NORMAL – During a special session held remotely Monday, Normal Town Council members voted unanimously to spend $1.27 million in motor fuel tax dollars to provide improvements to a stretch of road near Rivian Automotive’s plant located on the Town’s west end. The continuing Coronavirus crisis was the reason for the session being done remotely. Prior to the Council session, a public hearing was held during which no members of the public addressed the matter. The boundaries for the work to be done are on College Ave. stretching as far west as Rivian Motorway, and stretching as far east as White Oak Road.

The road, which is nearly 35 years old, is experiencing cracks and has been part of a scheduled Capital Investment Project by the Town, Otto said. He added preliminary layout and other beginning assignments for improving the road will be part of a phase one engineering project for which the Town will spend $600,000.

West College Avenue from Rivian Motorway to White Oak Road is an arterial street which provides access to commercial, industrial, and residential properties. Rivian Automotive’s Town of Normal manufacturing facility is accessed by that road. The road is also experiencing rapid concrete joint decay at the curb, gutter, and pavement panel areas. The goal of the proposed project is to rehabilitate and improve the corridor while accounting for impacts to businesses and property access.

Planning for work on the road would begin with a planning phase which could start in early fall. Construction could begin by the start of summer 2022.

In a report prepared for Council members by Town Engineer Ryan Otto explained the project will cost around $9.35 million to completely, and in addition to the Town’s share of the expense, the project would be paid using $3,080,000 in Federal Surface Transportation Funds, and another $5 million in grant Funding requested by the Town from the State through its Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. This project was part of the Town’s current Capital Investment Plan.

The Town is proposing applying for project funding through the State’s Rebuild Illinois Public Infrastructure grant program. That program is overseen by the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO). The State has allocated $25 million to the competitive Public Infrastructure component of the Restore Illinois program. There is a grant ceiling of $5 million per project has been established.

Town Staff worked with Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and the McLean County Regional Planning Commission (MCRPC) to secure federal surface transportation funding for the preliminary and design engineering for the project, Otto’s report to Council noted.

Work is slated to start this fall with a planning phase followed by environmental and designed engineering phases, all of which should be completed by summer of 2022. Construction on the road will begin after that.

Roadway improvements and rehabilitation, intersection evaluation and design, multi-use trail extensions, and drainage improvements are all included in the project to improve the street.

At the start of the meeting, Normal resident Patrick Dullard addressed Council members, speaking in support of the resolution favoring spending the funds. “Normal takes pride in taking care of their streets,” Dullard said.

Also speaking in support for the project was Patrick Hoban, chief executive officer of Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council. Hoban told Council members the community’s does such work as a means of investing in infrastructure which in turn encourages companies to invest in themselves which causes more jobs to be created. In turn, patrons visit the companies which brings in more tax dollars which can continue to be used to improve the infrastructure.

By Steve Robinson | June 18, 2020 - 10:52 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – Keeping technology throughout Unit 5 was the goal when Board members, meeting distantly on June 17, unanimously approved the district to enter into a four-year lease $2 million agreement with a tax levy not to exceed 0.5 percent, in order to purchase technology equipment.

District Business Manager Marty Hickman informed Board members Unit 5 anticipates receiving $1,494,000 as part of the Elementary and Secondary School Relief, or ESSER Grant. The money will go toward purchases of laptops or tablets for students. The amount should be enough for the district to purchase over 10,000 devices for elementary school students.

Hickman said one-quarter of the funds Unit 5 gets from the Act will be used to refresh the district’s Wireless Fidelity, or Wi-Fi system. Congress put aside approximately $13.2 billion for the ESSER Fund, which was awarded as part of the Federal-based Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Security Act. That act was designed to prepare for and respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Referring to district Wi-Fi, Hickman responded to a question from Board Member Mike Trask, explaining the district will purchase equipment for Wi-Fi, but added the Wi-Fi equipment at the elementary school level “should be able to handle the bandwidth requirements.”

