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.

By Steve Robinson | October 8, 2019 - 10:23 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – In recent months, there have been concerns regarding service provided to public transit riders in the Twin Cities. Fare increases and service being reduced with the elimination of routes recently prompted Normal Town Council members to invite Board members from Connect Transit to address the issues before Council. That meeting, giving Connect Transit officials an opportunity to provide answers took place at Monday’s regularly-scheduled Council meeting.

Mike McCurdy, Chair, and Ryan Whitehouse, Vice-Chair, of Connect Transit’s Board of Directors, responded to the Council’s request to address Council members and answer questions concerning how the public transit system operates. Whitehouse began by touting that the transit system has seen a ridership of 2.4 million rides in the past year, giving the system a third consecutive year of increased ridership.

Whitehouse added the system has received $7.5 million in grants over the last two years which allowed the system to purchase updated buses. Council Member Chemberly Cummings challenged Whitehouse’s statement about grants, stating that grants usually need to be applied for to address a specific need. Whitehouse responded by explaining the most recent grants applied for were directed at Connect obtaining electronic buses.

If the dollars applied for aren’t specified for that use, Whitehouse said, the money goes back into the coffers of the Federal Transportation Administration. He added that the weight of buses prompted Connect to make the decision not to have the vehicles go through store parking lots, a policy which began in 2016.

Council Member Kathleen Lorenz verified with McCurdy as to why buses no longer go through parking lots at grocery stores and places like Walmart and Meijer. McCurdy explained that not going through those lots “increases efficiency” and helps keep routes on schedule.

McCurdy reminded Council members Connect looked at route restructuring in 2015 and implemented a plan where buses would only make pick-ups at bus stops, a change from previous years, in 2016. Since making that change, McCurdy told Council members, “Ridership is rebounding and we have had our third best year for ridership.”

McCurdy explained that ridership is calculated as per ride. He used the example of if he gets on one bus, that’s one ride. If he transfers from that same bus to another bus, that gets counted as another ride. This formula, he added, is in line with rules established by Federal Transportation Administration.

McCurdy added that if the number of transfers asked for aren’t up, but Connect sees more rides taken, it shows them ridership is increasing. In response to not serving certain areas due to what Connect’s analysis sees as areas with low ridership, Whitehouse explained Connect “doesn’t feel it’s right to put money into an area until it has data to back it up. We’re trying to provide the best service possible.”

Connect Transit is attempting to phase out 30 foot buses in favor of 35 foot vehicles, McCurdy said, explaining maintenance costs are the reason for the change.

Connect receives money from Illinois State University which allows students, faculty, staff, and retired staff to ride with just a swipe of a University I.D. card. Council Member Karyn Smith mentioned this and referred to it as a “subsidy.” Mayor Chris Koos was quick to correct Smith informing her it is not a subsidy. ISU pays Connect to cover the cost of that service.

Smith addressed McCurdy and Whitehouse, explaining there are reports of areas where buses drop off at points that are not compliant with the American with Disabilities Act. One of those is outside of OSF St. Joseph Hospital across from the former Bergner’s along Eastland Dr. In part, McCurdy responded by saying the transit system predates ADA.

Normal and Bloomington both provide money to Connect Transit’s operation. Council Member Stan Nord added to the conversation saying if the transit system wants money from the Town, Connect needs to see to it the money is spent to help provide service for citizens in areas currently not served or not served as well by the transit service.

McCurdy responded to Nord’s comment saying, “If this Council wants us to serve low ridership areas, then you should help us find the financing to do that.”

Previous Meeting Minutes Questioned: During the section of the meeting where omnibus items – items Council members address and use one vote to decide on — Nord and Smith took issue with minutes from previous council meetings because they say key details are left out. Nord referred to doing that as rewriting history, adding he believed to do so was wrong.

City Clerk Angie Huonker takes the minutes at Council sessions and found her work being defended by Council Member Lorenz. Lorenz cautioned the Council should be careful in suggesting history is being rewritten. When a vote was taken to edit the minutes of the Council’s previous meeting held Sept. 16, Only Nord and Smith voted in favor. Koos, joined by Council Members Chemberly Cummings, Kevin McCarthy, Scott Preston, and Lorenz, voted against any edit taking place.

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

• Approval of minutes of regular meeting held Sept. 16, 2019.

