By Steve Robinson | October 16, 2017 - 10:55 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL – Council members, by a 5-2 vote, approved a resolution authorizing approval of sales tax sharing agreements with Phillips Edison & Company for Greenbriar and College Station Plaza Shopping Centers. Both retail areas are located along Veterans Parkway. Greenbriar Shopping Center houses Fresh Market Grocers, and College Station Plaza houses Bed, Bath, & Beyond. While they are owned by the same company, the shopping centers are divided into two legal entities.

Council members Kathleen Lorenz and Scott Preston cast the opposing votes.

Phillips Edison & Co. is seeking help because of financial strains caused by Dick’s Sporting Goods relocating from their shopping properties to Empire Crossing Shopping Center in Bloomington. Phillips Edison & Co. hopes additional dollars brought in with the Council’s positive vote will help them to pay for facility improvements which they believe, will help them retain existing tenants whose leases will expire in the next few years.

Phillips, Edison & Co. has, according to a Town Staff report, already spent $400,000 on capital improvements to the facility. The Town Staff report estimates that by approving the agreement, there would be a net revenue gain to Normal over a 10-year period of $4.8 million.

An executive with Phillips, Edison & Co., Scott Adair, told Council members the company if the company doesn’t perform as expected by the Town, the company would not receive the anticipated incentive. The arrangement between the company and the Town wouldn’t be about “a handout,” Adair said. “It’s about a partnership.” He told Council members the company has capital of its own “but it’s not in excess.”

Capital used by Phillips, Edison & Co. on the two shopping centers would be used to upgrade new tenants’ spaces, not on existing tenants. “If they don’t generate the revenue, they won’t get the rebate,” City Manager Mark Peterson told Council members.

Following the meeting, Preston explained his opposing vote, saying, “The thing I kept coming back to is that Phillips, Edison & Co. would or would not undertake these investments themselves without our incentives.” They have enough capital to make investments into their properties, Preston explained, adding that because of that, they don’t need financial assistance from the Town.

Prior to the presentation, Council members heard from former Normal Mayoral Candidate Marc Tiritilli and former Normal Town Council Candidate Ron Ulmer, both of whom spoke in opposition to the proposed agreement.

Council Approves Motion To Receive 20-Year Solid Waste Management Plan: Council members unanimously approved a motion to receive a 20-year resource and recovery, or solid waste, management plan submitted to them by the Ecology Action Center. Michael Brown, executive director for the Ecology Action Center gave a brief presentation on McLean County’s history of dealing with solid waste. In the past month, he has given the presentation also to members of Bloomington City Council and McLean County Land Use Committee. Each of those bodies also voted to receive the plan. Following those votes, there is now a 90-day comment period for the public to look over and make comments concerning the plan.

The finalized plan will be brought back to Council members for final approval sometime early next year.

Children’s Museum Director Resigns: Monday’s Council session was the final one attended by Cultural Arts Department Director and Children’s Discovery Museum Executive Director Shelleigh Birlingmair. A Town press release announced she has resigned to accept a Development position at Advocate-BroMenn/Advocate Eureka. Birlingmair has been with the Town since last October. Birlingmair’s resignation is effective at the end of October.

County Planning Commission, Council Hold Work Session: Prior to the Council session, Council members held a joint work session in Council Chambers with members of the McLean County Planning Commission. Vasudha Pinnamaraju, executive director of McLean County Regional Planning Commission and a team which included professionals from the Town and other community groups, presented to Council and Commission members an update on what the community can do to help its citizens as the Town moves into its next 25 years.

Among the suggestions made by a team that worked on a report which put subjects into focus was that infrastructure improvements and public safety go hand-in-hand. A draft of the plan is currently available online at the Town’s website, www.normal.org. At their Nov. 9 meeting, Normal Planning Commission members will vote to send the report on to Normal Town Council for final approval. That could happen as early as the Council’s Nov. 20 meeting.

Liquor Commission Imposes Fine, Receives Payment Installments: Prior to the Council session, Council members, serving as the Normal Local Liquor Commission, heard a settled case report concerning a fine paid by Kroger Limited Partnership 1, doing business as Kroger J-347, 1550 E. College Ave., for furnishing liquor to an underage person on July 26. Because this was the second offense in two years for the store, the Town imposed and Kroger paid a $1,000 fine.

