By Steve Robinson | December 17, 2018 - 10:17 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Regardless of a community’s political climate, any notion of a mayor and city council granting themselves a pay hike will strike residents of the community in one of two ways: One side will see it as a necessary step to continue to help those elected continue to do their job, even if a cash incentive isn’t why those elected serve, while another side will decry its necessity while pointing out a potential financial burden to the community.

And with an election coming for Normal Town Council members in April, some might think it dicey to try to pass any such action now. Yet, at Monday’s regularly-scheduled session held in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station, Council members did approve two ordinances – one granting a raise to Normal’s mayor beginning after being elected in 2021, and one granting a raise for those persons elected to Council after being elected in 2023.

Currently, Mayor Chris Koos earns $18,000 annually for the job. That amount was approved in 2009, boosting the pay up from $10,000 annually. As a result of the vote on the ordinance Monday, whoever runs and wins the mayoral post will be paid an annual sum of $32,000, effective May 1, 2021. The second ordinance passed would see Council members’ annual pay jump from $4,800 to $6,800, effective May 1, 2023.

In fact, the final figures approved by Council members for both Mayoral and Council pay saw amendments proposed by one Council member who is not seeking re-election in the spring. Prior to voting on the ordinances, Jeff Fritzen proposed an amendment to each ordinance lowering the amount of annual pay proposed. In the case of Mayoral pay, he proposed only bumping it to $25,000, and lowering the Council offering to $6,000.

Both of those suggested amendments were defeated – the mayoral pay reduction by a 4-2 count, with Council Members Kevin McCarthy and Fritzen voting for its passage, while Koos, and Council Members R. C. McBride, Kathleen Lorenz, and Chemberly Cummings voted it down. Council Member Scott Preston was not present at the meeting. Fritzen’s other suggested amendment, to cap an increase in Council members’ pay at an annual $6,000, failed on a 5-1 vote, with Fritzen being the only member favoring it.

Voting on the original Mayoral pay raise to $32,000 annually passed by a 4-2 vote, with Fritzen and Lorenz voting against it. Voting on the original Council members’ pay hike also passed by a 4-2 count, with Lorenz and McBride voting against it.

Both the public and Council members had their say during the session. Andy Shirk, president of Beer Nuts, Inc., told Council members said he supported the increase because “I believe the Mayor and the Council are under-compensated due to the time commitment and personal financial burdens placed on each of you for you to serve our town.”

Former Council candidate Ron Ulmer expressed the opinion the Council should consider passing term limits laws for all of its elected offices and appointed boards. Doing that, he said, would reduce any financial burden on the Town. “I do not any longer vote for anyone who has held the same elected office for 12 years or more. I urge Normal to lead the way to vote for term limits.”

Former Normal Mayoral Candidate Marc Tiritilli told Council members some citizens do not see all of the functions Council members attend as being defined as essential to the post, citing marching in parades as an example. “If we can justify that there has been a significant step-by-step increase in duties, then great,” Tiritilli said, adding, “Personally, I haven’t seen it. If this is a 40-hour plus position, then let’s make it a full-time job. But I need to see the justification for why the pay has to go up so much.”

New Fire Station Land Rezoned: Council members unanimously and without discussion voted to approve rezoning land at the corner of N. Main St. and S. University on which the Town’s new fire station and headquarters is located. As a result of the vote, the land will now be rezoned S-2 Public Lands and Institutions from its previous designation of B-1 General Business.

In 2017, the Town and Illinois State University used a land swap so the new fire station could be build on properties previously addressed as 602, 604, 606, and 608 S. Main St., and portions of 601 and 603 S. University St. On Dec. 6, a public hearing was held by Normal Planning Commission but no one spoke at that hearing. Commission members voted 6-0 to pass the rezoning request which was sent to the Council to receive final approval.

Community Investment Plan Approved: Council members unanimously approved a motion approving the Fiscal Year 2018-19 to Fiscal Year 2023-24 Community Investment Plan. Presented in a review to Council members by Town Finance Director Andrew Huhn, CIP is used by Town Council members prioritize capital investments.

