NORMAL – While Normal Town Council members voted to approve awarding a bid for a water main project to Gibson City-based SNC Construction in the amount of $417,505.59 plus a potential $5,000 bonus for early completion, before voting to approve the resolution, there was some discussion which preceded the Council’s 6-1 vote approving it, with Council Member Stan Nord casting a lone opposing vote.

Town Water Director John Burkhart indicated to Council members SNC Construction is a new contractor in dealing with the Town, but he added at some point in their company’s experience, all companies have first time experiences working for municipalities. Burkhart’s report to Council members explained the project will provide an additional supply source for water to the Town and would minimize any service interruptions.

Nord said he had an issue with the timing of the project and that the Town would be experiencing a couple of expirations of Tax Increment Funding districts which would be a loss of income to the Town. “If we must spend the money in the water fund, I’d rather we spend it on something which is a current problem for our citizens,” he said. Two things he suggested were to eliminate lead piping from the current water system or simply just save the money.

Burkhart said the work to be done should not interfere with the road being worked on being used. He added the Town is continuing an inventory of what lead piping the Town has, which he said, “to date, number less than 35.”

“Staff is trying to stay ahead of projects when it makes sense,” Council Member Kevin McCarthy said. “I’m not in favor of putting this off.”

Resolution Regarding Grant For Extending Constitution Trail Approved: By a 6-1 count, Council members approved a resolution pledging financial commitment and acknowledging Town support for a grant from 2020 Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program, applying for an extension of Constitution Trail between Adelaide St. and Parkside Rd. Nord cast the lone dissenting vote on the measure.

Applicants may apply for up to $2 million in grant funds.

Mayor Chris Koos and Council Member Kevin McCarthy both explained because these two streets empty onto streets leading to main road arteries of the Town, adding them to Constitution Trail was important. Koos said adding this extension where it will be will help get people to both Parkside Junior High School and Parkside Elementary School, Normal Community West High School, and Maxwell Park. Nord said he wanted to see the Town seek another source of income which wouldn’t involve taking money from sources used to pay for Town roads, such as its Motor Fuel Tax Fund.

Resident Patrick Dullard, president of the group Friends Of Constitution Trail, addressed Council members, encouraged Council members to support the extension. He reminded the group invested nearly $5,000 in engineering fees to see what could be done to extend the trail. He reminded those dollars were collected before any formal request for the Town to put tax dollars into the project was even brought to the Town’s attention.

Resolution Amending Rules For Comments At Council, Board Meetings Passes: Council members unanimously approved a resolution amending two aspects of existing rules for public comments at Town Council meetings as well as at meetings of other Town Boards and Commissions. The first item is to provide a maximum of 30 minutes related to any item on that specific meeting’s agenda.

A second public comment period, not to exceed 15 minutes, will be added to the end of the agenda and allow residents an opportunity to address Council members on any matter germane to Town issues.

Nord told Council members he has heard from residents who wished to address Council members on a matter and were told they could not because their topic was not germane to the Council meeting agenda. He also took issue with making residents wishing to address items not germane to that night’s meeting wait through an entire meeting before they can speak. “Someone then has to decide what’s germane and not germane,” he added. “We should just let them come in and let them speak.”

Koos explained the thinking behind the changes was that “The Council meeting is not a public hearing, the Council meeting is a business meeting. I and the majority of the Council feel we’re going to take care of business that comes before us in that evening.” He reminded also that meeting minutes or bills to be paid are not action items to be addressed in public comments.

He added that people who want to talk about their issues with the Town can do so once the formal business session concludes.

Council Member Scott Preston said he had no problem with citizens addressing non-germane issues at Council sessions, whether it was before or after the regular Council session. “I will say that all comments germane to Town business is something that is important to me,” Preston said. “Making sure that all comments are germane to Town business, whether on the agenda or not, is something that is important to me.”

Koos added that there is no set rule for how communities handle allowing citizens to participate through public comments at such government meetings.