• Report to receive and file Town expenditures for payment as of Oct. 2, 2019.

• A resolution to accept water treatment plant chemical bids from November 2019 through October 2020.

By Steve Robinson | September 17, 2019 - 1:01 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – The battle struggle concerning Normal Town Council established rules went on for another session on Monday in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station. Current Council meeting rules for public attendees include that they may speak to Council members during a public comments portion of the meeting, but only on topics listed on that meeting’s agenda.

During the public comments segment, former mayoral candidate Marc Tiritilli, while quickly addressing a few issues he wanted to cover, mentioned the need for the Town to fill a vacancy for a representative from the Town on the Connect Bus Transit System Board. Mayor Chris Koos interjected reminding Tiritilli the Board vacancy was not among the listed items on the agenda and that public comments should pertain to items on the evening’s agenda.

Hearing this, Tiritilli ended his comments about Connect. But during the Council Member Comments portion of the meeting before adjournment, Council Member Stan Nord asked for Tiritilli to be able to continue his comments regarding the situation concerning Connect’s Board appointment. Koos informed Nord that could only take place if Council members voted to suspend the established public speaking rules. A vote to suspend those rules took place with Koos and Council Members Chemberly Cummings, Kathleen Lorenz and Kevin McCarthy voting against doing that. Nord and Smith voted in favor of suspending those rules.

With regard to this particular issue, the Office of Illinois Attorney General is currently investigating a challenge to that rule filed in the spring by council member Karyn Smith.

Nord then became insistent Koos fill the Connect Board vacancy. Koos replied saying there was an interested party who withdrew their name from consideration as a result of not wanting to be involved in what the interested party saw as “toxicity” present on Connect’s Board.

At the start of the meeting, which lasted nearly three hours, Smith requested an edit in the minutes from the Council’s Sept. 3 meeting. Smith wished to have Town Clerk Angie Huonker edit minutes from that meeting to, in her opinion, more properly reflect statements she had made. Supporting Huonker’s capabilities as Town Clerk, Koos denied Smith’s request.

Brewpub Design Approved: Council members unanimously approved waivers from the Uptown Design Review Code requested by two brothers desiring to open a brewpub at the former location of a longtime key shop. Having gotten that approval, brothers Ryan and Steven Fiala will demolish the original structure and replace the former key shop location with a two-story structure which will house a microbrewery. Being two stories will add square footage to the property. Also included in the design of the proposed new building are a pair of outdoor patios.

At the Sept. 9 meeting of Uptown Design Review Commission, the design was approved after the brothers and the architects they hired to do the work spoke. No members of the public spoke at the session.

Fiala Brothers Beer LLC will create craft brews and operate a full-service kitchen according to the report provided Council members by Assistant City Manager Eric Hansen.

At the Council’s Sept. 4 meeting, Council members approved brothers Ryan and Steven Fiala’s request for proposed plans for a brewpub by a 5-2 vote with Council Members Nord and Smith voting in opposition to the plan. The Fialas proposed brewpub would be established at 127 E. Beaufort St., the former location of Bill’s Key And Lock Shop.

Annual Town Financial Trend And Condition Report Reviewed: Town Finance Director Andrew Huhn presented Council members with an annual summary concerning the Town’s Financial Trend and Condition Report. Among the highlights of the report was continued increase in assessed property values. Equalized Assessed Value increased from 0.7 percent in 2017 to 1.4 percent last year. While this is a good trend, Huhn reminded Council members the Town would prefer to see EAV growth of at least 2 percent annually. Having that happen, Huhn explained, helps the Town to take in sufficient property tax dollars to offset increases in expenditures.

A slight piece of good news came courtesy of travelers, Huhn said, in explaining numbers of folks using Central Illinois Regional Airport. In 2017, CIRA saw a drop of 12 percent in passengers using the airport, a drop of usage of nearly 12.4 percent versus 2016 numbers. But in 2018, it looked like folks were flying out of CIRA again, as the airport registered 364,482 travelers going through the airport last year, an increase of 9.15 percent.

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

• Approval of minutes of regular meeting held Sept. 3, 2019.

• Report to receive and file Town expenditures for payment as of Sept. 11, 2019.

• A resolution to amend the lease agreement for the Illinois State University Art Gallery to extend the term to Feb. 28, 2020.