CIP for FY 2018-19 through FY 2023-24 includes a total of 124 capital projects with an approximate cost spent on them of roughly $88.3 million. CIP also flags potential additional projects with a total cost to complete them during the period of $111.8 million. Those additional projects, however, are not being recommended during the six year period, Huhn explained.

Five categories CIP is spent on are public facilities, capital assets, developing transportation, development of parks and open space, and utility service. The amount of money sought to be spent during the five year period ending in 2024 is over $6 million less than was planned by the Town to be spent during 2018-2023 CIP.

Committee Appointments Announced: Fritzen announced a number of recommended appointments to a Board and a Committee before the session ended. He announced that Tracie Henry has been appointed to the Children’s Discovery Museum Board of Directors. Henry is an assistant executive director at Illinois High School Association. Henry is filling an open seat on the Board for a term that will expire on June 30, 2022.

Three new members were appointed to the Sister Cities Committee and were announced at this meeting. Patrick Clapper of Normal will join the committee. An employee of State Farm Insurance, Clapper formerly lived and worked in Japan and has been active in the Sister Cities Program. Hudson resident Sally Modine is employed by Normal-based Unit 5 School District, assigned to Kingsley Junior High School. In addition to her own involvement with Sister Cities, Modine’s son, Nicholas, participated in the Program’s Junior Ambassador exchange to Asahikawa. Ryan Apple, the third appointee to the committee, was himself an exchange student in the Junior Ambassador program. His grandmother also had served on the Sister Cities Committee. One of these three will fill a vacancy on the committee created by the departure of Toyoka Nishikara.

Convention And Visitors Bureau Bylaws Change Allows Appointments: As a result of Bloomington-Normal Area Convention and Visitors Bureau adopting a revised and updated set of bylaws, part of those bylaws allow for Normal’s mayor to appoint four board members to CVB. The four Koos appointed are: Migidi Tembo, general manager of Bloomington-Normal Marriott Hotel; Beth Whisman, cultural director for the Town; and Council Members Kathleen Lorenz and Kevin McCarthy.

Liquor Commission Approves License, Levies Fines: Serving in their capacity as Normal Local Liquor Commission, Council members approved a liquor license application for Kam Liquors, Inc., doing business as Budget Liquors at 200 S. Linden St . The establishment applied for a Class A (All Liquor – Off-Premises Consumption — Package).

Commission members voted unanimously to approve settlements with six establishments, the managers of which have all submitted guilty pleas and paid fines to the Town. Normal Catering, doing business as Bloomington-Normal Marriott, 201 Broadway, was fined $500 for what was a second offense in two years. The Town discovered the violation during a liquor audit on Sept. 20.

Also fined $500 for a second offense was also levied against Freedom Oil Co., 601 S. Main St . , for selling alcohol to a person under age 21, the result of a liquor audit on Nov. 5. This business has paid the fine.

Three other establishments saw settlements with the Town of their cases, as well. All three were fined $250, which as been paid. Highland Management Group LLC, doing business as Diamonds, furnished liquor to a person under age 21 during a liquor audit Sept. 20. This was the first offense for this establishment.

Freedom Oil Co., doing business as Freedom Oil Co., 601 S. Main St ., furnished liquor to a person under age 21 during that same audit. The Town fined the business $250 for what was a first offense in the last four years, and the fine has been paid.

Also fined as a result of the Sept. 20 audit was Schnuck’s Markets, Inc., doing business as Schnuck’s, 1750 Bradford Lane . The business sold alcohol to a person under age 21. Schnuck’s management was fined $250 which it has paid to the Town. This was a first offense for this store in 11 years.

Two other establishments were in the midst of negotiating a settlement with the Town when the Council agenda was released Dec. 14. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., doing business as Chipotle Mexican Grill #1633, 701 S. Main St., was found to have furnished alcohol to a person under age 21. Settlement arrangements with the Town are in progress. The other establishment is Bradford Lane Italian Foods, LLC, doing business as Rosati’s Pizza of Normal, 1720 Bradford Lane , which was found to have furnished alcohol to a person under age 21. Rosati’s is also in working out settlement arrangements with the Town.

