NORMAL – The officials who help keep a community running often pay for the community to belong to certain civic organizations. At the regularly-scheduled meeting of Normal Town Council on the fourth floor of Uptown Station, Council Member Stan Nord challenged the need for such memberships. To Nord’s way of thinking, for a community to formally belong to groups such as the McLean County Chamber of Commerce could be seen as a conflict of interest on the part of the Chamber and other such groups.

In a discussion concerning expenditures for payment by the Town, specifically to McLean County Chamber of Commerce, Nord was able to point out to Council members the Town of Normal had given the Chamber over $43,000 in memberships in 2018. That amount of donation cash dropped to $35,000 in 2019, he said.

He also cited Normal’s Uptown Business Association had received over $10,000 in the form of in-kind donations in 2019. Nord said this bothered him, in part, because the Chamber endorses local political candidates, which he said he sees as a conflict of interest.

Responding to Nord’s summation of the situation, City Manager Pam Reece said to him, “We can cancel our membership.”

But Town Corporation Counsel clarified the matter by explaining to Council members, “There is no conflict of interest because money given to the Chamber, depending on what it given for, either goes into a general fund or a political action committee.”

Nord responded he believed such donations, although separated, don’t cause some people to accept how the money is separated between the funds. He also said the business he operates is a Chamber member and the Chamber had endorsed him in political campaigns.

The meeting agenda had neither any items classified general orders or new business, and Mayor Chris Koos was absent from the session. The only other business for the Council to tend to was to unanimously approve a final development plan of the third phase of the J & M planned unit development near 1000 S. Cottage Ave.

Liquor Commission Imposes Fines, Approves Applications: Prior to the Council session, Council members, serving in their capacity as members of Normal Local Liquor Commission to resolve a set of issues. First, commissioners unanimously approved a fine of $500 for Schnuck’s Markets, Inc., doing business as Schnuck’s, 1750 Bradford Lane for furnishing liquor to a person under age 21 during a liquor audit held Oct. 10. The amount of the fine is the result of this violation being the second offense for this store in two years.

Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McCarthy, conducting the meeting in place of Liquor Commissioner and Mayor Chris Koos, informed Commissioners the Town continues to be in negotiations with 35 Years, LLC, operators of three Marie’s Place gaming parlors located in town. The three Marie’s Place locations are at 1520 E. College Ave., 115 Susan Dr., Suite H; and 1702 W. College Ave.

Although the W. College Ave. facility has never been open and operating, gaming parlor audits of the other operating facilities by the Town, conducted last February, indicated neither operating business had been selling food nor had they been have adequate food available for sale. The facilities that are open operate by holding a Class O – Limited Hours Liquor License in addition to holding a gaming license.

Commissioners approved a pair of individual liquor licenses during this session, as well. The first going to MHI-Bloomington-Normal Osco, LLC, doing business as Hyatt Place Bloomington-Normal, 200 Broadway for a Class E (Hotel) license. The ownership of the hotel has changed, necessitating the need for a new license.

Another new liquor license was granted unanimously by commissioners to American Multi-Cinema, Inc., Doing business as AMC Normal 14, 201 McKnight St. The license this facility received is a Class R – Theater license.

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

• Approval of minutes of the work session held Dec.6, 2019.

• Approval of the regular Council meeting held Dec. 16, 2019.

• Report to receive and file Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Jan. 1, 2020.

By Steve Robinson | December 16, 2019 - 10:02 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – An omnibus item on Normal Town Council’s agenda at the governing body’s regularly-scheduled meeting Monday drew comments after being pulled by one council member. It also was the subject of public comment, as well.

A resolution approving financial support of the COMPACT Workforce Development Program in the amount of $25,000 to help the program continue operating in 2020 drew questions from Council member Stan Nord who asked the item be pulled for discussion as well as from two residents who spoke during public comments.

