By Steve Robinson | May 28, 2020 - 3:02 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – Unit 5 School Board members were informed at their regularly-scheduled meeting May 27 by the district’s business manager that the 2019-20 budget “had changes but no surprises.” Marty Hickman added said the district did well at controlling financial matters that he said were things the district could control in terms of expenditures while items out of the district’s control were continuing to be addressed.

The budget for the district’s fiscal year, which will end June 30, will show Unit 5 with a budget of $193.6 million in all of their funds, which include categories such as operations and maintenance, and transportation. That is the result of a $14.4 million surplus.

That budget figure presented has been amended upward from the budget the Board adopted in September which indicated a total of $192 million for all district funds, and indicated the district also was running a deficit of $12.8 million.

One area where the district saw a decrease in both revenue and expenses was in the district’s food services because of school closings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hickman said.

The district’s operations and maintenance fund had more money spent on it than took in this year, Hickman said. The district budgeted $12,443,728 but spent $87,999 above that during the school year, he said. When the budget for this fund was originally rolled out, the district projected coming out ahead by over $9,600. On another matter, he added there is some uncertainty concerning property taxes for the budget year as a result of when the district receives those dollars. He said some of those monies might not get to the district until July.

Hickman said the district is still looking to receive one categorical payment due it from the State, which would be the last of four due the district. The district has received three others due the district this school year.

Another expense yet to be ironed out for the district is what amount it will owe its transportation provider, Cincinnati, Ohio-based First Student Bus Co., Hickman said, explaining the two sides will need to settle up on how much the district owes as a result of the pandemic. He added he expects expenses coming out of the transportation fund will be less than they would in an ordinary year.

Official action on the budget will come at the Board’s next meeting, to be done remotely, scheduled for June 17.

Two Task Force Units To Study Social/Emotional, Instructional Needs: Board Member Dr. Kelly Pyle informed Board members the district’s Curriculum Committee will establish two task forces this summer, one concentrating on social and emotional needs of elementary school students returning to school in the fall, and the other concentrating on how to address any missed instruction students should have received during the time schools were not physically open.

She added because elementary school students didn’t get to attend their annual visit to the junior high school they would attend in the fall as a result of the pandemic forcing schools to be closed, teachers at the district’s four junior high schools produced a video virtual tour for students to watch to substitute for the physical tour in order to prepare those students for the years ahead.

Superintendent Comments: Dr. Mark Daniel, District Superintendent, opened his comments to the meeting with congratulations for teachers involved in 35 projects which received Beyond The Books Foundation awards totaling $68,748. Projects from Unit 5 teachers accounted for 27 of the 35 projects, he said. Those projects totaled $54,060. “This is the testimony to the amazing staff we have at Unit 5,” Daniel added.

Beyond The Books Foundation also awards a $10,000 Beyond The Box grant award, Daniel reminded, as he announced that Glenn Elementary School second grade teachers Hayley Mennenga and Angela Trask for their submission, “Augmented Reality Sandbox.”

Dr. Daniel also expressed a word of thanks to the NAACP’s Bloomington-Normal chapter for donating snacks for students, as well volunteering to take senior pictures for students who didn’t have opportunities to get photos taken.

Dr. Daniel also noted May 27 was the official last day of school for students for the current school year. Calling the year “the most unusual school year in anyone’s career,” he added.

“I never could have imagined how well our students and staff could adapt to our new normal,” he continued. “It was truly inspirational. While remote learning had its challenges, our students and staff members worked extremely hard to transform our educational model.”

Dr. Daniel gave credit to the district’s Food Service Department which, as of the meeting, surpassed serving 100,000 meals to students since the closure began in mid-March.

“To our retirees, I want to wish you well in your retirement, and thank you for all you’ve done for the students of Unit 5,” Daniel said, adding, “We know this isn’t how you planned your final school year, but we want you to know how much we appreciate your efforts.

Dr. Daniel concluded his comments to the Class of 2020, saying, “We congratulate you on this amazing milestone and look forward to celebrating your achievement.” Because of the pandemic, Unit 5 high schools had to move their graduation ceremonies until Saturday, Aug. 1.

“Each and every day, I continue to be amazed by what a tremendous school district we have in McLean County Unit 5,” Dr. Daniel said. “I wish you all a safe and relaxing summer.”