Omnibus Agenda Items Approved: Council members used an omnibus vote to approve the following agenda items:

• Approve the minutes of the Strategic Planning Session Oct. 18, 2018.

• Approve the minutes of the Strategic Planning Session Oct. 19, 2018.

• Approve the minutes of the Special Meeting Nov. 2, 2018.

• Approve the minutes of the Public Hearing Dec. 3, 2018.

• Approve the minutes of the Regular meeting Dec.3, 2018.

• A resolution waiving the formal bid process and authorizing the purchase of a 2018 Ford Explorer in the amount of $25,380 from Greenfield, Ill.-based Morrow Brothers Ford, Inc., an authorized vendor for the State of Illinois Joint Purchasing Program.

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

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding process and executing an agreement with Chicago-based Redbox Workshop for design, fabrication, and installation of the ImagineAir exhibit at the Children’s Discovery Museum in an amount not to exceed $127,500.

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

By Steve Robinson | December 15, 2018 - 9:30 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite

As I write this, the clock winds down on a number of events upcoming: Christmas shopping, the Christmas holiday itself, and the days toward the first big basketball event of the season, the State Farm Bloomington-Normal Holiday Classic, known to many in these parts as simply “The Classic.”

This will be the 40th annual event for boys’ basketball for this event, although not consecutively. Dave Oloffson, vice president of the group that operates the tournament, reminded me the tourney didn’t run for a few years in the mid-1980s. Be that as it may, we have arrived at a milestone year and the anticipation is building.

This year’s Classic will run from Wednesday through Saturday, Dec. 26-29 at a number of locations throughout Bloomington-Normal. Those locations include Normal Community High School, Normal Community West High School, Bloomington High School, and of course, Shirk Center on Illinois Wesleyan University’s campus. It has become the event of the season after we have all had time with family and want more time to continue having fun while watching high school athletes attempt to add a few Ws to their team records.

In the Small School Boys Division, Aurora Christian was given the top seed by the Tournament committee. Three teams from within town and the county join them to try to reach the championship, and in the process, two of them will have to face each other in the opening round. El Paso Gridley is seeded fifth and will face 12th seed Winnebago on Dec. 26 at 5p.m. at Shirk. Bloomington Central Catholic is seeded seventh and will square off against 10th seed Downs Tri-Valley for a 10:30a.m.session at Shirk. It would take making it to the championship game or the 5th place game for two of these local teams to face one another.

Normal Community High School is seeded 7th in the Large School Boys Bracket and will face 10th seed Mahomet-Seymour in their opening round contest Dec. 26 at Normal West starting with a 5p.m. tipoff. University High is the only other local or county team in this bracket. The 12th seeded Pioneers will face 5th seed Zion-Benton at 1:30p.m. that first day at Normal West.

Bloomington Central Catholic is the highest seed among local schools, seeded fifth, in the Girls Small School Bracket. The Saints will be the home team when they take on 12th seed Rockford Lutheran Dec. 26 in a 9:30p.m. nightcap at Normal West. El Paso Gridley is seeded 13th in this bracket and will try for an upset of 4th seed Annawan, at 8p.m., also at Normal West.

U-High’s girls’ team drew one of the toughest assignments when it drew one of the highest seeds in this year’s tourney in the Large School Girls Bracket. The Pioneers are seeded 16th and will face top seed Peoria Richwoods on opening day at 12 Noon at Bloomington High School. BHS, incidentally, is returning as a host site for the first time for this tournament since 1999, according to Oloffson. The Purple Raiders girls squad will have challenges of their own to meet, being seeded 13th and opening the tournament on their own hardwood against 4th seed Rock Island on day one beginning at 3p.m. Tenth seed NCHS will face off against 7th seed Chicago St. Ignatius on opening night at 8p.m. at BHS. If the Iron squad gets to the second round, they could face the only out-of-state team, Union, Kentucky-based Ryle High School in the second round. Ryle High is seeded second.

“In the Large School Girls bracket, there are 11 girls who have committed to a Division I Scholarship,” Oloffson said. “There’s a lot of great individual talent in that.”

He added he thinks both of the boys brackets are “two of the best brackets we’ve had in a number of years. All four brackets should be really competitive.”