Having public comment at the end of such meetings would also allow Council members to mingle afterward with those who spoke at the end of the meeting, particularly if the citizens are expecting a response from Council members. But McCarthy countered on that point, saying Council members aren’t always the only people in attendance at such meetings. He said sometimes people scheduled to give presentations to the Council or citizens’ groups also sit in Council sessions, too. He said his preference would be that those who attend who have business with the Council receive priority at meetings.

Council Member Kathleen Lorenz reminded citizens have an opportunity to reach out to Council members on any topic through phone calls, 1-to-1 conversations, and email. Nord proposed a motion to remove the need for germane comments and allow for all public comments to be done at the beginning of meetings for 30 minutes. That proposal failed because no Council member would second it.

By Steve Robinson | October 19, 2020 - 10:15 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – A recently completed Tree inventory was part of Normal Town Council members’ agenda as the governing body met remotely Monday.

Council members heard from members of the Town’s Parks And Recreation Department who presented a report on a recent tree inventory taken which was approved at a Council measure at a meeting in June. Parks And Recreation Director Doug Damery, assistant director Gene Kotlinski, and recreation supervisor Tyler Bain walked Council members through the report.

Bain began by explaining over 11,000 trees were taken note of in the inventory, and noting “the majority of them were in good condition.” He said the Town has saved roughly $35,000 in benefits related to greenhouse gases, and over $300,000 in water-related benefits. The inventory is on a Town-related website and categorizes for each tree such as benefits related to water, energy, and property, assigning dollar values for each category.

Among other things, Bain said, the inventory site notes that a 5 ½ feet wide cottonwood tree in Fairview Park is the largest tree discovered.

Bain said the inventory is a useful tool for people seeking to learn about different species of trees and other bits of interest related to certain trees. Updating the site is a “constant evolution” Bain said as trees die and need replacing. Council Member Scott Preston called the inventory and the site “was an outstanding resource that helps us know what we have.”

Council Member Stan Nord noted that no trees along Constitution Trail appeared to be part of the survey. Bain said that was true, explaining areas such as the woods between Constitution Trail and the Camelback Bridge, near Vernon Ave. south, would require a separate inventory in which they would note larger trees and do it separately.

Council members unanimously approved an ordinance amending Town Code concerning trees and shrubs also in June. The tree inventory of the Town’s urban forest was conducted by Kent, Ohio-based Davey Resource Group and completed this summer.

Illinois Department of Natural Resources through the Urban and Community Forestry program of the US Forest Service funded the tree inventory. Council members unanimously passed an ordinance required of the tree ordinance amendment in order to fulfill a reimbursement request.

Smart Cities & Initiatives Update Presented: Council members received an update concerning the Town’s desire to become one of a number of “smart cities” across the country. Smart Cities are defined as being those that, among other things, “can effectively use the power of data and technology to cater to the changing needs of its citizenry.” Council members heard from Town’s director of innovation and technology, Vasu Vgadhiraju, who provided an update on progress Normal is making toward becoming a Smart City.

A Smart City, Vgadhiraju explained, are cities that use technology to solve numerous issues. Currently, Vasu Vgadhiraju explained, Normal finds itself between the first two phases of heading toward becoming a model Smart City. Those phases are ad hoc, where the community is just starting and opportunistic, where the community is forging partnerships with others to focus on shared outcomes.

She said the Town establishing a comprehensive plan toward becoming a Smart City started in November 2017. Among the goals for the Town to have smart operations is to get to the point where it has digitized applications and other forms, and increased training and resources, among other things.

She added the Town reaching out to forge partnerships also helps Normal toward a Smart City designation. She cited the partnership the Town has established with Normal-based Unit 5 School District to improve digital exposure within the community.

Following Vgadhiraju’s presentation, Council members appeared pleased with her efforts. Mayor Chris Koos pointing out she attended a Smart Cities initiatives conference where attendance was by invitation only.

Nord asked if there were other cities in Illinois who were also participating in this initiative. Vgadhiraju said many in the Chicago area, including Naperville and Aurora were, and that downstate, Champaign and Peoria was, too, and depending on the city, “there are varying degrees of effort.”

