By Steve Robinson | November 22, 2016 - 10:05 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Farm Assets ConferenceNORMAL – With a new administration coming to Washington in January, a number of concerns related to the farming could be front and center in 2017.

The 2018 Farm Bill was among those subjects discussed at the Annual Farm Assets Conference, held Nov. 22 at the Carol A. Reitan Conference Center, located at the Bloomington-Normal Marriott Hotel. The conference was sponsored by Illinois Public Media and University of Illinois Extension Office.

The day-long event began with a two-hour session devoted to the 2018 Farm Bill which, if Congress passes it that year, would continue current legislation which was last passed in 2012. The current Farm Bill expires in September 2018.

Some 150 farmers participated in the morning session during which an electronic survey was taken to find out what farmers thought were the most critical issues. High on that list were Federal and State Regulations, and marketing of biofuels. At the low end of items of concern for farmers participating was value-added farming.

A total of 61 percent of those in attendance said conservation was an important element to have in the farm bill.

Crop insurance was another hot topic for discussion, and has become a $9 billion industry, explained Gary Schnitkey, agricultural economist at the U. of I. Extension Office. “When the 2018 Farm Bill is debated in Washington, that will have a pretty large target on its back,” he added.

“Crop insurance has gotten a larger, larger focus in the Farm Bill,” attendees learned from Jonathan Coppess, clinical assistant professor at the U. of I., adding crop insurance is the largest single spending item in the Farm Bill. He added crop insurance is heavily used but also attracts attention from politicians. He added Federal assistance covers 62 percent of crop insurance.

In an interview following his speech to the meeting, Coppess said, “Market prices for the crop will continue to be a big issue because the crop is a means of income and being able to manage financially” for farmers.

“With the new administration that’s coming in, a lot of focus has been on trade,” Coppess added. “Trade is incredibly important to farmers in this state and throughout the country. How the Donald Trump administration handles existing trade agreements and future trade issues is, I think, a big concern everybody has.”

Before coming to U. of I., Coppess served as chief counsel to the Senate Agriculture Committee from 2011-13. At that time, the current Farm Bill was being hammered out in Congress.

Coppess said with the U. S. trading in corn and soybeans with Mexico, and in soybeans with China, “a lot of farmers are looking to see how President-Elect Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric translates into governing.”

“Trade is one of those things that can have a ripple effect, “Coppess said. For example, he added, a trade dispute with China could lead to possible retaliatory actions.

How crop insurance gets addressed, Coppess said, depends on the approach Congress takes to handle budget issues overall.

State’s Only Farming State Senator Receives Honor: State Sen. John Sullivan (D-Rushville) was honored as the 2016 Friend of Ag Award Recipient by the Illinois Corn Growers Association. The Friend of Ag Award seeks to honor individuals who have made significant contributions to the Illinois agricultural industry and who have sought to represent agriculture in the highest accord. Sullivan, the lone working farmer in the State Senate, is retiring at the end of his term.

By Steve Robinson | November 21, 2016 - 10:18 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL – Seeing taxes increase has never been a popular activity for either politicians or their constituents. There have been times when Normal Town Council members have held off doing so. But at their regularly-scheduled meeting Monday in Council Chambers in Uptown Station, Council members unanimously approved a motion to authorize preparing of the 2016 Property Tax Levy ordinance.

The proposed tax levy will increase from $1.3755 to $1.4028, creating a $13 increase for residents who own homes worth $165,000. The majority of the tax money taken in from the increase will be used to help the Town continue to meet its obligation to fund the Town’s Police and Fire pension funds. The increase amounts to 5.77 percent when the proposed tax rate gets added to the estimated growth in assessed value. Alone, the increase sought is just 1.98 percent.

The Town has no input on the cost of Police and Fire pensions, and even though pension plan levels are mandated by the State, the Town is obligated to provide the necessary funding.

Town Staff must submit a final levy recommendation to Council members for review and approval for their Dec. 19 meeting. Because the increase asked for is above five percent, State law requires a “Truth In Taxation” hearing be held before the Council’s final vote is taken. That hearing will take place prior to the Council’s Dec. 19 session.

The Town, as well as other taxing jurisdictions must submit their approved levies to the county by Dec.27.

But before Council members could begin their discussion of the matter, they heard from two residents opposed to any increase. Ron Ulmer told Council members he would like to see the money from the proposed increase be used, instead, to address transportation needs of low income residents which would help them continue to get around in the community independently. The Twin City bus system will be forced to shut down at the beginning of next year if the State fails to pay the transit company roughly $5 million it’s owed. Ulmer added increasing taxes also leads to an exodus of people leaving the community for places where taxes are seen as not as high.