Daniel To Become Superintendent In His Indiana Hometown: Careers often take people away from places where they grew up, so when a job opportunity opened up where he attended school himself, Dr. Daniel applied. On May 26, Dr. Daniel was introduced to media as the new superintendent of the district known as Fort Wayne Community Schools, according to reports by Peoria’s WMBD-TV and the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette newspaper.

Last September, Dr. Daniel publicly announced that he would be leaving Unit 5 at the end of the current school year so that he and his wife, Janet, could live somewhere closer to family because they had become first-time grandparents, which meant attempting to seek an opportunity in the Chicago area. His last day on the job with Unit 5 will be June 30.

By Steve Robinson | May 19, 2020 - 10:22 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – Two public hearings were held prior to Monday’s regularly-scheduled Normal Town Council session Monday, done remotely as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. The first hearing was related to a proposed amendment to Town’s Community Development Block Grant plan. The second hearing related to a proposed revision of CDBG’s Consolidation Plans for a period from 2020-2024.

After nearly a year’s worth of consulting with the members of the community, Town Council approved the 2020-2024 Consolidated Plan as well as incorporated 2020-2021 Action Plan for filing with the Federal Housing and Urban Development in January. As part of the recently passed Federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the Town has been notified by HUD that it will be receiving a special, additional allocation of CDBG funds, referred to as CDBG-CV (Coronavirus), for Program Year 2020-21. These funds are to be solely used to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the Coronavirus, or COVID-19 locally.

The Town’s CDBG-CV allocation is in the amount of $246,067. With the addition of these new CDBG-CV funds, the Town’s total CDBG allocation for Fiscal Year 2020-2021 will be $664,358. Federal regulations required the Town to publish the Consolidated Plan, any revisions to it, and conduct at least one public hearing on the plan’s contents.

Only one person spoke at the hearing, Normal resident Ron Ulmer. Ulmer explained he saw a crevasse between what was required of the Town to meet Federal regulations, such as holding a hearing to get citizen input and what Ulmer saw as what the Town wants to do with the funds.

“The Town of Normal is required by law to solicit public input,” Ulmer stated. “The Town does not want to hear from taxpayers, and either ignores input unless the taxpayers support what the Town have already decided what they want to do.” He also took issue with an article in The Pantagraph which said the Town was working with the City of Bloomington on the matter. The City of Bloomington received $329,000 in Federal funds for dealing with the virus. Ulmer wanted to know why Normal was dealing with Bloomington “before requesting citizen input?”

No citizens spoke at the second hearing.

Cost Of Burying Utilities In Uptown Unearths Discussion: With some exceptions, utilities in Uptown Normal are primarily underground. Council members voted 6-1 to approve an ordinance authorizing putting underground certain utilities along East Beaufort St. in Uptown, specifically in the alley located adjacent to the railroad tracks from Uptown Circle to Linden Ave. The ordinance also approves to award a bid to Bloomington-based Anderson Electric who submitted a base bid of $182,675. Anderson Electric was one of three contractors who submitted bids on the project. Council Member Stan Nord cast the lone opposing vote.

In August, Council approved a brewpub on the former site of a key shop at 127 E. Beaufort St. to be operated by brothers Ryan and Steven Fiala. In February, the project developer contacted the Town after discovering costs associated with electric power service were higher than anticipated, including needed installation of a new transformer and underground electric lines.

Town staff investigated the issue and learned that the building footprint was directly under the existing overhead power lines. Because of the conflict with the overhead power lines and the power requirements for the new building, the power provider, Ameren Illinois, requires overhead power lines be buried underground, and existing poles be removed. The existing overhead powerlines are owned by Ameren and stretch from Linden Street along the north side of the alley to behind the building which combines Emack and Bolio’s Ice Cream Shop and Firehouse Pizza.

In discussing whether to pass the ordinance, Council Member Kathleen Lorenz said the project to put the utility underground “is no different than any other projects that have already happened in Uptown. The money is available and eligible for the Tax Increment Financing fund, and some money will actually be reimbursed to the TIF Fund as a result of this project.

The overall project cost estimate of $249,300 in the TIF fund will be partially recouped by an estimated $91,000 growth in earned assessed valuation, which returns to the TIF fund, and $26,509 from the Fiala Brothers’ developer.

Nord said while he “didn’t necessary take issue with utilities going underground,” he took issue with the Town “doing more with money at a time when money is so tight. At some point, to give incentives to get businesses to come into Uptown becomes too expensive.”