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

• Approval of the minutes of the regular meeting held Oct. 5, 2020.

• Report to receive and file Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Oct. 14, 2020.

• A resolution authorizing a memorandum of understanding with McLean County Regional Planning Commission for a pavement rating and assessment project.

• A resolution to award the bid for Main Street water main extension project to SNC Construction, Inc. at a total cost of $417,505.59 plus up to a potential $5,000 bonus for early completion and authorize the City Manager to execute agreements with Union Pacific Railroad and RailPros.

• A resolution to appropriate $370,000 in Motor Fuel Tax funds and authorize the Mayor to execute professional engineering service agreements with The Farnsworth Group for Phase I and II design services for West College Ave. from Rivian Motorway to White Oak Rd.

• A resolution of financial commitment and acknowledgement of the Town’s support for a 2020 Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program (ITEP) Grant Application for an extension of the Constitution Trail between Adelaide Street and Parkside Road.

• A resolution authorizing the City Manager to enter into a six-month lease agreement with Enterprise Fleet Management for four (4) 2021 GMC Sierra double cab 4×4 and one (1) Chevrolet 15-passenger van.

• A resolution amending the rules for public comments at meeting of Normal Town Council and other Town Boards and Commissions.

NORMAL – R. C. McBride served one four-year term on the Normal Town Council, his term ending in April last year when he could not secure re-election. But thanks to an appointment approved by a Council vote Monday night, McBride will accept an appointment to the Normal Planning Commission. For McBride, it’s a return to where his local political career began because he served as a member of the Commission from 2006 until he won election to Normal Town Council in 2015.

McBride will be filling a vacancy on the Commission created by the resignation of Tejas Jani. Jani was appointed to the Planning Commission last November but will soon be relocating out of the area. McBride’s term on the Planning Commission expires on March 31.

An Illinois State University graduate, McBride is general manager of WGLT FM in Normal and WCBU FM in Peoria, both National Public Radio affiliates. WGLT signed on to take over operations of Bradley University’s NPR affiliate in April 2019.

In addition to his duties in radio, McBride teaches in the School of Communication at Illinois State University. He and his wife, Christy, have three school-age children.

But when the vote was taken by Normal Town Council members for McBride’s appointment, Council members approved it by a 6-1 count, with Council Member Stan Nord casting the lone dissenting vote. Nord has previously stated an objection to taking such votes to approve a committee appointee on the grounds Council members ought to be given advance notice about such appointments to give Council members an opportunity to interview appointees.

Nord said Normal Town Council members only find out about appointees to be approved when they are announced at Council sessions. By comparison, he said, Bloomington City Council members are informed a few days before they take a vote on an appointee. He said that gives Bloomington Council members an opportunity to ask questions about or to the appointee.

“Otherwise, Council members are just expected to just rubber stamp” appointees presented by Mayor Chris Koos, Nord said.

Koos contended the appointment process has been the means used to select appointments by the Town as long as he has been on Council since he was appointed Mayor in 2003. Koos is currently running for a fifth term as mayor in elections to be held next spring. He added there is an interest in using an interview process with people who would be asked to sit on boards and commissions, but Koos said the current political climate in which there is such division of opinion makes finding individuals willing to serve difficult.

Such appointments made “is the Mayor’s appointment, not the Council’s appointment,” Koos said, adding the appointment “comes with advice and consent of the Council.” He added “the majority of the Council” does not want to change the current process.

Updated Bicycle/Pedestrian Master Plan Presented, Accepted: Council members unanimously approved an updated bicycle/pedestrian master plan created for the Town by St. Louis-based Alta Planning and Design. Kevin Neill, planning associate from that company, presented the plan from his office. The Town original bicycle/pedestrian plan came from this same company in 2009.

The recent update began last November with surveys and in-person conversations, with finalization of the plan taking shape in June, Neill explained. Goals for the plan included matters related to connectivity, safety, equity, quality of life, environment, and economic issues.