Monies used will pay for students in third through fifth grades to have individual Chromebooks, Pre-Kindergarten through 2nd grade students to receive individual tablets, and charging equipment for district staff. The district would be looking at paying $500,000 principle payment annually minus interest, Hickman said.

Hickman said the district had a purchase order ready to go to the vendor pending Board approval, and that many school districts in the country find themselves readying to make such purchases at this time in time for distribution sometime next month. Devices for student use should arrive by mid-July, he said.

Board Member Alan Kalitzky inquired as to where the purchase puts Unit 5 in relation to similarly-sized districts. Michelle Lamboley, director of special education for the district, responded to Kalitzky, saying, locally, other area district are also in the process of updating such technology and that such purchases by Unit 5 would put the district, in her words, “on par” with surrounding districts.

Amended School Year 2019-20 Budget Approved: Board members unanimously approved an amended budget for the district for the 2019-20 school year totaling $193.6 million for all funds. Unit 5 showed it is closing out that school year in the black courtesy of a $14.4 million surplus, Hickman explained.

However, Hickman added, compared to property tax dollars the district received last year, Unit 5 came up short by about $20 million. The district is uncertain it will receive any further tax payments by the time the current fiscal year ends on June 30.

Remote Learning Update Provided: Board members received a progress report concerning how remote learning was working in the district since school facilities were closed toward the end of March in light of the Coronavirus situation Michelle Lamboley, director of special education for the district, provided Board members with a report which included mention that some teachers used Google Classroom to maintain structured learning for students. She said the district made sure foreign language students learning English and special education students were able to continue keeping up with lessons using modified lessons, when necessary, which connected to subjects being taught.

She added that parents were surveyed twice during the remote learning period to see what comments or issues may have been addressed to the district. The first survey generated 3,000 responses when it was taken during the first week of remote learning, and the second survey, taken the last week of remote learning, brought in 1,300 responses.

Each school were shown results from the surveys, Lamboley explained. She said among issues addressed by parents included the amount of time students spent on remote learning activities and how parents felt about the difficulty level of the activities the students were doing.

The district also surveyed teachers, checking to see how they felt about how engaged they believed students were during remote learning, Lamboley said. “We definitely saw that student interest started to decline as the year went on,” she told Board members. Teachers and staff monitored student participation by reaching out to families, she added. School counselors, school resource officers, and Greg Leipold, Security Director for the district, were dispatched to make home visits as a means of doing well-being checks on families, she explained.

“Overall, the feedback we received showed remote learning was successful,” Lamboley reported. “Our teachers, our students, our families really adjusted quickly to this new learning environment and I would just say that I am very proud of how people adjusted.” During the period, she noted Unit 5 met learning guidelines established by Illinois State Board of Education.

The surveys showed “parents were satisfied with our efforts,” Lamboley added. “They understood the restraints of moving to remote learning so quickly.” But, she added, parents did express the belief that, should remote learning be a necessity come the fall semester, they would like to see the district do more to meet students’ needs. Unit 5 is studying responses in order to respond to parents’ concerns should remote learning be employed again in the fall, Lamboley said.

Board Member Barry Hitchins verified whether younger students would continue to interact with one another without technology sidetracking them. Lamboley responded by saying, “I think we would work carefully to make sure that we have a balance between the use of technology and our regular processes. We know that, at the elementary level, the amount of screen time is important to keep an eye on.” A district task force continues to study the subject of technology use by young students in the classroom, she added.

Two Long-Time Employees Promoted: Promotions bestowed upon two long-time district employees were brought to Board members’ attention during the session. Joe Adelman, district operations manager, relayed to Board members that Norm Hicks, a 32-year employee with the district, was recognized by Adelman for his efforts during his time at Unit 5. His career began at Parkside Junior High School as a custodian. For the last 18 years, he has served as a groundskeeper, during 10 of those he has added supervising snow and ice removal crews.