• A resolution to accept the proposal and award a contract to Layne Christensen Co. for drilling test wells at three locations within the corporate limits in the amount of $32,960.

• A resolution to waive the formal bidding process and accept a quote from Peoria-based Presidio Networking Solutions Group LLC in the amount of $112,443.42 for the purchase of body camera video storage and protection and related professional services.

By Steve Robinson | September 4, 2019 - 9:34 am
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – Because of a 5-2 vote from Normal Town Council members, the community will get its second brewpub, this one to be located in Uptown. Council members’ vote gave approval for brothers Ryan and Steven Fiala’s proposed plans for a brewpub to be established at 127 E. Beaufort St., the former location of Bill’s Key And Lock Shop. Fiala Brothers Beer LLC will create craft brews and operate a full-service kitchen according to the report provided Council members by Assistant City Manager Eric Hansen.

The Fiala brothers would renovate the former key shop and make it into a two-story structure for their new venture.

Under the proposed agreement, the Town would aid the project by reimbursing the Fiala Brothers a portion of food and beverage tax dollars taken in – the Town levies a 2 percent food and beverage tax and a 1 percent local tax – reimbursing the brothers up to $150,000. The Fiala brothers would transform the former one-story key business into a two-story structure.

But not all public comments made by eight people who spoke before Council before the matter was discussed were positive. Former Council Candidate Karl Sila addressed the proposed agreement referring to it as “a bribe to get anybody in there for the next five years.” When the discussion on the brewpub began, Mayor Chris Koos started by taking aim at Sila’s remark saying he took “personal offense” to it, adding he thought Sila’s comment was “pretty strong language.”

The property in question falls within the Town’s Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, district. The TIF agreement, established in 2000, is not set to expire until 2023. That was something Council Member Kathleen Lorenz noted with her remark that, “The TIF has a little more life to accomplish” things for.

“We’re not giving away money here,” Council Member Kevin McCarthy said. “They have to show a certain profit. “Craft beer is big business. It brings money into the community and moves it around.”

But Council Member Stan Nord disagreed, stating he didn’t see “a net gain for customers,” citing what he called “a scarcity of parking” in Uptown where the proposed brewpub would be located, directing his comment to City Manager Pam Reece. Reece responded to Nord’s comment by saying, “Town Staff has addressed that issue as we have with other development agreements.”

Reece cited that when the TIF began, Uptown had a total of 1,200 parking spaces. She said more spaces have been added in the years since to where there are now 2,000 of them.

When the vote was taken Nord and Council Member Karyn Smith cast dissenting votes while Koos and Council Members Scott Preston, Chemberly Cummings, Lorenz, and McCarthy voted in favor of establishing the agreement with the Fiala brothers.

Following the meeting, Lorenz admitted there “is a growing distaste for Uptown spending. That’s what Stan and Karyn were mirroring. But we need to make informed decisions that weigh the facts of economic development with the sentiment of the electorate. That was the difficulty of this vote.”

Smith said afterward, “Town government should not be in the business of subsidizing businesses for sales tax. Since State Farm created hubs, restaurants are cannibalizing each other.” State Farm has operations hubs in Atlanta, Ga., Dallas, Texas, and Phoenix, Ariz.

The Town’s first brewery is Destihl, located at 1200 Greenbriar Dr.

In addition to Sila, public comments on the brewpub matter came from Patrick Hoban, newly-hired chief executive officer of the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council.

Town Audit Report Presented, Accepted: By a unanimous vote, Council members accepted the audit report 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 there were “minor issues” needing to be addressed by the Town, adding that such a conclusion is unique for a town Normal’s size. Otherwise, Wilkey described the end result of her work as a “clean audit” for the Town.

Real Estate Purchase Contract Approved: Council members unanimously approved an ordinance authorizing execution of a real estate contract for the purchase of Lot #2 of Ohlendorf subdivision in the amount of $39,000 from McLean County Land Trust #202 in care of William Ohlendorf, and authorizing an associated budget adjustment.

The land in question was formerly occupied by houses at 301 and 303 Stewart Place and 206 E. Vernon St. All three houses have been razed and the land is slated by the developer for future development. Purchasing the land will help the Town to improve maintenance access to Sugar Creek to Vernon Ave. In the report prepared for Council by Town Engineer Ryan Otto, he explained the purchase will also aid the Town in its efforts to complete a reconstruction project for the Vernon Ave. culvert, which the Town has planned to start in 2022.