Resident Marc Tiritilli told Council members there were a list of items which were granted money by the Council, including $67,000 for fiber optic links at Destihl and committing $88,000 annually for Zagster bike rentals. “There is plenty of money in the general fund to accomplish the Town’s goals without a tax increase,” Tiritilli said. “There is certainly room to tighten the budget and cover the additional pension amounts without levying new taxes.”

“I want to assure people there have been many things looked at” before considering an increase, Council Member Cheryl Gaines said. “The State of Illinois decides what it is we have to pass. I want people to know we thought this thing through.”

“Illinois’ problems are far from over,” Council Member Kevin McCarthy said. “With the markets under performing, we sometimes have to do this.”

“We need to keep property taxes as low as we can but we can’t avoid funding pension funds,” Mayor Chris Koos said. He said this was an issue this Council would not take a pass on and decide to wait for a future set of Council members to decide upon.

Council Member Jeff Fritzen recalled Council members passed on voting for a tax increase four years ago.

Council Member R. C. McBride said making pension obligations a priority is important “and we’re doing the best thing we can do with it.”

Work For Proposed Amendment For Taproom Licenses Approved: Council members also unanimously approved a motion for action for a potential zoning change to get underway. Council members voted to propose that Town Zoning Code be amended so that Class P Taproom liquor license holders could be considered within the same classification of businesses similar to Restricted Manufacturing, which are designated Class M-1 under Town Code.

White Oak Brewery holds a Class P Taproom license and wants to use 750 sq. ft. of its 3,000 sq. ft. facility for a taproom. Normal Planning Commission will take up the matter in January, which would involve holding a public hearing during that meeting. If the Planning Commission approves the action, it would go back to Normal Town Council for final approval later that month.

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

• Approval of minutes of the regular meeting on Nov. 7, 2016.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures as of Nov. 16, 2016.

• A resolution to waive the formal bidding process and authorizing the purchase of metal tree grates for trees located in the area of Uptown Normal from Westchester , Ill.-based Urban Accessories in the amount of $25,459 and approval of an associated budget adjustment.

• A resolution authorizing the purchase of atlas filter replacement parts for Fairview Family Aquatic Center from Carlisle, Ontario, Canada-based Natatorium Consulting Services in the amount of $23,052.

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

• A resolution authorizing execution of an intergovernmental agreement concerning the McLean County Geographic Information System Consortium and authorizing the amendment and termination of prior agreements.

• An ordinance establishing parking restrictions on Shepard Rd. between Airport Rd. and Canyon Creek Rd.

Steve RobinsonAuthor Roland Smith visited Kingsley Junior High School and Parkside Junior High School on Tuesday and Wednesday, Nov. 15 and 16, respectfully, and gave presentations to 6th through 8th graders, discussing writing, doing research for his books, trying to give youngsters an insight into how a professional writer works. He also encouraged the students to use their school libraries to help them with their research.

That means constant rewriting, the author of some 26 adventure novels told the students. In addition to the presentations he gave to the classes, he had a pizza lunch with a select group of students who have read the majority of his books, and spent time with a select group of students who are very interested in pursuing writing as a potential future career, and with a group of special education students. It was a full day for Smith, who will turn 65 at the end of the month.

During the assembly speeches he gave to each of the grades, Smith told students his research for his books take him twice as long as the actual writing. He also told them he considers himself “a visual writer.”

“That means when you read one of my books, you say, ‘it played out like a movie in my head,’” Smith told 8th graders at one of the assemblies I sat in on in the school gym.

Smith suggested to the kids they ought to use photographs to inspire them to get their creative juices flowing when they consider creating a story.

Smith told the kids he does storyboards as though the book he is going to write were going to be made into a movie. He said the next step is to arrange the cards he uses to outline the plot of the story in the correct order before putting them onto the storyboard. He said he does that so that the action in the book flows in the order he wants. Then, he said, he can start writing. He writes several rough drafts.

“If there is one thing I want you to learn, it’s that writing is revision,” Smith told the students, making them all repeat those last three words after he said to them in every assembly. He said he writes about 80,000 words for his books and, with revisions, chops that figure down to about 60,000 words.

He told the kids to “get over” the fact that teachers edit their work because it’s all part of the writing process (don’t remind me!). He said he listens when editors make suggestions for changes that could be made to his manuscripts.

“Ninety-eight percent of the time, I don’t have to make changes,” Smith told each group. “But you know what? Editors have a lot of good ideas and they make me look a lot smarter.” (The ol’ editor, Mr. Pyne, has just read that quote and now is trying to contain a smile, I assure you.).