Without the measure passing, City Manager Pam Reece said in response to Nord’s comment, it was likely the project would not be completed “because a transformer can’t just simply upgrade a transformer.”

Parking Restrictions For Subdivisions Near Normal West High Eased: Council members unanimously approved amending parking restrictions for two residential subdivisions near Normal Community West High School. Residents living in the Park West and Greystone Fields subdivisions near the school had contacted and were surveyed by the Town concerning easing parking restrictions in the area. In a report to Council members prepared by Assistant City Manager Eric Hanson, it was explained that while current restrictions concerning parking during the school year are appropriate and have worked since those subdivisions came into existence in 2001, neighbors would benefit from having more parking in front of their homes on weekends and during school break periods.

Enterprise Zone Boundary Modification Approved: Council Members unanimously approved an ordinance approving a modification to the Bloomington-Normal Enterprise Zone as requested by chocolate manufacturer Ferraro, located on Bloomington’s southwest end. The company sits on approximately 54.24 acres of property located at 2501 Beich Road in Bloomington and a .716 acres connecting strip. Amending the Enterprise Zone, to include Ferrero, will, according to the report provided to Council members by Hanson, will permit the company to receive sales tax exemption on the purchase of building materials for an expansion project. The proposed expansion, Hanson explained, is contiguous to the Enterprise Zone and is located within the City of Bloomington. Since Ferrero is not located within the corporate limits of Normal, the Town has no incentives to offer the company, but in supporting the expansion of the Enterprise Zone boundary to include that area is vital for the growth of Ferrero and complies with theEnterprise Zone Act and the intergovernmental agreement.

Street Resurfacing Project Awarded To Rowe Construction: Council members unanimously approved accepting a bid for and awarding a contract to Bloomington-based Rowe Construction in amount of $1,535,647.15 for work to be done on the Town’s 2020 Motor Fuel Tax street resurfacing project.

On April 6, 2020, Council authorized a contract with Rowe Construction for resurfacing of non-MFT projects. That contract included resurfacing all or portions of University St., Marquette Dr., Timothy Ct., Hanlin Ct., Victor Place, Karin Dr., Kingswood Dr., Walton Place, Hundman Dr., and College Park Ct.

Street segments to be resurfaced as part of this proposed MFT project remain the same as those presented to Council in January and March, when Council authorized the MFT resolutions associated with this project: Hovey Avenue – White Oak Rd. to Cottage Ave. (newer concrete pavement sections will be omitted); Parkside Road – Erin Dr. to College Ave., and Fort Jesse Rd. from Landmark Dr. to Greenbriar Dr.

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

• Approval of the minutes of the Special Meeting of May 4, 2020

• Approval of the minutes of the regular Council Meeting of May 4, 2020

• Report to receive and file Town of Normal Expenditures for payment as of May 13, 2020

By Steve Robinson | May 14, 2020 - 10:36 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – The current Covid-19 pandemic has not allowed for people to have much face-to-face interaction unless there was either a computer monitor or some distance between people interacting. A recent survey taken of Unit 5 parents of high school seniors indicates they would like to see their children receive their diplomas. And if that’s permissible, the district superintendent said at the most recent Normal-based Unit 5 School Board meeting, that will happen.

During the scheduled Board meeting on May 13, done electronically, District Superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel told Board members the results of a recent survey of parents of high school seniors in the district showed they were in favor of seeing seniors receive diplomas in person. To that end, and if public health guidelines allow for it, he said, that in-person ceremony will take place on Aug. 1 at Grossinger Arena.

In addition to the tentative date announced, both Normal Community High School and Normal Community West High School plan to release a graduation video to parents of high school students on what would have been the originally scheduled graduation day, May 23.

“This video will highlight the positives of the Class of 2020 and will hopefully serve as something that everyone can cherish in the coming days,” Daniel said.

Pandemic Postpones Summer School: Daniel announced the scheduled summer school for district students has been postponed.

Breakfast, Lunch Delivery To Continue Through June: In addition, Daniel said the district will continue to deliver breakfasts and lunches to students as they have since late March, through June. By the end of the middle of May, he added, the district has passed the 80,000 lunches mark.

