase at its four junior high schools. He said that ought to add $1.6 million to district coffers.

In addition to those assumptions, Unit 5 anticipates a 1 percent increase in the levy for earned assessed valuation of real estate for 2021.

Where State-provided funding is concerned, because of remote learning last year, the district lost roughly $1.7 million in transportation revenue. Evidence-based funding, however, saw an increase of around $400,000.

From a labor perspective, Hickman recapped for Board members the district continues to negotiate with employees who are members of Laborers Local 362 to agree on a contract. The district is in the middle of a second year of a three-deal with both members of Unit Five Support Professionals Association, the union representing paraprofessionals and educational office personnel, and Unit Five Education Association (UFEA), the union which represents the district’s teachers.

Board members anticipate adopting a finalized budget at their Sept. 22 meeting.

By Steve Robinson | August 28, 2021 - 10:15 pm
Posted in Category: Bloomington HS, NCHS, News, The Normalite

BLOOMINGTON – After Friday night’s season opening loss to Normal Community High Fred Carlton Field, one can only imagine Bloomington High School players and coaches still couldn’t get the sight of NCHS senior quarterback Chase Mackey from their dreams considering the performance he gave in the Ironmen’s season opening 35-0 Big 12 Conference shutout victory over the Purple Raiders.

Mackey, the 6 foot-3, 200 pound quarterback, completed passes totaling 195 yards which included three touchdown passes and running for a fourth directing his team to its first victory of the season, its first road victory.

After receiving the opening kickoff, the Purple Raiders were deep in their own territory and forced to punt but the return put NCHS (1-0 Big 12 and overall) on BHS’ 5-yard line. Even with a penalty against them, four plays later, the Ironmen scored courtesy of Mackey rushing five yards into the end zone at the 5:59 mark in the first quarter, followed by junior kicker Ryan Millmore successful extra point, putting NCHS up, 7-0, closing out the quarter.

Short yardage and penalty flags doomed Bloomington (0-1 Big 12 and overall) in the second quarter allowing NCHS to begin what turned into its next score from BHS’ 14-yard line. One play later, senior running back Michael Coleman rushed past defenders for NCHS’ next score, followed by Millmore’s extra point, putting NCHS up, 14-0 with 2:11 left in the quarter.

NCHS would score again in the quarter’s closing seconds as Mackey would connect with senior wide receiver Kyle Thierry on a one play 45-yard scoring pass followed by another Millmore extra point, giving NCHS a 21-0 halftime lead.

NCHS received the ball to open the second half and immediately added to their lead courtesy of an 18-yard touchdown pass from Mackey to senior wide receiver Terance Washington capping a 4 play 65-yard drive topped off with Millmore’s extra point, increasing NCHS’ lead to 28-0 as the game entered the fourth quarter.

Mackey and Washington would connect one more time on the night with 6:10 left in the contest on a 55-yard touchdown pass followed by Millmore’s last extra point of the night. Washington’s opening night stats included four receptions tallying 116 yards.

The victory avenged a 12-6 loss NCHS suffered against BHS in the spring, which Ironmen head coach Jason Drengwitz noted after the game, adding he didn’t really look upon this victory as revenge for that loss, but added, “it was probably sweeter for our players, but I don’t think I looked at it as a revenge game. I have a lot of respect for Bloomington, their players, and their coaching staff. More than anything, it’s not really revenge. You just want to beat your crosstown rival for the bragging rights. BHS was a team who handled us physically last year. I know our kids feel good about this win. They were excited to get out here and play against this team.”

Drengwitz added that from here, he and his players need to look at what went well for the Ironmen and build on those things. “I know our kids feel good about this win. I know they were excited.”

BHS head coach Scott Godfrey characterized the week leading up to the game as being “just a tough week.” “We had a lot of adversity thrown at us this week,” Godfrey said in describing how his week leading up to the game played out. He explained the heat added to injured players, and having to play without some key players made the week leading up to the game frustrating for the coaching staff and players.

“Give credit to Normal Community, they hit us in the mouth from the very start,” Godfrey said. “They controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and they won the turnover battle. So, first and foremost, they did what it takes to win a football game.”

Ironmen Field To Be Renamed “Dick Tharp Field” Before Friday’s Home Game: Prior to Friday’s first NCHS home game, the field they play on, currently known as Ironmen Field, will be renamed in honor of a former head coach, Dick Tharp, thus becoming known as Dick Tharp Field. Tharp, now 90, coached NCHS for 22 seasons, from 1966-1988, helping guide the Ironmen to a 158-50-5 mark. Big 12 Conference foe Peoria Manual will be the opponents for the 7p.m. contest. The Rams will be seeking a first win having lost a week 1 non-conference game at Peotone, 24-20.