Also during this session, Commissioners were informed there were 12 liquor license holders who needed to pay their annual license fee to the Town. Mayor Chris Koos explained to the gathering six licensees had paid their fee in two installments while four others paid in full by the Town’s Sept. 30 deadline. However, as of the deadline, there were still two license holders who had paid the Town and have been sent balance due notices.

Commissioners also approved minutes from a regularly-scheduled meeting held July 17 and a special session called on Aug. 21.

Uptown Holiday Lights Ceremony Held: Between the work session and Council meeting, Town and Illinois State University officials held their annual Uptown Tree Lighting Ceremony. The ceremony, as in years past, has formally been the kickoff event for ISU’s Homecoming celebration. ISU has various events scheduled leading up to Saturday’s Homecoming festivities.

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

• Approval of the minutes of the regular meeting of Oct. 2, 2017.

• Approval of Town of Normal Expenditures for payment as of Oct. 11, 2017.

• A resolution to waive the formal bid process and award a contract to Charlotte, N. C.-based GameTime C/O Cunningham Associates, Inc. for the purchase of modular playgrounds under the U. S. Communities Purchasing Program for Fell Park and Underwood Park in the amount of $112,500.74.

• A resolution approving executive session meeting minutes from July 17, Aug. 11, Aug. 21, Sept. 18, and Oct. 2, all 2017.

• A resolution conditionally reapproving a final plat for the J&M Planned Unit Development – Phase I at Cottage Ave. and Village Ct.

• A resolution conditionally approving the final plat of the resubdivision of One Normal Plaza Planned Unit Development by expedited process (former ISSCS Administration Building).

By Steve Robinson | October 12, 2017 - 12:24 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – In a first of its kind event, Normal-based Unit 5 School District presented residents with an update on the district, not just on matters it was addressing, but some also provided some statistical information which residents might not have been aware of previously.

Held in the auditorium of Normal Community High School, Board President Jim Hayek, Jr. informed roughly 100 people present the district “has a direct impact on the quality of life” for the students it instructs.

Hayek was followed by Dr. Mark Daniel, district superintendent, who informed audience members that the district has seen its graduation rate jump 4 percent, to 91 percent, from a decade ago. He said Unit 5 is seen as “a destination district” by many who come to the area.

Daniel explained that through offering internships, project-based learning, and college and career readiness opportunities to its students, Unit 5 is continuing to help students prepare for their future.

Daniel touted activities such as 5th grade Band, which has 528 members currently, which helps students master skills, as well. He also mentioned that Virtual Learning has become part of the district, as well, the result of the virtual classroom at Normal Community West High School, which brings professionals to speak remotely to students’ classes. Of virtual learning, Daniel said, “We’re, hopefully, going to see more and more of this.”

In addition to the graduation figures, Daniel cited that 927 district students had scored highly on Advance Placement exams.

Unit 5 mapDaniel informed the gathering that 30 percent of Unit 5’s student population is neither white nor male. The teachers in the district also have continued to pursue learning, with 66 percent of them either holding Master’s degrees, and 64 of them are National Board Certified. He added the district manages to retain 87 percent of its teaching staff, which Daniel said, is above the national average.

But while Unit 5 has such positives, Daniel explained, it’s faced with some looming challenges, among which is trying to eliminate a $1.2 million deficit in its education fund. Unit 5 also finds itself $33 million below what State lawmakers see as an adequate amount of funding to meet State guidelines. Unit 5 has an overall budget of $162 million.

“Enrollment drives revenue,” Daniel told the audience members who attended the session which preceded the Board’s scheduled meeting, which was held in the school’s cafeteria.

Beginning Enrollment Figures Presented: During the Board meeting, Dr. James Harden, executive director of human resources and student services for the district, presented Board members with school year-opening figures. Unit 5 begins the 2017-18 school year with 13,334 students in its elementary schools, four junior high schools, and two high schools. That figure includes 1,003 students total at the district’s four junior high schools, and 2,144 students at NCHS and 1,686 students at Normal Community West High School. There are a total of 6,400 students attending the district’s 17 elementary schools.