Normal West Boys To Pekin, BHS To Pontiac For Tournament Action: Some of us might have to travel for the holidays, but not to worry about missing any of the basketball this time of year if you find yourself in either Tazewell County, Pontiac, or vicinity. The 54th Annual Pekin Insurance Holiday Tournament will run for three days starting Thursday, Dec. 27 at Hawkins Gym on the Pekin Community High School campus. Normal West’s Boys’ team is the only local team competing there, joined by host Pekin, Springfield Lanphier, Washington, Peoria Richwoods, Plainfield East, Moline, Limestone, Hersey, Rockford Boylan, United Township, Freeport, Lake Zurich, Morton, Pattonville, and Mount Carmel.

Only the top four teams in the tourney get seeded at Pekin. While Normal West wasn’t seeded, they could face one seeded team if they win their first game and advance to the second round. In round one, head coach Brian Cupples’ troops will take on Mount Carmel in the last game on day one starting with a 9:30p.m. tipoff. Should the Wildcats win that match, they would play the winner of the first round game between second seed Morton and Pattonville.

Normal West isn’t the only local team hitting the road for competition, either, as BHS’ boys’ team will compete in the 88th Annual Pontiac Holiday Tournament. Only the top four teams get seeded in Pontiac, but luckily, head coach Micheal Mosley’s Purple Raiders were seeded fourth. Chicago Heights-based Bloom Township claims top seed here, with Chicago-based Curie Metropolitan High School being seeded second and Big 12 rival Danville seeded third among this tourney’s 16-team field. It’s a field which includes Chicago Simeon, Lockport, St. Charles North, Joliet West, New Trier, Plainfield North, Warren, Lisle-based Benet Academy, Peoria Manual, Oak Park-River Forest, Pontiac, and West Aurora.

I look forward to bringing you action from games and hope there’s time for some cheer to be spread along the way regardless of who wins or loses.

By Steve Robinson | December 13, 2018 - 10:07 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – After no public comments were made to Board members of Normal-based Unit 5 School District during a public hearing at the Board’s regularly-scheduled meeting on Dec. 12, Board members unanimously approved levying taxes and authorizing a certificate for a tax levy for 2018. Unit 5’s tax levy is about $121 million, up 9.2 percent from this year’s levy, largely due to the board’s decision to borrow $16.5 million over the next two years to overcome an education fund deficit.

Unit 5 estimated the owner of a $175,000 home will pay an extra $210 next year because of the bond sale, according to the district. The district is increasing taxes to help create an increase in pay for teachers. Other purposes the levy money goes toward include operations, transportation, and working cash.

Charlie Crabtree Remembered: As the meeting started, Board members and those attending held a moment of silence for Charlie Crabtree, the volunteer scorekeeper for Normal Community West High School’s girls’ junior varsity basketball team who was killed when a semi struck a Normal West team bus as the team returned from a game in Champaign Dec. 5. An Iowa man driving the semi which hit the bus was also killed. Freshmen team head coach Steve Price and bus driver Mark Kuhn, a Heyworth resident, were hospitalized. .

“While we are so thankful our eight players on board only had minor injuries, we grieve for those who suffered severe injuries and those who lost their lives in the crash,” said Dr. Mark Daniel, district superintendent, in a statement read to spectators and Board members. “Our hearts go out to the family of volunteer Charlie Crabtree. Charlie was a devoted fan and volunteer for many teams at Normal West. His memory will live on with the Normal West girls’ “Charlie Crabtree Award” which is given annually to a varsity girls’ basketball player who exhibits Charlie’s love of the game, sportsmanship, and selfliessness.”

“I also want to thank the community for their amazing support of our students, staff, and families at Normal West during this tragedy,” Daniel concluded.

Board Member Mike Trask added a tribute to Crabtree, remembering how the 72-year-old would sometimes bring candies to players. Trask brought peppermint patties to the meeting to distribute to all in attendance, as well as another of Crabtree’s favorite treats, bags of a candy called Circus Peanuts, to distribute to each Board member.