Adelman also recognized Tom Rockwell, a 20-year district employee, a manager of special operations. Rockwell’s career with the district began as a custodian at Normal Community High School, moving his way to work with HVAC special maintenance.

Supt. Mark Daniel Absent From Board Meeting: Although the 1 hour 21 minute session was to have been the final one for District Superintendent Dr. Mark Daniel, he was not present. 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 is June 30.

By Steve Robinson | June 15, 2020 - 10:15 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – As a result of a unanimous vote by Normal Town Council members during their regularly-scheduled meeting Monday, Town residents who were most likely preparing for an increase in their water bills starting July 1 now won’t see that increase go into effect until Oct. 1. With a unanimous 7-0 vote, Council members, meeting remotely as a result of the current Coronavirus situation, approved delaying a proposed 2 percent increase in water rates. A proposed increase in sewer and garbage fees slated for that same date will still go into effect.

The Town had originally planned to increase the fees in April but postponed that until July as a result of any financial difficulties it would cause residents as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, and postponing the increase from April to July has an impact on monies the Town would see coming in, City Manager Pam Reece explained to Council members during a session done remotely as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Delaying the taking in of fees between April and July caused the Town to lose taking in water revenues totaling $258,000, Reece explained. She said the Town’s water, sewer, and general funds were all impacted by that delay as a result.

Town Staff reported an estimated shortage in dollars coming in to the sewer fund of $76,000 and another shortage to the Town general fund of $134,000 as a result of postponing increasing proposed rate increases.

She added that since fiscal year 2015-16, the Town has invested over $18 million in its water fund for such expenditures as water main replacement, improvements to the Town’s water treatment plant, and acquiring new fire hydrants. “What we generate in revenue, we reinvest into the system,” she said.

Council Member Stan Nord told Reece he could not see the need to increase the fees on citizens who may be out of work due to the nation’s current financial situation brought on by businesses closing or cutting back on hours or staff as a result of the pandemic. Of the proposed increase, Nord told Reece, “I just think this is the wrong time and I do not see the need for it.”

Nord’s Comments Related To One Group’s Plans For One Normal Plaza Turn Into Heated Council Discussion: Nord informed Council members he had been contacted by a citizens group wishing to contribute opinions concerning the One Normal Plaza development. The Council is mulling a zoning change for that area brought about by a citizen’s request to establish a craft brewery.

Nord said Town officials and Council members discouraged interacting with the citizens’ group. He said he advised members of the group to reach out to Council members and Town staff before the item is placed on an agenda for a future Council session. He accused the Town and Council of giving the citizens’ group “unequal treatment,” adding the members of the group “should not be expected to know the inner workings of government, or who the right person is to be giving information.”

Nord’s comments touched off a reply from Council Member Chemberly Cummings, who resides in the area discussed. When asked, Cummings said, she will make time, including during working hours to meet with constituents, telling Nord he wasn’t the only member who meets with constituents. She told Nord she was “highly offended” by his comments.

Council Member Kathleen Lorenz said Nord’s comments “do nothing but cause division, with subjectivity and opinion, and very slim on fact.” She added she was not asked to attend the session, either. A former member of Normal Planning Commission, Lorenz added she respects the process NPC uses. She added Reece “does not create barriers in communication, and any accusations that would suggest that she would be a barrier in any way to Council members in communicating with citizens is categorically wrong. Categorically wrong.”

Technical Services Agreement With Planning Commission Approved: Council members unanimously approved execution of an agreement for technical services with the McLean County Planning Commission. The agreement between the two parties will run from July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021 at a cost to the Town of $54,000.

Among the services MCRPC will provide to the Town include: Assistance with periodic updates of plans and ordinances that pertain to planning and development; And maintenance of a website to post statistical data, plans and studies, and other planning-related information to serve as a resource for local governments and the public. Such information would include the creation of a new Comprehensive Plan for Normal, zoning ordinances, and subdivision regulations as needed.