Smith grew up in Portland, Ore. and still lives there. He grew up in an era of Jules Verne books and graduated to reading Ian Fleming “James Bond 007” novels, he told students, giving them a little bit of his background that has gotten him where he is today. He said at age 5, his parents gave him a black oily typewriter for Christmas. He said, at that time, he cried when he got it because he was expecting another kind of gift, and he didn’t know how to read or spell.

But once he learned to read and write, he loved that typewriter, he said. My maternal grandparents had on oily black Royal brand portable manual typewriter I played with as a kid. I loved it. I can relate to some degree.

An 8th grade student asked Smith how much he gets paid for his work (I’ve always wondered about the pay such authors get, myself). He said he get paid based on how many books sell within a six-month period, and is paid 10 percent of what a hardback sells for and 35 cents per paperback copy sold.

Smith is the second author invited by the junior highs. The first was Neal Schusterman, another popular writer of fiction for young people. He visited all four junior highs two years ago. Courtney Knowles, IMC Specialist at both KJHS and PJHS, explained the committee that planned Smith’s visit “thought he would be perfect for middle school students and we have not been disappointed.

“We wanted someone who wrote a large quantity of books, and who wrote different genres so that his visit would appeal to as many kids as possible,” Knowles said. From what I saw throughout that day, Smith did just that.

To Smith’s point about revision, Knowles said the teachers who invited Smith wanted kids to pick up on his message of practicing their writing, just as musicians and athletes in junior high school and high school must constantly practice their crafts.

In case you’re wondering, you could say I do a little practicing myself, especially when it comes to writing a column. I have done this for almost seven years and it took me the first year to finally decide to write out each column longhand before putting it into the computer. That way, basically, all I’m doing by the time I’m at the computer is typing. But it took the first year of this column for me to realize that was the right step for me.

These kids were told revision is necessary. The one word he didn’t use is that, occasionally, it can be painful (That’s where “Writer’s Block” occasionally makes itself known). But if you have an idea you want to express, you must write. And if you are willing to write, Smith inferred, you must be willing to rewrite.

I will give this column the once-over (make that twice-over) and hope I don’t need too many rewrites before deadline.

By Steve Robinson | November 14, 2016 - 11:57 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite

Steve RobinsonWhen Bloomington Central Catholic made it to the Illinois High School Association Class 2A State Volleyball Tournament last weekend at Redbird Arena, there were the usual folks you expect to see in the stands at such an event: Parents, grandparents, younger siblings in some cases, and fans who enjoy watching the action.

But if you’d been facing the Saints cheering section, you might have done a double take to see someone who, clearly, might look out of place at a high school volleyball game: the Holy Father himself, Pope Francis.

Now, no, His Holiness didn’t jet from Rome to see how BCC faired at this event (That would be news!!). it was a cardboard likeness brought to the game by BCC senior Meg Dineen As pictured in this column, Dineen has been bringing the Holy Father along for good luck for about the second half of the Saints’ Volleyball season, head coach J. R. Banister told reporters at a post-game news conference following the Saints’ semifinal loss to Chicago Heights-based Marian Catholic. Banister said the kids started bringing the Pope along to games roughly about halfway through the regular season.

The kids who came to that semifinal game were very happy to crowd around the propped-up Pontiff before the game, hoping it would be inspirational for the Saints.

“This is a big game and we needed some support from our Most Holy Father,” BCC senior Charles Cresci, elected spokesman for the group of kids in the front row of seats with the cutout, told me.

In truth, Dineen did start bringing the smiling cutout figure to games when the Saints had a game against University High. She then started bringing it to games regularly after that, and with the playoffs coming, she couldn’t consider leaving him at home.

Cresci said the cutout was “the Saints’ biggest weapon next to Saints players Maddie Holt and Kate Hoerdemann.”

At the news conference following the Saints semifinal loss to Marian Catholic, Banister said with a laugh, “He’s shown up a couple times this season. I didn’t know he was coming today. But he’s been there for us a couple of times.” His comments produced chuckles from his players who joined their coach at the press session.

“We are really proud of them and they put up a good fight,” Dineen said to me just before BCC took on Mascoutah in the third place game. Cresci, who eager to talk prior to the semifinal game, wasn’t as encouraged by the end result of the semifinal contest.

When I didn’t see His Holiness standing out among the fans for the third place game, Dineen admitted she forgot to bring the cutout along.

Hearing this, I kidded her, feigning shock. “You forgot the Pope?,” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said quietly. “Sorry.”

That wasn’t a problem because BCC did finish fourth in the State and finishing fourth in the State in anything ought to be considered an accomplishment. Getting that far still gets your school a trophy for case at school and admiration from fans and friends, not to mention the memories to look back upon years from now.

And who knows? Maybe the Pope will visit again next volleyball season.