ISBE Requests Information To Comply With Federal Law: Marty Hickman, business manager for the district, reported to Board members Illinois State Board of Education is asking Unit 5 to submit to them per school building budgets in order to comply with an Obama Administration law which asks for such figures which, once received by ISBE, would be turned over to the Federal government.

By Steve Robinson | October 2, 2017 - 10:00 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council

Town of NormalNORMAL – Normal Town Council members unanimously approved a resolution allowing the Town to spend an additional $35,000 in construction costs related to the replacement of traffic signals at the intersection of Towanda and Vernon Avenues. The Town has already spent $220,000 on the project, its share of costs with the project, jointly paid for with the City of Bloomington.

The cause for the extra expense was due to needing to replace transverse contraction joints in the concrete which “were in very poor shape” according to a memo from Town Engineer Gene Brown to City Manager Mark Peterson.

That repair also let for Council members to unanimously approve a supplemental resolution to appropriate an additional $35,000 of Town Motor Fuel Tax dollars which the Town would use to pay for traffic signal improvements at the Towanda-Vernon intersection. Council members originally approved the $220,000 expenditure for this project in February.

Council Tours New Normal Fire Station #1: Prior to the meeting, Council members received a guided tour of the new Normal Fire Department’s Station #1, located at the corner of Main and Dale Streets. Fire Chief Mick Humer and two of his senior officers gave City Manager Mark Peterson, Mayor Chris Koos, and Council members a guided tour of the new facility which should begin operations sometime later this month. Once in operation, the new station will replace the existing Fire Station #1, located at the intersection of College Ave. and Blair Dr.

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

• Approval of the minutes of the regular meeting of Sept. 18, 2017.

• Approval of Town of Normal Expenditures for payment as of Sept. 27, 2017.

• A resolution to award the bid for a service truck with utility body for the Water Department to Bloomington-based Sam Leman Ford at a net cost of $37,133.47 including a trade-in allowance.

• A resolution to award the bid for a backhoe loader for the Town Water Department to Martin Equipment, Inc. at a net cost of $45,115 including a trade-in allowance.

• A resolution to waive the formal bidding procedure and accept quotes totaling $69,734.58 from Dell for the purchase of computer equipment.

• A resolution to accept water treatment plant chemical bids for November 2017 through October 2018.

• A resolution accepting the base bid, Alternative 2, Alternative 4, and authorizing a contract with Decatur-based CraftMasters, Inc. for the replacement of low slope roofing systems at the Community Activity Center in the amount of $88,900.

• An ordinance adopting a revised purchasing policy manual.

By Steve Robinson | September 28, 2017 - 10:00 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

Unit 5NORMAL – At their regularly scheduled meeting on Sept. 27 at district headquarters, members of Normal-based Unit 5 School Board unanimously approved spending for the 2017-18 school year, a budget of over $168 million, an increase in spending of 3 percent over the previous school year. But such spending will still leave Unit 5 with a $1.2 million shortage in its education fund, even though the increase in spending will have dollars added to that fund.

Board members were made aware that Senate Bill 1947, which was signed into law by Gov. Bruce Rauner Sept. 1, allocated awaited money from the State for the district will not make up for the $1.2 million deficit the district was anticipating for its education fund.

Marty Hickman, district business manager, told Board members the budget they were approving was unchanged from the draft version of the budget he presented to them last spring.

Unit 5 mapIn addition to the education fund being short, four other funds have shortfalls, as well. There is a $1,145,168 shortfall in the district’s Bond and Interest account; a shortage of over $3.8 million in the district’s fire prevention-life safety fund; A shortage of over $161,000 in the district tort fund; and a shortage of over $86,000 in the district retirement/Social Security fund. The deficits of those funds total over $4.9 million.

With regard to the retirement fund shortage, Hickman said the State providing Tier 2 funding could help lessen that amount. Filling in the other deficits, he said, will depend on timing issues.

A public hearing was held regarding the budget prior to its passage by the Board, at which no members of the public spoke.

Life Safety Expense At Normal Community West High School Approved: Board members unanimously approved spending $430,392 to make repairs on the 22-year-old tennis courts at Normal Community West High School. Board members were shown photos of various sections the courts, some which included deep, expanding cracks in the concrete. Of the dollar amount quoted for the repair, the actual cost estimate for the project is $358,660.