Teachers Going Beyond Recognized: Three district teachers received recognition for how they have tried to maintain contact with their students and their families during separation from the classroom as a result of the pandemic. First, Daniel recognized Lauren Romero, a kindergarten and first grade music teacher at Benjamin Elementary School. A scheduled concert got cancelled as a result of the district schools shutting down, Daniel said. But Romero created videos of each song on the meeting platform Zoom that included the words and music and accompanying gestures for each song to give to each student so the student could share the performance they would have given with their families.

George L. Evans Junior High School Principal Chris McGraw was also mentioned by Daniel, specifically for his morning announcements he gives students to start their day over the school public announcement system. Daniel said McGraw’s announcements “are quite uplifting. He is a caring person, no doubt, and the announcements are focused on a kindness mindset.”

Daniel also gave a nod to Towanda Elementary School Principal Scott Vogel for the way he presents daily messages to students on the school P.A. system. Daniel said a parent who had occasion to hear Vogel mentioned it to Daniel in passing.

“I just want to thank all our staff – our teachers, our administrators – for all that they are doing,” Daniel said.

Board Meetings To Start 30 Minutes Earlier Beginning In July: When the 2020-21 school year begins, it will mean a change for start times of Board meetings. Beginning in July, all Board meetings will start one half-hour earlier than they have before, starting at 6:30p.m. That new time will begin with the lone scheduled Board meeting set for July 15.

In a text to The Normalite, Dayna Brown, Director of Communications and Community Relations for Unit 5, explained, “Every year, we look at the calendar and see if we should make any changes. We decided to make the change for the upcoming year.” As for moving the singular meeting date in July, Brown said meetings were moved to that date because it’s the only meeting that month and there are no conflicts with that date. Meetings during the school year will remain on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays.

Board Approves Revised Graduation Policies: Board members unanimously approved a resolution which would suspend Board policies and approve graduation requirements revised as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. District Deputy Superintendent Dr. Ray Epperson told Board members explained Illinois State Board of Education recently made a change in State graduation requirements related to number of hours needed for a diploma.

Credit requirements for primary areas of study such as English, Math, and Science were shortened by one half-credit, or one half-semester, Epperson said, adding, Illinois State Board of Education had approved a change in State graduation requirements as a result of the pandemic.

As a result of the change, seniors at both Normal Community High School and Normal West Community High School will need a total of 21 credits to graduate instead of 24 credits which was normally required. Epperson said there are about 110 seniors total from both schools who will need to complete coursework right up until graduation in order to receive their diploma.

Board Member Meta Mickens-Baker asked Epperson about whether some seniors might have to take additional classes once they get to college because they now, as a result of the pandemic, need to take at the college level to satisfy admission requirements. Epperson said that matter would be up to the individual colleges. He added ISBE is working with individual colleges to resolve any matters related to that, and that some colleges are changing their admission requirements because of Covid-19.

Mickens-Baker also asked Epperson what issues the reduction in course hours required might cause students once they get to college. Epperson said such matters would have to handled by individual colleges.

Board Approves Abating Working Cash Fund: Board members unanimously approved abating the district’s working cash fund emptying those dollars from working cash into the district’s education fund to cover operational expenses, according to Marty Hickman, district business manager.

NORMAL – Although we are all uncertain when we will be able to get out and enjoy beautiful weather and our favorite recreational activities as a result of the pandemic, Normal Town Council members, at their May 4 meeting, done remotely, voted unanimously to approve spending money on the publication of the annual Fall/Winter/Spring event catalog.

Council members voted unanimously for the Town to award a bid to Milwaukee-based American Litho in the amount of $31,975 for publication of the next Fall/Winter/Spring and Summer catalogs. The Town’s Parks and Recreation Department pays for publication of three activity catalogs annually — The Parks & Recreation Department publishes three activity guides which feature Town programs, events and facilities annually. One publication covers the fall program cycle (August-December), a second for winter and spring activities (December-May), and the third highlights summer programming (May-August).

Council Member Stan Nord asked what plans the Town had for if the catalogs come out but programs are delayed or cancelled as a result of the current pandemic. Doug Damery, director of the Town’s Parks And Recreation Department, told Council members his department should “have a better handle on what changes to anticipate” related to fall programs, and better prepare to make modifications.” He added how summer goes will be a barometer for the department to determine how programming from the department goes going forward.