Final Plat For Garling Heights Subdivision Gets Conditional Approval: Council members unanimously approved the final plat for a resubdivision in the Garling Heights subdivision. Heartland Bank owns the 3 lots at the southwest corner of Ft. Jesse and Susan Drive and sought approval from the Town to resubdivide all three lots in a manner that would leave the bank’s building improvements on one lot leaving a second lot undeveloped which could be sold for development.

As a result of Council’s approval, the resubdivision will create a new lot that which can be readied for commercial development.

Agreement With Ecology Action Center Approved: Council members unanimously approved entering into an agreement with the Ecology Action Center with other local governing bodies for collection of household hazardous waste. Town funding for participating in this endeavor will cost the Town $25,000, and barring there being any other Town expenses associated with HHW, this agreement will result in an annual budget savings of $6,400. The Town joins the City of Bloomington and McLean County in participating in the program.

Per an agreement between the parties back in 2014, the Town Council authorized an intergovernmental agreement with the City of Bloomington, McLean County and the Ecology Action Center to administer and implement the HHW Program. This program, which is coordinated by the EAC, provides a biennial HHW collection event. Three collection events for the residents of McLean County have been held under this program in 2015, 2017 and the most recently last September.

Also as part of the 2014 agreement, costs for the program were split by the City, Town and County based on population. That meant the City’s contribution totaled 45 percent, or $31,500, the Town’s share totaled 31 percent, or $21,700, and the County’s share totaled 24 percent, or $16,800.

Renewal Of Microsoft Office Approved: Council members unanimously approved waiving of bids and authorizing renewing the Town’s subscription of Microsoft Office 365 computer program going through the State Joint Purchasing Program from CDW-Government, or CDW-G. The Town budgeted for a three-year contract for the purchase, at a cost of $69,345, $70,732, and $72,146 for year 1, year 2, and year 3 respectively, using additional funds provided by a Normal Public Library account at a cost of $5,150 per year.

Town Receives Grant For Tree Inventory: Council members unanimously approved an ordinance amending Town Code concerning trees and shrubs. The Town recently received a $15,000 grant from, which is working to meet a deadline to take stock of the location, species, size, condition, primary maintenance requirements and other tree management data. The tree inventory of the Town’s urban forest is currently being conducted by Kent, Ohio-based Davey Resource Group and will be completed later this month.

Illinois Department of Natural Resources through the Urban and Community Forestry program of the US Forest Service to fund the tree inventory. Council member unanimously passed an ordinance required of the tree ordinance amendment in order to fulfill a reimbursement request.

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

• Approval of the Minutes of the Regular Council Meeting of June 1, 2020.

• Report to Receive and File Town of Normal Expenditures for Payment as of June 10, 2020.

NORMAL – The furor over the death of a Minneapolis, Minn. black man while in police custody on May 25 has engulfed the country in riots over the past couple of weeks. As it turned out, the Twin Cities has not been spared from this situation, with looters vandalizing and removing merchandise on Sunday from, among other businesses, Target at the Shoppes At College Hills Mall. On Monday, during public comments, both the head of the Town’s Human Relations Commission and Council Member Chemberly Cummings addressed an incident in which a black man in Minnesota died in police custody.

During public comments, Janessa Williams, Chair of Normal’s Human Relations Commission, said such events as have happened in Minneapolis are things “we cannot be naïve enough to believe cannot occur in our town.” She added the recent deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breanna Taylor in Louisville “are the latest reminder of America’s original sin against black people in America.”

Williams said the deaths were “the current impetus for people taking to the streets to protest such atrocious behaviors which continue to happen far too often. We cannot become numb to the murders of black people who have not been convicted of an offense other than being black in America by police officers who continue to perpetuate these murders.”