In addition to that amount, another $70,000 in contingency costs is part of the grand total. Anytime paving is involved with public safety, a public hearing is required, Joe Adelman, operations manager for the district, told Board members. No members of the public spoke at this hearing.

Inaugural “State Of The District” Event Set For Oct. 11: Unit 5 will hold a first-time event updating residents on matters pertaining to the district prior to the Board’s regularly-scheduled meeting on Oct. 11. The “State Of The District” event will be held at Normal Community High School starting at 6:30p.m. The Board will then hold its scheduled meeting afterward, beginning at 8p.m.

By Steve Robinson | September 18, 2017 - 10:13 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL – Normal Town Council members approved a resolution allowing the Town to offer an incentive for certain employees within a certain pay classification to retire. Called the Voluntary Separation Incentive (VSI), the offer to retire early will help the Town in its effort to reduce personnel costs.

Employees who are eligible for VSI need to meet certain requirements. Those include: Being employees who are not in bargaining units who hold certain pay grades; Have completed 15 years of service with the Town as of Dec. 31, 2018, and will be 55 years old by that date; and are eligible to receive pension benefits from Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF) by that date upon separating from their employment with the Town.

Employees taking advantage of Normal’s VSI offer would receive, upon retirement, a year’s worth of health and dental benefits at the same rate as current employees. Town employees have until mid-October to commit to a firm retirement date. Given those parameters, the Town has 18 employees eligible to consider the VSI offer.

A public comment on the subject came from former Town Council candidate Ron Ulmer, objecting to the early retirement program. Ulmer added he didn’t want to see the Town allow for early retirement “in any way.” He said a government’s problems are “frequently caused by spending.”

Agreement Approving Closing Of Maple Hill Rd. Rail Crossing Passes: Council members unanimously approved authorizing executing an agreement with Illinois Commerce Commission which would permanently eliminate the Norfolk Southern Railroad crossing on Maple Hill Rd. This road has been closed since the late 1990s as a result of low traffic through the area combined with high maintenance costs. Norfolk Southern Railroad still maintains the crossing signals in that area and requested the crossing be vacated.

The Town’s agreement with Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) includes incentive payments from Norfolk Southern and the Grade Crossing Protection Fund. The Grade Crossing Protection Fund is overseen by ICC. Also in the agreement, the railroad provides an incentive payment for the crossing closure of $15,000, as well as a $5,000 reimbursement to the Town for costs associated with installation of permanent traffic barriers at the crossing.

For its part in the agreement, the Town will be obligated to, among other conditions in the agreement, install and maintain permanent traffic barriers near the railroad’s right-of-way line.

Land Acquisition Discussion Questioned: Council members were slated to go into executive session to discuss property acquisition at the conclusion of the public meeting to discuss property acquisition. That prompted public comment from former Mayoral candidate Marc Tiritilli. Tiritilli asked the Town to cease its use of the Fairview Building, which is owned by the county, as well as the Town’s considering purchasing the building. The county is considering demolishing the building, which is located at 905 N. Main St., and is known to some in the area as a result of one of its prior uses as the Tuberculosis Sanitarium.

Dave Shields Appointed To Normal Planning Commission: Dave Shields has been appointed to the Normal Planning Commission, filling a vacancy created when Arlene Hosea left so she could become a member of the Normal Township Board. A resident of Normal since 2011, Shields is a 35-year employee of State Farm Insurance, currently working in their Strategic Resources area.

Shields is a 2015 graduate of the Multicultural Leadership Program and also has served on the Town’s 2040 Vision Committee. He has also been a volunteer with Not In Our Town and Illinois State University’s Friends Of The Arts program.

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

• Approval of the minutes of the regular meeting of Sept. 5, 2017.

• Approval of Town of Normal Expenditures for payment as of Sept. 13, 2017.

• A resolution to award the bid for an 18-inch replacement valve for the water treatment plant to Deer Creek, Ill.-based G. A. Rich & Sons at a total cost of $162,100.

• An ordinance amending Section 15.6-19 (C) of the Town Zoning Code (Permitted uses in the M-1 Restricted Manufacturing District).