Damery added the deadline for printing of the fall guide has been pushed back by two weeks to help his department to give his department a better glance at how fall programming can be mapped out. He said the deadline his department is looking at in that case is mid-July.

Damery explained his department is currently “dealing with modifications in changes in programming” since the current summer catalog came out in March, and has had supervisors in his department make direct contact with anyone who signed up and paid for summer activities. He added changes concerning events related to summer programs are updated as they are known.

Town Renews Participating In Insurance Co-Op: Council members voted unanimously to renew the Town’s membership in Municipal Insurance Cooperative Agency (MICA), with the annual renewal beginning May 1. MICA is a group of 22 Illinois public entities, primarily municipalities, created in 1984 to provide its members with insurance coverage on a partially self-funded basis. Normal joined MICA in 1985 and is currently its second largest entity behind the City of Des Plaines.

Council Approves Contract For Elevator Service: Council members unanimously approved a three-year contract for elevator maintenance with Peoria-based KONE, Inc. at an annual cost of $27,480. KONE, Inc. was one of three companies to bid on the contract and submitted the lowest bid for the contract. The other bidders were based in Peoria and St. Louis, but the proposal from the second Peoria-based company was found to be incomplete.

Council Approves Contract For Belt Ave. Bridge Resurfacing: Council members unanimously approved a contract for $46,529.42 for resurfacing work needing to be completed on the Belt Ave. Bridge. The contract was awarded to Bloomington-based Rowe Construction, Inc., the lone bidder for the project. Last July, Normal-based The Farnworth Group and Town of Normal Engineering Department employees completed an inspection required to meet National Bridge Inspection Standards for the bridge.

According to a report to Town Council members prepared by Town Engineer Ryan Otto, during the inspection, deterioration of the wearing surface was discovered, as were signs of water leaking through the wearing surface and coming through the joints between the bridge’s deck beams. As a result of those discoveries, repairs were deemed necessary. Work included under this contract includes removal and replacement the existing hot-mix asphalt wearing surface.

Installation Of Sanitary Sewer Lining Approved: Council members unanimously approved a resolution authorizing a contract to Peoria-based Hoerr Construction, Inc. for installation of roughly 8,400 lineal feet of pipe along with two large sewer point repairs. This project was approved in the Town’s Capital Investment Program (CIP). Hoerr Construction, Inc. was one of three companies to submit a bid for the project, submitting the lowest of the bids at $452,149.80. Among the street intersections where work will be done are: Bradford Lane and Alden Dr.; Warren St. and Bakewell Ave.; Norwood Ave. and Dial Ct.; Concord Dr. and Arlington Dr.; Russell St. and Riordan St.; Fairchild Ave. and Coolidge St.; Bryan Dr.; Eastview Dr. and College Ave.; Livingston Dr. and Morgan St.; Franklin Ave. and Fell Ave. (along Sugar Creek), Cherry St. and Linden St.; Towanda Ave. and Blair Dr. (along Sugar Creek); and Columbia Dr. and Courtland Ave.

Plat Conditionally Approved For Iden Subdivision: Council also gave unanimous approval to conditionally approving a plat for the Iden Subdivision by expedited process. This included vacating an easement and accepting an easement dedication for property located at 105-111 W. Locust. The Town sought approval of the Iden Subdivision feeling it was necessary for the redevelopment of three aging, multifamily properties.

EMT Service By NFD Coming To Hudson?: Could Normal Fire Department emergency medical technicians be coming to the aid of someone in Hudson needing to get to a Twin City hospital? That could happen under discussions between Normal Fire Department and Hudson Fire Protection District (HFPD). NFD Chief Mick Humer told Council members during a work session prior to the May 4 Council session NFD officials had discussions with Hudson Fire officials last summer which began mentioning the possibility of NFD entering into a contract with Hudson Fire Protection District to respond to emergency calls within the district.

If an agreement between the parties is worked out, this would be the second smaller community NFD EMT units would respond to, as Towanda began receiving such service in 2014. HFPD responds to calls covering roughly 50 square miles, including the Village of Hudson, Humer told Council members. Their territory includes Lake Bloomington, Lake Evergreen, and surrounding areas, Humer explained.

In 2019, Humer said, there were between 140-150 calls for assistance made to HFPD, of which NFD lent assistance 47 times assisting with “paramedic-level transport,” Humer explained. He said if the patient required IV’s or medication, NFD was able to assist, in addition to getting the patient to a hospital.