Up until this resolution, the Town had not contributed funds toward this program since February 2018. Following the discussion concerning this matter, Council members unanimously voted to approve it.

During public comments regarding COMPACT, Normal resident Doug Fansler said he wanted to know how the Town found $25,000 to contribute to the program. Another resident, and former write-in Council candidate, Karl Sila, took issue with not being allowed to discuss items not on the evening’s agenda before making comment on the contribution to COMPACT.

Nord asked City Manager Pam Reece about the amount of money the Town keeps in reserve for items that crop up. Reece said she could not give him the exact dollar amount right then, but reminded the first term Council member the Town tries to maintain a 15 percent reserve of cash for expenditures.

Charlie Moore, Chief Executive Officer of McLean County Chamber of Commerce, told Council members the Chamber receives 42 percent of funding from the Town of Normal and 58 percent of it from the City of Bloomington.

Council Member Kevin McCarthy said the amount the Town provides “is amazingly small to charge for workforce development.”

Moore told Council members the Chamber has “an untapped number of potential employees and we use best practices to help keep students and the community engaged.”

A description of the COMPACT program put together by Town Staff explains COMPACT helps prepare individuals to obtain employment in careers currently and into the future so that individuals in McLean County can help “to have individuals and businesses in McLean County prosper.”

In 2018, Council approved funding of the COMPACT program by giving funding to the BN Advantage initiative in the amount of $67,000. Of that total, $25,000 was to be applied to workforce development, $10,000 to quality of life, and $32,000 applied for marketing. In February that year, Council applied $25,000 to McLean County Chamber of Commerce in support of the COMPACT workforce development program.

Moore added the COMPACT program “has an untapped number of potential employees and uses best practices to help keep students and the community engaged.”

Ordinance Amending Prompts Question From Nord: Another item on the omnibus agenda prompted Nord to ask a question concerning Town involvement. The ordinance in question amended a section of Town Code regarding prohibiting possession and use of cannabis, cannabis paraphernalia, and drug paraphernalia.

Nord inquired as to how preventing sale to minors was handled. Town Corporation Counsel Brian Day informed Nord regulation of cannabis is done through Illinois Department of Finance and Professional Regulation, which oversees the licensing of such operations. Council members voted unanimously to approve the ordinance.

Community Investment Plan Approved: Council members next heard about the Community Investment Plan from for fiscal year 2019-20 to FY 2024-25. Town officials say they use this document to prioritize major capital investments. Town Finance Director Andrew Huhn told Council members he and his staff were very proud of the document and that it involved spending of $95 million over a five year period.

Public Works Director Wayne Aldridge responded to a question from Council Member Kathleen Lorenz concerning funding for the proposed underpass project at Uptown Station which would be used to make going from one rail line to another easier for passengers. Aldrich reminded the Town received a $13 million grant from U.S. Department of Transportation for the project and that the Town itself would be spending a total of $650,000 of its own funds over a two-year period on the project.

On the subject of road repairs, Town Engineer Ryan Otto informed Council members the Town Public Works department coordinates such work with his department to determine repairs needed depending on severity found. Typically, he added, his staff does such repairs from mid-March through mid-November.

When it comes to pothole repair, Aldrich explained the Town tries to take care of major arteries first so as to try to head off needing to do a major repair later on. Council’s vote on CIP at this session was so it could be added to the Town’s overall budget when it comes up for a vote from the Council in January.

The vote on CIP was 6-1 approving with Nord as the lone opposing vote. Following the session, Nord said he didn’t want his vote on CIP to appear to indicate he was agreeing to spend money on, among other items proposed for the Town’s next budget, the Trail East Project. The Trail East Project is a proposed five-story mixed use building the Council approved in January which will be constructed on the east side of the Uptown Roundabout. Nord was not a Council member until his election in April.

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

• Approval of minutes of the regular Council meeting held Dec. 2, 2019.

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

• A motion extending the Diabetes Disease Management Program for one year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Steve Robinson | November 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.