The plan brought before the Council included not just sidewalks being increased, but use of sidepaths and shared use paths and trails, Neill indicated. He said there are a number of ways “to create mutual respect” between pedestrians and people who drive, which he showed Council members. Those included: A bike-pedestrian-traffic enforcement program, bike safety education, open street events, and even events like a bike rodeo.

Following the presentation, Council members had comments, starting with Chemberly Cummings, who stated she looked forward to seeing the updated program “being put into action.” Council Member Kevin McCarthy added what he thought was impressive about the plan was the fact that “it’s not the Council’s plan, it’s the public’s plan. The public came together, facilitated by the consultants, to tell us about this asset that we all love.”

Among those who spoke during the public comments section of the meeting was Kellie Williams, vice president of the McLean County Wheelers, a club for cycling enthusiasts numbering around 150 people. “We encourage the Council to accept and support implementation of the bicycle and pedestrian master plan,” Williams said. Although she could not quote statistics, she said she was aware purchases of bikes “had increased dramatically since stay at home orders were issued” in March. She called the master plan debut “well timed.”

Stating the potential the plan offers bike riders and pedestrians, Laurel Schumacher, a board member of Friends of Constitution Trail, said she was in support of the plan. “The plan will only further to enhance and enrich our community,” She said.

Zach Dietmeier, an employee of Rivian Automotive, said he was excited to see updates to the plan. He said a number of Rivian employees ride bikes to get to and from work. He added Rivian employees “from across the globe sing the praises of our trail system, using it regularly when they are in town.”

Resident Tim McCue told he has been working to help with the master plan, and added one of the measures of how welcoming a community is includes how accessible it is to its residents. McCue said the new plan “makes so many more resources in our community available to so many more people.”

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

• Approval of the minutes of the regular meeting held Sept. 21, 2020.

• Report to receive and file Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Sept. 30, 2020.

• A resolution to accept water treatment plant chemical bids from November 2020 through October 2021.

• A resolution to award a contract to Greenfield Contractors LLC for the construction of a new salt storage building in the public works yard in the amount of $120,685.08.

• A resolution reapproving a preliminary subdivision plan for North Bridge Subdivision.

• A resolution authorizing the execution of a collective bargaining agreement with International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) Local #2442.

• A resolution authorizing participation in the Local Cure Program and related programs.

• A motion to postpone the public hearing process for the text amendment for the One Normal Plaza Planned Unit Development.

By Steve Robinson | September 21, 2020 - 10:25 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – Normal Town Council members approved an ordinance approving a 4 cents per gallon increase in the Town’s Local Motor Fuel Tax, effective Dec. 1. The vote came after a one hour, 32-minute discussion, and was approved by a 4-3 count during the governing body’s regularly-scheduled meeting held remotely Monday.

Following the discussion, Mayor Chris Koos, joined by Council Members Karyn Smith, Chemberly Cummings, and Kevin McCarthy voted to approve the measure while Council Members Kathleen Lorenz, Stan Nord, and Scott Preston voted to oppose the increase.

Koos opened the discussion on increasing the Motor Fuel Tax amount by saying the Town was choosing what would be the best of four possible options to help the Town increase dollars for the Town’s general fund. The other options Koos mentioned included an increase in either local property tax, reducing available services from the Town, or doing nothing.

Smith stated her support by reminding “road work is expensive, and it’s a fact of life that most road projects are, at least six figures. She pointed out the Town is responsible for 430 miles worth of roads within Normal. She cited that’s enough pavement to stretch in-State from Rockford to Cairo. To do that, she added, “Is expensive.”

“Our citizens want more infrastructure, plain and simple,” said McCarthy. “They are reaching out saying they want more – they’re demanding more, and there’s a cost to doing more. It’s that simple. This is the best of not great options.”

“We have also – all Council members – heard from a tremendous amount of our citizens who do not want to see their local motor fuel tax increased, at this point in time during a global pandemic,” Preston countered. “That is an important piece that I don’t want to have missed in this conversation.”