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

• Approval of minutes of regular meeting held Aug. 19, 2019.

• Report to receive and file Town expenditures for payment as of Aug.28, 2019.

• A resolution approving a salary schedule adjustment for classified employees to reflect a cost of living adjustment.

• A resolution authorizing the City Manager to solicit bids through the Town’s energy broker for electricity and natural gas commodities for Town-owned accounts and execute energy service agreements with the lowest responsible bidder or bidders.

• A resolution accepting bids and authorizing the execution of a contract with Pontiac, Ill.-based H. J. Eppel & Company, Inc. in the amount of $29,600 for the Constitution Trail asphalt resurfacing project.

• A resolution to accept proposals and award a contract to Kone, Inc. for replacement of the water treatment plant freight elevator in the amount of $219,450.

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding process and authorizing the purchase of refuse containers from Charlotte, N. C.-based Schaefer Systems International, Inc. in the amount of $27,454.75.

• A resolution authorizing the renewal of the employee group health, dental, life/AD&D program.

• A resolution approving an agreement with Chicago-based Morneau Shepell for Employee Assistance Program (EAP) services.

NORMAL – It was a piece of news Normal Town Council Member Chemberly Cummings saved for comments and announcements toward the end of Monday’s Normal Town Council session Monday in Council Chambers. But it is a prestigious first for Normal.

Cummings announced she has been selected as one of 41 local and State officials to be part of the eighth annual Edgar Fellows Program.Those community officials selected will gather in Champaign August 4-8.

The Edgar Fellows Program is an initiative designed by former Illinois Governor Jim Edgar to inspire respectful and collaborative leadership to address the state’s major challenges. Forty-One participants selected this year were chosen from a field of 169 nominees and reflect Illinois’ political, racial, ethnic and geographic diversity. They include elected and appointed officials from all levels of government, leaders of non-profit organizations and individuals who are making their mark in the business world.

The 2019 class will bring the number of fellows who have completed the program to 313. After completing the initial program, fellows continue to meet at least twice annually at alumni gatherings designed to increase their knowledge and help build their professional networks.

Street Resurfacing Project Prompts Questions: Other than approval of minutes of the Council’s Aug. 5 meeting and approving payment of expenditures, the only other omnibus item which would be looked at and approved had to do with the accepting of bids and awarding of a contract to Bloomington-based Rowe Construction Co., a division of United Contractors Midwest, Inc., of $792,662.17 for the base bid and alternative #1 for the 2019 General Street Resurfacing Project.

Council Member Karyn Smith, while motioning that the measure be approved, questioned why there ever only seems to be one company – Rowe – who ever applies for the assignments. Town Chief Engineer Ryan Otto explained the Town has tried to make other potential contractors aware of such assignments but that when bids come in for the jobs, Rowe turns out to be the only company submitting bids for them.

Final Plat For Grieder II Subdivision Conditionally Approved: Council members unanimously approved the final plat of the Grieder II Subdivision expanding property which currently sits at 2242 W. Raab Rd. That expansion would expand eastward as a result. The subdivision takes up 2.54 acres of land and the owner of the proposed subdivision owns the surrounding 75 acres. Such a subdivision request would require a preliminary plan for the Town to review but, in this case, the applicant is requesting the requirement for the preliminary plan be waived.

When this project came before Normal Planning Commission on Aug. 8, no members of the public testified and the measure passed unanimously, 5-0.

Sarah Sturgill Appointed To Children’s Discovery Museum Board: Sarah Sturgill, an optometrist with Bloomington-based Gailey Eye Clinic, has been appointed to the Children’s Discovery Museum Board. Ms. Sturgill serves patients at both locations of the clinic, in Bloomington and Danville. She will be filling an open seat which has an initial term which expires on June 30, 2022.

New Economic Development Council CEO Introduced: Council members were formally introduced by City Manager Pam Reece to Patrick Hoban as the new chief executive officer of the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council. He has held similar positions prior to coming to the Twin Cities, most recently in Tinley Park.

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

• Approval of minutes of regular meeting held Aug. 5, 2019.

• Report to receive and file Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Aug.19, 2019.