“We’re only talking about 100 more calls per year,” if this is agreed to, Humer said. He added Hudson receives money courtesy of a tax levy for emergency medical services of roughly $300,000. He said Hudson would need to use some of those dollars for training new EMTs, equipment, and manpower. He said depending on which part of Hudson or the county a call comes from, it could take anywhere between 12 to 18 minutes to respond. NFD Station #3, located on Raab Rd., would get to Hudson in 12 minutes, He added.

NFD and HFPD “are still in the process of negotiating the contract, and we’re very close,” Humer told Council members, with cost being the current sticking point between the two sides. He added patients would be billed for transportation to the hospital, adding HFPD billed patients for trips to hospitals for close to $65,000 total. Of that total, roughly $42,000 was recovered through private insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid.

For NFD, the additional service would not involve an increase in manpower, Humer said. He added ambulance calls for Normal residents will feel no difference in response times with other NFD stations in town able to respond should there be a call to Towanda.

Normal City Manager Pam Reece told Council members the Town would propose to HFPD an initial three-year agreement. She added NFD receives over 5,000 calls for EMT service annually. “If Hudson has 140 to 150 calls a year, the number of new calls for us to respond to would be about 100. That sounds like a lot of calls, but when you’re doing over 5,000, it’s basically not a significant impact to our calls for service.”

Humer added that when a contract is finalized, a clause which would see the fee Hudson pays for the service would go up three percent annually during the life of the contract. Reece said the Town “is proposing a relatively short term agreement which gives us chance to see how this works.”

Reece added the Town would make sure Hudson maintained its first responder program. Once an agreement between NFD and HFPD is worked out, it will be sent to Normal Council members for a vote.

In discussion which followed, Council Member Kevin McCarthy verified with Humer whether he was not anticipating any staff changes as a result of what was proposed to which Humer and Reece confirmed. Council Member Stan Nord added he would like a mechanism be put in place by NFD in case a retirement community were to be place in the Hudson area, so that additional calls from there could be handled.

Liquor Commission Approves New Owner For Marie’s Place: Prior to the Council session, Council members, in their capacity as Normal Local Liquor Commission unanimously approved licenses for three establishments, identified as Marie’s Place. Two of those locations, in Landmark Plaza, 1520 E. College Ave., and at Patriot Center, 115 Susan Dr., were applied for by MC ONE INVESTMENTS LLC, d/b/a Marie’s Place. Liquor Commissioners unanimously approved Class C Licenses (Beer and Wine Only) and a Video Gaming License for each establishment. Each establishment has six gaming terminals

A third license renewal was unanimously approved for 35 YEARS, LLC UNIVERSITY PARK, d/b/a Marie’s Place. That location’s owner applied for and was granted a Class C License (Beer and Wine Only) and a Video Gaming License for 6 terminals at 1702 W. College Avenue.

Marie’s Place owners had found itself on Town radar, partly for violating its license by not offering food at one of its locations. That resulted in owners and the Town going before an administrative officer in a hearing to resolve the matter in mid-March. The administrative officer recommended to the Town that the owners should be fined. At a NLCC meeting last month, a number of votes were taken concerning licensing of the business, in part, because the ownership to two of the businesses which was approved Monday. Liquor Licenses run from April 1-March 30.

NLCC members also unanimously approved minutes from their April 20 session.

NORMAL – During a work session that preceded Monday’s regularly-scheduled Normal Town Council meeting and what she characterized as the first of a number of updates for Normal Town Council members City Manager Pam Reece and Town Finance Director Andrew Huhn mapped out for Council members

Huhn said the Town has been in contact with organizations such as Illinois Municipal League, National League of Cities, Gov. J. B. Pritzker’s office, and other sources in order to stay abreast of how the worldwide pandemic has affected many aspects of the State.

He said the Town, like the State, nation, and world have had to become familiar with new terms, such as social distancing, which businesses have needed to find ways to cope with in order to make sure folks stay at least six feet apart even while trying to conduct business. He reminded the impact of that vary depending on the industry a person works in.

Before the pandemic hit, and although “we are still closing the books on it right now,” Normal finds itself in a pretty good position, Huhn told Council members. He said the Town, thanks to the fiscal strategies it employed was in a good fiscal shape before the crisis enveloped the country.