Normal Community High School Triples Its “Good News”: Trevor Chapman, principal at Normal Community High School, had plenty to talk about from his school during the “good news” portion of the meeting, and he brought some company with him to share three stories with Board members. First, he was joined by several students and staff members from the NCHS We Dine Together program. The student leaders for We Dine Together include Kaylyn Beyer, Jessica Fuentez, Anthony Nguyen, Karla Ontiveros, and Nadje Spencer. The teachers sponsoring the program are Kaitlyn Baez, LaTishia Baker, Chris Belt, Lauren Chessare, Dave Feeney, Jordan Newton-Gonzalez, Catie Peyton, Stefen Robinson, and Kevin Shackley. We Dine Together is a national program started by high school students in an effort to provide welcoming spaces for students who might not be comfortable in the large cafeteria to eat lunch at school. The group has a Facebook page, too. During second semester last school year, a few teachers and students at NCHS started a small pilot version of the program. These individuals then recruited other teachers and students to implement a full program this year during all three lunch hours.

Not only have the student leaders taken the initiative to invite a variety of students to come and try We Dine Together, but they have also partnered with the school’s Promise Council to provide food for students who are unable to afford lunch items in the cafeteria. In addition to the lunchtime meetings, these student leaders and teachers have planned other extracurricular activities, such as attending a dinner and the Homecoming dance together as a group.

Chapman also introduced Richard B Percy, a 1965 graduate of NCHS, to Board members, and explained Percy, a former Unit 5 Board member, NCHS teacher Liz Harris, and her NCHS agriculture program have enlisted help to keep White Oak in Carlock maintained. Percy and Chapman explained the cemetery like many small, rural cemeteries has limited funds and in order to manage the upkeep solicits volunteers and community support to accomplish the task.

Percy said he contacted Harris to ask her if she and her students would be willing to assist us with the endeavor. Harris and 18 students agreed to help and did so on October 19. They were joined by Harris’ grandparents and other family members, and a cemetery association volunteer to remove trash, weed around headstones, remove bushes and saplings, remove overgrown flower beds and cut limbs on the border of the property. The students who attended were: Bobby Bicknell, Courtney Boring, Mollie Brothers, Alyssa Churchey, Branden Donnell, Paige Kalaher, Kennedy Keim, Maddie Kraft, Emily Krawyck, Georgia Merkle, Gwenyth Parks, Addyson Peasley, Amanda Quigley, Anika Quinn, Jose Serna, Jordan Viles, Lexi Whalen, and Reed Wilson.

Finally, Chapman introduced Board members to NCHS student Christiana Wang. She is one of 20 students chosen to serve on this year’s Student Advisory Council to the Illinois State Board of Education. The Student Advisory Council is composed of motivated high school students who have been selected from a very competitive group of applicants. The Student Advisory Council was formed in 1975 to bring student concerns to the attention of the Illinois State Board of Education. Students from across the State serve on the Council, and each member brings a unique perspective to the diverse group. Wang is involved in Speech Team, Scholastic Bowl, Interact Club, Orchestra and works part-time at Kohl’s. In her spare time, she volunteers at OSF St. Francis Medical Center.

Rebekah Hagberg, Bloomington Area Career Center Cosmetology graduate, will represent `United States in August, 2019, at the WorldSkills competition in Russia. She was introduced to Board members by Tom Frazier, BACC’s director. The rigorous pre selection process to find a finalist to take part in that competition started with over 35 students across the United States. The final two were both BACC Cosmetology graduates. Laura Coronel, a Bloomington High School student turned out to be the other finalist. and Hagberg. The pair were chosen to compete for a spot on the SkillsUSA Worlds Team in the Hairdressing Competition.

After two days of head-to-head competition in June, 2018, which included demonstrating men’s hair and facial hair cuts, women’s haircuts, formal up dos and coloring techniques Hagberg was chosen to represent the United States in the Hairdressing Competition in Kazan, Russia, in August, 2019. She will spend the next year along with 19 other young competitors chosen from all over the country, training for the WorldSkills event with various industry professionals. For the 2019 WorldSkills competition 76 countries and regions will compete in more than 50 different career and technical based events.