By Steve Robinson | November 13, 2016 - 10:17 pm
Posted in Category: Central Catholic, The Normalite

VolleyballNORMAL – Making their second appearance at Illinois High School Association State Volleyball Tournament in two years, Bloomington Central Catholic found themselves, even with a cardboard cutout of the current Pontiff looking on, competing only to find they would be trying for a third place title by the end of action at Redbird Arena on Friday. BCC finished the season with a 31-7 record.

Loss To Mascoutah Takes A 3-Game Set: Counting this year, BCC has made its presence known at IHSA State Volleyball for two straight years. This year, the Saints encountered a tough Chicago Heights-based Marian Catholic High School team which concluded sending BCC to the third place game to face Mascoutah. But that three-game set played out like a championship match in its own right, but the Indians defeated BCC by scores of 21-25,28-26, and 23-25.

Game 1 was back and forth until kills from Maddie Hold and Kate Hoerdemann demonstrated the Saints could push forward, advancing with a 17-12 lead. Mascoutah (31-9) came within one, 20-19 off kills by Kamrynn Voypick, Lacy Albers, and Nilah Roy. An additional kill by Katirah Johnson tied the game, 20-20, prompting BCC head coach J. R. Banister to call a timeout.

After the timeout, with Allie Warfield serving, Mascoutah registered one kill while BCC committed four attack errors leading to the Indians’ first win. In game two, except for three early ties after the games started, Mascoutah took a commanding 12-7 lead which they increased to 20-16, where upon BCC, behind the serving of Maddie Malinowski and kills by Morgan Koch, achieved a 20-all tie before an Malinowski service ace put BCC up, 21-20. From there, the game would be tied five more times.

At 26-26, a Malinowski kill put BCC up by one and that was followed by an Indians attack error by Johnson, sealing the Saints victory.

The rubber game’s scoring returned to the format it had in game one, with six ties early on before Mascoutah, behind serves from Sydney Waeltz and kills from Albers and attack errors by BCC’s Hoerdemann and Emily Butt, put Mascoutah up, 13-9, prompting a timeout by BCC.

Central Catholic SaintsThe Saints found themselves pursuing throughout the contest coming within four, 24-20, when with Erika Moore serving, they closed the gap to within two, 24-22, thanks to Indians attack errors. A kill by Hoerdemann brought the Saints within one, 24-23, before Hoerdemann committed an attack error herself, leading to Mascoutah’s winning point.

For the Indians, Voypick led the set with 36 aces. Roy and Albers had 12 kills each. As a team, Mascoutah had 110 takeaways to BCC’s 108. Hold registered 36 aces while Roy and Albers had 12 kills each for Mascoutah. Hoerdemann led the Saints in kills with 16.

Mascoutah head coach Todd Gober reminded reporters afterward his team had faced BCC twice earlier in the season, which he said, helped them prepare for the contest. “We knew coming in we wanted to serve aggressively and that was a factor that was big. Bloomington chased a lot of balls and they weren’t able to use their big hitters.”

From the previous two times BCC saw Mascoutah, Banister said, the Indians made more use of their outside hitters than previously. “Other than that, overall, I felt like we played a really good game.”

Marian Catholic Overtakes BCC In Semifinals: BCC (31-6 after this game) managed to keep pace with Chicago Heights- based Marian Catholic (31-9 following this game) in the first game, but the Spartans took command in the second game of the two-game set, beating the Saints by scores of 25-21 and 25-13, to advance to the Class championship.

Game 1 began with the two sides meeting point-for-point until a serving error by Hoerdemann followed by an attack error by teammate Bailey Coffman, and a service ace from Marian Catholic’s Temliade Adyoka helped push Marian Catholic up, 17-13. From that point, BCC trailed coming within two, 21-19, thanks to a serving ace from Holt before a serving ace by Marian’s Jaya Hall and three BCC attack errors put the game out of reach of the Saints.

Game 2 became a chase early on for BCC as the Hurricanes registered four kills to push for an early 7-1 lead from which the Saints had trouble keeping pace.

BCC had 63 takeaways to 58 for Marian. The Saints registered 22 kills but were outnumbered by 26 made by the Hurricanes. Holt made 19 of 21 aces accounted for by the Saints with Moore making the other two. Marian Catholic had 25 aces – 11 each from Adyoka and Jordan Piekarski.

“We knew Bloomington was good and served extremely well, “said Marian Catholic head coach Ryan Sommers. “They brought some good heat. We were surprised that their outside hitters moved the ball around a little bit more.”

“We have a good group of seniors,” BCC’s Banister said. “Our seniors have been leaders all year long, but they’ll help us regroup for the first place game.”