He said the Town’s general fund is meeting the mandatory 15 percent set by Town Council members. He said the Town’s water and sewer fund was in good shape, as well. The only fund in need of some care, he said, is the Town’s health and dental fund, but Huhn was quick to remind that the Town “is in the process of resolving that.”

“Generally speaking, the Town has entered the economic impact of this stay at home order with what I characterize as a very strong balance sheet,” Huhn said.

Rivian Passes On Town’s $1 Million Grant Offer: Reece also announced during the session that Rivian Automotive opted not to take a $1 million grant offer from the Town, citing the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on the Town.

Meeting’s Video Suffers Technical Issue: Viewers who tried to watch Monday’s Council meeting and the work session which preceded it on the Town’s website or its YouTube Channel, would have needed binoculars to get a full view of the session which lasted over 90 minutes. The culprit for the glitch was a system crash which undid settings used to show meetings at a full screen size, according to the Town’s director of innovation and technology.

Vasu Vgadhiraju explained the Town turns on the live stream equipment roughly 30 minutes prior to any meeting the Town is going to stream, giving potential viewers an opportunity to watch, and to make sure the streaming equipment is operating properly. Council meetings are live streamed on the Town’s website and on the Town’s YouTube page.

But roughly 10 minutes prior to Monday’s Council work session, the streaming system crashed. The result was either audio with no picture or audio with video barely as large as a postage stamp. As a result of the crash, Vgadhiraju said, settings for the channel changed. She said a fix at that time would require shutting it off completely and restarting it, and under the circumstances, with a video in progress, that solution wasn’t possible. The Town would not need to spend any money to reset the system, Vgadhiraju explained.

Zoning Amendment Approved For One Normal Plaza: Town staff have been giving some thought to how the Planned Urban Development known as One Normal Plaza should be utilized in relation to goals the Town has set for itself while attempting to keep the area, which was once the Illinois Soldiers’ And Sailors’ Children’s Home, relatively untouched. To do that, in part, Council members voted 6-1 for approving a text amendment zeroing in on permitted uses inside the property which the Town has overseen since 1990. Among the changes the Town would like to have are more restrictive uses in one area and more expanded uses other areas.

In a report prepared for Council members by Town Planner Mercy Davison, “all new construction must be extremely sensitive to the historic character of the existing buildings and the overall area, and new parking surfaces should be minimized in order to preserve the green spaces.” A second goal of the location, Davison wrote, would be that “the utilization of One Normal Plaza should support the Town’s goals of promoting Route 66. One Normal Plaza should become a place that attracts visitors, whether to visit businesses within the PUD or to experience the outdoor spaces and remarkable architecture.”

Town Staff canvassed residents and business owners at the property late last year on the matter, according to the report submitted by Davison. Council members voted 6-1 in favor of a motion to initiate a zoning text amendment regarding the property with Mayor Chris Koos, joined by Council Members Chemberly Cummings, Kevin McCarthy, Scott Preston, Karyn Smith, and Kathleen Lorenz voting to support the motion while Council Member Stan Nord voted in opposition.

As a result of the vote, the item will be put on the Normal Planning Commission’s June 4 meeting agenda to receive public comment, after which Town Staff will evaluate any responses and send the item back to the Town Council for approval, most likely by the governing body’s June 15 meeting.

Passing the measure, McCarthy told Council members, “is a really great step to show those who live out there that we’re listening and we care and it’s very interesting that the business owners out there were listening as well. I’m just excited about some future development out there.”

Nord explained his objections to the measure, first by saying, “what concerns me is the optics of this. Seems like we’re missing a step here. Zoning should go through the Town Planning Commission, which is what their function is. The optics that we’re skipping a step is not good. This should start at a lower level and they should recommend to us if this is worthwhile.”

Reece said if there was a concern centering around optics, this situation “is an opportunity for the Council to clarify that, then, because what we are, in fact doing, is initiating this into a public process. So this certainly becomes a very transparent process where we seek public input.”

Reece added Normal Planning Commission leads the public process before the item is returned to the Council for a vote, up or down, on it. She called the initial action “a very common step” with which to begin the process. Town Staff put in roughly 40 hours on such a process, which she categorized as “not unique.”

Lorenz, a former Normal Planning Commission member, informed Nord the beginning this item is taking “is not circumventing anything in the process. This is the beginning of the very transparent process that is beginning to start.”