NORMAL – A section of West College Ave. has become concerning for many business people and residents over the years. For both constituencies, the deterioration of the road, particularly as one travels from College Ave. to Rivian Motorway has had businesses in the area hoping the Town could find a way to repair it.

For Chip Henrichs, who owns a trio of warehouses which house businesses along College Ave., his concerns include, were they to be needed, fire engines and emergency vehicles needing to do a U-turn into on-coming traffic to service his businesses. For years, Henrichs said, he has wanted the Town to put a small through lane to avoid what has concerned him about that part of the street, but there has never been one put in. He said he has approached Normal about creating the through lane but it still remains unaddressed.

For Mike Swartz, manager of McLean County Fairgrounds, he checked out the proposed changes in the roadway to see if there would be any potential impediments the fairgrounds might face due to updating done to the stretch of College Ave. near the entrance from there to the fairgrounds.

Normal residents, particularly those concerned with the deteriorating state of a section of West College Ave., got a glimpse of where work to fix the aging infrastructure will be done and gave Town officials an opportunity to hear concerns the work on that stretch of road will impact their businesses. The deterioration the road has experienced in over three decades time has also had an impact on them was among the reasons they say they came out to the look at proposed work the Town wants done to the road.

Among the improvements Town officials want addressed when work begins are: Reconstruction of West College Ave., including intersections and entrances from U. S. Route 150 to White Oak Rd.’s west side; Put traffic signals at the intersection at U.S. 150 at Rivian Motorway and provide a northbound right turn lane; Provide a center two-way left-turn lane along the eastern side of the road; and provide a multi-use path on the north side of the street.

In a conference room across from Normal Town Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station, local residents were given an opportunity to see where along the 1.5 mile stretch of West College Ave. the Town seeks to do work to improve a stretch of the road which has been a source of concern to many residents including Henrichs. The session lasted two hours but only a handful of residents like him availed themselves of the opportunity to see the layout of the plan, which stretched across a number of tables in the room.

West College Ave. serves as an access road for a trio of types of businesses which service people needing the businesses. Those businesses range from commercial to industrial as well as to private residences.

In addition to connecting to several businesses in the area, the road also provides access to the south side of Rivian. Those who looked over the layout were given an opportunity to write comments which would be passed on to the design team for the project. The Farnsworth Group engineering firm is heading the design phase of the project. Farnsworth Group staff were also on hand for the two-hour session.

Town Engineer Ryan Otto said the project to be done to this stretch of road is considered a rehabilitation project “so that it serves the needs of the community” like ones for Henrichs and Swartz. “We’re looking at a 30-year horizon to make it fit for truck traffic and all the businesses and the land that’s developable around the area.”

The project is in its initial planning phase, of which seeking input from the public was part of, explained City Manager Pam Reece. The pavement from White Oak Rd. to Rivian Motorway is of primary concern, Reece said. “The road has been on our radar for a while, but the worst end is the west end near Rivian Motorway, but we’ve incorporated we’ve included the whole length of the roadway because we want to have an improvement plan for the whole area.”

There are three phases to the project is expected to have a $9.3 million price tag and be done in three phases – planning; design and right-of-way/easement phase; and construction. Otto said once Town Council approves funding for the project, and getting past the planning and design phases, it’s expected to take two years from start to completion. The construction is slated to begin in spring 2023.

Reece said once the Town knows what it wants to do to improve the area, the Town can begin looking at security funding, Reece said. “We’re hoping to use some of our Federal surface transportation dollars among our sources,” she said. The Town would go through a program established by McLean County Regional Planning Commission to apply for some of the funding, she explained. In addition to that, Reece said, the Town would also use some Federal and State funding, as well as some of the Town’s Motor Fuel Tax funds for the project.

When seeking Federal funds on such projects, the community seeking Federal funds are asked to contribute a certain amount of local funding to the project, Reece said. But currently, she said, Normal does not know how much it will be asked to pitch in on this project.

Otto added that while the work is being done, the Town wants to reconfigure the road to meet the needs of Rivian and the surrounding businesses. “Anyone who drives out there knows it’s in rough shape,” Otto said explaining, “There’s a lot of concrete and joint deterioration, and a lot of potholes. So, we’re proposing rebuilding the entire road. It’s no longer something we can just mill off and resurface. It’s beyond that.” He characterized the condition of the concrete on that road as being “too poor” for simple patchwork to be done in order to fix it.

After the Town got a full assessment of how much the road needed fixing, Otto explained, they looked at what could be done to improve it by “reconfiguring it to meet the needs for Rivian and all the businesses that are currently there.”