Parkside Junior High School’s “Good News”: Parkside Junior High School Principal Darrin Cooper presented information to Board members concerning the school having recently hosted the IESA Area 11 State Speech Contest. A total of 13 area schools participated in this contest, competing in six different events with 106 entries in all of the events. Not only was the event a success, but for six PJHS Speech Team members, the event was pleasing for six of the school’s students who received high honors for the day in the form of the Judge’s Choice Award.

The six Judge’s Choice Award Winners: Isabelle Carlson Erin Jenkins Gabby Montgomery Abby Morse Madison Schweizer Katie Van Heuklon.

As part of the contest, each judge is allowed to select one exceptional performance from all of those they judged. The PJHS Speech Team meets during the fall semester to practice and prepare for the November IESA Speech Contest. Students work throughout September and October to memorize a solo, duet, or small group skit which they perform for a judge at contest. They practice before school to memorize, add blocking and actions as well as make sure performance pieces meet the time requirements. Students are not allowed to use props or wear cost. or wear costumes for performances, so they have to make sure that the characters and their conflicts are portrayed clearly through facial and vocal expressions.

Cedar Ridge Elementary’s “Good News”: Also submitting a Good News Report was Cedar Ridge Elementary School Principal Karrah Jensen, to acknowledge community support the school has received from Roger Aschbrenner, Manager of Main Street McDonald’s. Aschbrenner has dedicated himself to Cedar Ridge Elementary School. Aschbrenner, in recent years, has shown support for the school and its students, Jensen told Board members. He takes a vested interest in each student’s success and well-being. Each year, through his efforts, the school is able to partner with McDonald’s through their educational program. This gives school staff the opportunity to have “McTeacher Nights,” she explained. On McTeacher Night students can visit McDonald’s and see their teachers work in the restaurant. At Cedar Ridge, this is highly attended because of the reasonable price point and teacher dedication. The partnership also allows student artwork to be displayed within the restaurant. This provides our students an opportunity to see their schoolwork within the community.

This year, Jensen told Board members, Aschbrenner approached Jensen about a new opportunity for the students at Cedar Ridge, asking to partner with the school during its “Student of the Week” program. Jensen said Aschbrenner presented her with certificates for free Happy Meals, which are awarded each week at each grade level. He also attended a recent early morning assembly to share the news about our partnership to the students.

2019-20 School Calendar Draft Presented: Dr. Ray Epperson, assistant superintendent, presented a draft of the 2019-20 school calendar to Board members. The school year will consist of 176 days as required by the State. Built into that period, Epperson said, are five emergency days, such as snow days, and four Teacher Institute Days. The finalized version of the calendar will be brought to Board members for approval sometime during next semester.

Payment Approved For New District Information System: Board members unanimously approved spending over $393,000 for a new information system known as Infinite Campus, manufacturer by Greeley, Colo.-based Computer Information Concepts, Inc. Infinite Campus would replace the current information system the district has used over the past decade, known as Skyward. Unit 5’s first payment of $206,000 is scheduled to be made a few days before Christmas, according to the copy of the agreement between the company and the district provided to the media.

A second payment of $88,883 would be due in March, followed by a third payment of $64,326 would be made July 1. A fourth and final payment of $34,550 would be made in mid-August.

District Addressing Substitute Teachers’ Concerns: At a September Board meeting, the issue of helping substitute teachers being able to receive their pay in a timely manner was among a handful of issues presented before Board members by substitutes who were concerned about the matter. In an effort to address substitutes’ concerns, Unit 5 established a work group for those persons employed by the district. At this meeting, the district explained what else will be done to help those employees.

Dr. James Harden, the district’s executive director of human resources and student services, told Board members that a proposal slated to be presented at the January Board meeting would the amount of money subs receive for work on day one on the job. This would apply to regular, retired, or long-term substitutes. An additional daily rate increase based on the number of days worked annually is also going to be proposed. Should the rates be approved by the Board, the pay increase would be retroactive to Jan. 8.

In addition, Harden said, the district would grant subs access to grant access to email and Skyward beginning Jan. 7, and work to improve its regular communications with substitutes.