While she said she understood road upkeep was important, Lorenz said Normal should be addressing how the Town prioritizes spending its general fund dollars. She said although the proposed increase will bring $1 million into that specific coffer, “the number in my mind, very conservatively, we need to bring in is $2 million,” and do so on an annual basis.

She said she has been lobbying for a combination of spending cuts and new revenue sources which would benefit the Town. She added she had “a hard time” accepting the ordinance as it is currently written.

Two Town residents – one in favor of the increase, the other opposed to it – addressed Council members in public comments prior to the discussion on the proposed increase. Normal resident Patrick Dullard spoke in favor of the tax increase explaining, “I believe it’s important to equal Bloomington, especially on a commodity-based tax. “IO think the Motor Fuel Tax spreads around to many users of the roads system, including many out-of-towners therefore lessening the burden on Normal residents.”

Resident Brad McMillan told Council members he opposed the increase, explaining, “Raising the gas tax during this pandemic will hurt those Normal residents most who have lost jobs or significant income during this historically difficult time.” He said adding the cost onto the budgets of struggling families would be, in his words, “Unwise public policy.”

Saying he understands Town infrastructure upkeep must be ongoing, McMillan encouraged Council members and citizens “to look together to find a way to make this happen without adding a heavy burden on those less fortunate in our community during this already tough time.”

Tax Dollars From Cannabis Sales To Begin Arriving In October: With increased incoming Motor Fuel Tax dollars not slated to come in until December, Nord asked City Manager Pam Reece when the Town would begin to see tax dollars coming from cannabis sales, which was approved On May 31, 2019, when the Illinois General Assembly passed the Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act to legalize recreational marijuana. The State allowed for those sales to begin starting on January 1, 2020. Governor J.B. Pritzker signed the bill June 25, 2019. Revenue from those sales in Illinois was anticipated to reach roughly $1.6 billion annually.

Reece responded the Town anticipated beginning cannabis tax money starting in October.

Amended Site Plan For Evergreen Village Approved: By a unanimous vote, Council members passed a resolution approving an amended site plan for Evergreen Village, 1701 Evergreen Village Blvd.

Evergreen Village officials sought the amended site plan in order to add a second building, two stories high which would serve as a unit to aid residents with memory issues. The new building would be located northwest of the current 3-story assisted living building on the property, and the two buildings would be connected by a single story walkway.

Council members originally approved the site plan for the facility in 2006.

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

• Approval of minutes of special meeting held Sept. 2, 2020.

• Approval of minutes of work session held Sept. 8, 2020.

• Approval of minutes of regular Council meeting held Sept. 8, 2020.

• Report to receive and file Town expenditures for payment as of Sept. 16, 2020.

• A resolution authorizing execution of an intergovernmental agreement with Illinois State University pertaining to fire service protection.

• A resolution reapproving the final plat of the Iden Subdivision (105-111 W. Locust St.).

• An ordinance amending Chapter 18 of the Town Municipal Code (Personnel) concerning the salary schedule for classified employees.

By Steve Robinson | September 8, 2020 - 10:29 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – During a work session prior to their scheduled meeting Tuesday, Normal Town Council members heard a presentation from Town Finance Director Andrew Huhn for increasing the current 4 cents per gallon Motor Fuel Tax pushing it up four cents to 8 cents per gallon to match the amount per gallon charged by the City of Bloomington.

When the Town began using the 4 cent MFT in 2015, Huhn told Council members, it raised around $1 million. The City of Bloomington raised their MFT tax to 8 cents per gallon on May 1, 2019. Huhn said that prompted the Town to research doing their increase May 2 of that year and continued it until March. During the period, Huhn said, Bloomington gas stations were selling product at a cost of roughly 3 cents a gallon than stations in Normal.

City Manager Pam Reece added gas tax dollars are often spent by the Town on such items as bridges, sidewalk improvements, and public transportation. “What we believe we can poll from the data is that a four cent change in the local Motor Fuel Tax does not change consumer behavior,” she said. “At this point, we would like that Council consider a four cent increase to become comparable with Bloomington.” She said the potential added funds would allow the Town to invest dollars in its transportation system.