November Conference Update Presented: Board members attended a two-day conference in Chicago co-organized by Illinois Association of School Boards, Illinois Association of School Administrators, and Illinois Association of School Business Managers. It is commonly known to educators as “The Triple-I Conference.”

During discussion of the conference, each Board members spoke of what sessions they attended and what they came away from the sessions with for district use. Among the session topics mentioned were school security and engaging culturally diverse families.

Next Board Meeting Jan. 16: With the Christmas holiday coming, there will be no second Board meeting this month. The next scheduled Board meeting will be Wednesday, Jan. 16 at district headquarters, beginning at 7p.m.

By Steve Robinson | December 9, 2018 - 7:54 am
Posted in Category: The Normalite

He could be seen slipping in to watch Normal Community West High School’s Wrestling team on occasion when he wasn’t serving as scorekeeper for West’s girls’ freshman Basketball team, or doing the same job for the Wildcats’ varsity Softball squad. He had no kids active in Volleyball but would wander into the gym see how the team was doing on some nights. He’d also check out a boys’ Basketball practice occasionally, too.

Yet, although Charlie Crabtree had no family currently involved with Normal West – none that played either now or in the past – he offered to volunteer in some way at the school. He wound up keeping score for the freshmen girls’ basketball team as a result.

Saturday, when Normal West’s varsity girls’ team took to the court to face Bradley-Bourbonnais High School, they were still trying to process the events that had resulted in tragedy: The collision between the freshmen basketball team bus and a semi as they returned home from a game at Champaign Central Dec.5. It was a collision that left a few girls with minor injuries that didn’t require hospitalization, and sent their coach and the bus driver to a Peoria hospital. But the crash, in addition to killing the semi driver, claimed Charlie Crabtree’s life.

Crabtree, 72, served as announcer for freshmen team home games, in addition to being scorekeeper at the squad’s away games, explained Normal West Athletic Director Stan Lewis. There was supposed to be a home junior varsity game last Thursday but it was not played. The varsity squad was the only one to suit up that night. “When you go through a situation like that, there’s some emotional trauma that goes with that,” Lewis said. He added the varsity playing Saturday’s game “is just another step to getting back into a normal flow of things.”

Eight freshmen team members were on the bus, Lewis said. He said a few junior varsity players were also on the bus because of a low number of freshmen players. As of Saturday, Lewis said Steve Price, the head coach of the freshmen team, “has had a couple of surgeries. He’s doing better.” Lewis added the bus driver, 64-year-old Mark Kuhn, also had a couple of surgeries, and “seems to be doing better as well.”

Charlie became friends with Price, Lewis said, and from there, his association with the school grew. “He was a great guy,” Lewis said of the man who had earned his living in part as a driver for First Student, the bus company that Unit 5 School District used to get kids to and from school.

“I think the thing about Charlie is, probably for a coach, the help he provided was awesome,” Lewis said. “But Charlie didn’t care if we won or lost. We could have been awful and he’d go to the coach and say, ‘man, Coach, we really hung in there today.’”

“Charlie was just loyal to our coaches and he just wanted our kids to compete and have a good time,” Lewis added. “At the end of the day, he was just glad to be here and be a part of it.”

If you stop and think about it, being there and being part of something is all any of us really want in this life regardless of how old we are. The kids were lucky to have Charlie when they did part of their teams and their lives.

By Steve Robinson | December 3, 2018 - 10:46 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – Normal Town Council members voted unanimously to approve a resolution authorizing the Town’s Community Development Block Grant Citizen Participation Plan be filed with the Federal government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development, also known as HUD.

Council members voted to give approval to the CDBG Citizen Participation Plan in December 2012, and the plan has received updates over time since then, according to a report submitted to Council members by Town Associate Planner Taylor Long.

The Citizen Participation Plan has outlined within it, according to Long’s report: A cooperative, intergovernmental approach to addressing housing issues in the area; and instructions to guide the public’s submitting of comments and standards for the Town’s and City of Bloomington’s responses to those public submissions.

A 15-day public comment period was in effect for citizens to sign up to speak at a hearing held prior to the vote. That hearing took place prior to the regular Town Council session Monday night in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station. Taylor Long, Associate Town Planner, told Council members what the Town hears at these public hearings will help in determining how the money will be spent.

At Monday’s session, Council members got a sampling of what might come when the public is given the chance to address the plan. John Wolter told Council members a recreational area would be appreciated for consideration for that end of Town.

Former Normal Town Council Candidate Ron Ulmer suggested the Town look to help convert struggling hotel properties into affordable housing. He said the abandoned student housing complex on Shelbourne Dr. would be an example of property the Town could try to make into affordable housing. He points out that housing complex has sat vacant for three years.

Ulmer also said he would like to see area school libraries stay open to help kids keep their skills up to date for when they go back to class in the fall.

City Manager Pam Reece told Council members the Town wants interested citizens to become involved in the process of helping determine ways the CDBG funding could be spent. “We want the public’s help when it comes time to determine our priorities and needs on where it’s most appropriate to spend those CDBG dollars.”

Property Tax Levy For 2018 Approved: By unanimous vote without discussion, Council members approved an ordinance authorizing the 2018 property tax levy. The 2018 levy totals $12,958,494 for the second straight year. That amount is unchanged from last year. It’s an increase of $783,694 from the 2016 levy, an increase of 6.44 percent. A public hearing was required to be held prior to the vote because the increase in the property tax was over five percent.

General fund operations and Normal Public Library operations funding were the only two of the levy’s six components that have no dollar increases mentioned. They are the only funds that have local control, as well.

The other four components do have increases and break down this way: The police pension contribution was increased by 7.92 percent, or $181,991, to $2,478,591, and Fire pension contribution was increased by 7.45 percent, or $155,190, to $2,239,390. However, Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund contribution was decreased by 18.59 percent, to $1,401,811, a change of $320,119 less than last year. The Town’s annual Medicare/Social Security contribution also registered a decrease versus last year’s figures, as well. That Town contribution for 2018 was $1,334,902, a decrease of $17,062, or 1.26 percent. The Town, by State law, must maintain contributions to these four funds.

Normal Town Council controls only roughly 17 percent of a resident’s tax bill with 11.9 percent of that figure going to the Town and 5.1 percent going to Normal Public Library.

Tax Abatement Ordinances Approved: Council members unanimously approved 11 ordinances required to abate $6,148,053 in property taxes from Special Service Area Bonds issued in 2004; 2009 bonds issued in July 1009 to refund a 2003 bond; 2009(A) bonds issued in July 2009 (Build America Bonds); 2010(A) bonds issued 2010 (Recovery Zone Bonds): 2012 bonds issued September 2012 to refund 2004 bonds; 2013 bonds issued November 2013 to refund 2005 bonds; 2014 bonds issued November 2014; 2016(A) bonds issued March 2016 to refund 2006 bonds; 2016(B) bonds issued March 2016; 2017(A) bonds issued March 2017 to refund 2007 bonds; 2017(B) bonds issued March 2017 to refund 2007 bonds; and 2018 bonds issued March 2018 to refund 2008 bonds.

State law requires McLean County to levy property taxes for payment of those bonds. Municipalities are allowed to abate bonds provided there is enough funding on hand to pay principal and interest amounts. Rather than tax citizens to raise the funds for this purpose, the Town budgets money from other sources such as its general, sewer, and water funds to handle meeting that obligation.

Omnibus Items Approved: Council members also used an omnibus vote to approve the following agenda items:

• Approval of minutes of the regular meeting of Nov. 19, 2018.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Nov. 28, 2018.

• A resolution extending a license agreement with Peoria Charter Coach Co. for access to Uptown Station as a transportation provider.

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

• An ordinance modifying Division 1 of Chapter 5 of the Town of Normal Municipal Code (Police Dept.) to authorize fingerprint services.

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding procurement process and authorizing a three-year service agreement with Evoqua Water Technologies LLC and installation of odor control and corrosion protection measures at the Northbridge Pump Station and authorizing an associated budget adjustment.

• A motion to approve the year 2019 meeting calendar.

• A motion to authorize an amendment to the fiscal year 2018-19 Illinois Employer Social Security and Medicare budget for the general fund.