Reece added Town officials have been also discussing improvements the additional money brought in by the potential increase could provide to pay for improvements related to the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) to make travel easier for disabled residents.

The idea for the increase was originally proposed at a Town Council January work session, Reece reminded Council members but was set aside when matters surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic took precedence as the year progressed.

Getting additional funding for Connect Transit would also be a possibility in the use of the money from the increase, Reece said, adding it could also aid the bus company to get more funding from Springfield.

Cummings asked if Bloomington lost any gas stations as a result of the increase. Huhn responded saying he was told officials there “were pleasantly surprised activity remained pretty much consistent” after the City implemented the increased tax.

Council Member Kevin McCarthy asked Reece how soon Council members would see an ordinance to vote on, and after that, when would the tax increase take effect. Reece said it would not take long for an ordinance to appear on their agenda to vote on it, but once approved, there would be a 90-day period during which the Town would notify gas dealers, allowing them to make any necessary changes on their end.

Public Comment Centers On Public Transportation: Prior to the work session, Council members heard a public comment from former Town Council candidate Ron Ulmer. Ulmer criticized Connect Transit, the Twin Cities public transportation service, for among other things, moving bus stops to locations further from places like shopping complexes, among other locations. “Riding the bus is no longer convenient or even a possibility in the need of public transportation.” He cited difficulties people who have appointments at OSF St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington have waiting for a bus and that bus stop, where there is no shelter and only a bus stop sign on a pole at that corner.

Town Audit Report Presented, Accepted: By a unanimous vote, Council members passed a resolution which accepted the audit report conducted on the Town. The audit was done by Naperville-based Certified Public Accounting firm Lauterbach and Amen. Jamie Wilkey, a partner with that firm, told Council members the Town received what auditors call a clean audit, or audit without issues needing to be addressed.

She also said the Town received a Certificate In Excellence In Financial Reporting from a third party, the Government Finance Officers Association. “It’s really the highest form of reporting that you can have for a government entity,” Wilkey told Council members. The Town received that honor for the outcome of the audit done on Town finances in March 2019.

Trend Report Has Cautious Optimism On Employment, Police And Fire Pensions Still Down: Huhn delivered to Council members his department’s annual Financial Trends and Condition Report at Monday’s regular meeting, as well. The report had cautious optimism concerning unemployment, explaining that Normal, along with other governments in the region “experienced a decrease in its unemployment rate as compared to the prior year and Normal’s rate remains amongst the lowest compared to the eight largest downstate communities in Central Illinois south of I-80. It should be noted that the pandemic caused significant increases in unemployment rates across the United States and as of June, the Town’s rate was10.3 percent and the State’s rate was 14.6 percent.”

But as has been the case for a few years now, both Police and Fire pensions received negative reports. The report on the police pension explained “the Town experienced a decrease in funding level for Police. Funding levels remain very concerning and will be a significant long-term problem for the Town and all Illinois municipalities. The sharp drop in the 2020 funding level is primarily the result of updating the mortality assumptions used for the plan participants.”

In part, the Fire Pension report said, “The Town experienced a decrease in funding level for Fire. Funding levels remain very concerning and will be a significant long-term problem for the Town and all Illinois municipalities.”

Meeting Held Tuesday: The Council session was held a day later than usual because Town offices were closed in observance of Labor Day Monday.

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

• Approval of minutes of regular meeting held Aug. 17, 2020.

• Report to receive and file Town expenditures for payment as of Sept. 2, 2020.

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding process and authorizing the purchase of seven (7) Otterbine Industrial Aerators from MTI Distributing in the amount of $61,893.16.

• A resolution to accept bids and award a contract to H.J. Eppel and Company for the construction of the Eagle’s Landing Multi-Use Trail Project in the amount of
$280,736.15.

• A resolution selecting Crawford, Murphy & Tilly and authorizing the City Manager to execute an agreement for water system analysis and project design in an amount not to exceed $250,000.