In comments before the close of the meeting, Cummings addressed the local rioting saying the rioting, “proves we are not immunized or inoculated from the infection of racism, nor residual and collateral damage that arises from it.”

Sale Of Town Property Approved: By a 6-1 count, Council members approved sale of property the Town has owned to a private citizen located at 1404 Fort Jesse Rd. Council Member Stan Nord voted in opposition to the sale, in part because the purchaser is the spouse of a Town employee. The buyer will pay the Town $25,000 for the property plus 2019 property tax on the property totaling $2,116.96.

The Town received the title to 1404 Ft. Jesse Road as part of a settlement with the developers of the Office Park. After receiving the property, the Town listed it with a commercial real-estate agent. The property was on the market for two years until 2017. By December that year, the Town entered into a redevelopment agreement with a developer who was going to build an auto body repair shop on the property. According to a report provided Council members by Town Corporation Counsel Brian Day, under that agreement, the Town sold the property to the developer for $30,000 in exchange for the construction of the project. That agreement provided that the developer would sell the Town the property back if he was unable to perform under the agreement. The developer had a business setback, and the property was returned to the Town.

“We don’t seem to get this piece of property sold and keep it sold,” Council Member Kevin McCarthy said. “It’s not generating us anything and it’s taking up taxpayer dollars. Either we sell it and we take what we take in on property tax or we let go of this issue until there is some specific plan going on in that area.” He added it didn’t make sense for Town Staff’s time to continue being spent on the matter.

“The decision tonight is someone has made an offer and do we keep it or accept that offer,” Mayor Chris Koos added.

Nord said the Town had “an obligation to try and get the most value we can for this taxpayer asset,” adding he was contacted by a Town resident who did not know the property was for sale because no sign was posted indicating it on the property. Further, he said he was concerned because the potential buyer of the property is married to a Town employee, which, he said, “brings a lot of questions to this sale.” He suggested he would like to see the property listed with a realtor to avoid potential speculation on the part of the general public. He said he was of the understanding no sign was on the property indicating the property was for sale.

Mayor Chris Koos was quick to object to one of Nord’s points on the subject, stating, “I will take exception with the fact that a spouse of a Town employee somehow should be denied the opportunity to bid on property.”

In voting to approve the sale to go through, Koos prefaced his vote by adding, “I’ll agree with Mr. Nord that the property is selling at a very low price and it would be nice to get a fair price for it, but that doesn’t appear to be the case here.”

Council Approves Amending Town’s COVID-19 Emergency Declaration: Thanks to a unanimous vote by Council members, it will be possible to dine outdoors again in Normal. Council members unanimously approved amending the emergency declaration ordinance passed by Council members March 23 which granted Koos and City Manager Pam Reece power to make decisions that may be outside the typical scope of the Municipal Code.

In order to assist local businesses in adapting to Governor Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan Phase 3 progression related to COVID-19, Town staff has been working closely with restaurants to establish guidelines for outdoor seating which would go into effect May 29. In order to accommodate outdoor food service, including alcohol sales so that restaurants can meet that start date, Town staff issued guidelines that require formal authorization by Council, allowing the Mayor, who also serves as Town Liquor Commissioner, and City Manager to make decisions to address business operations.

The ordinance passed in March allows the Town to quickly respond to changing circumstances associated with COVID-19. Reece told Council members once Phase 3 is complete, Phase 4 of the State’s reopening plan for restaurants, which will include indoor dining, is slated to begin at the end of this month.

Council Approves Agreement For Emergency Medical Service To Hudson: Council members unanimously approved a resolution for authorizing an intergovernmental agreement between the Town and Hudson Fire Protection District, which would allow Normal Fire Department to provide emergency medical services for the Hudson Fire Protection District. HFPD provides emergency medical service to the Village of Hudson and the surrounding area. In a memo to Normal Town Council members, Normal Fire Chief Mick Humer explained many rural service providers such as HFPD is impacted by increasing minimum wage rates and turnover associated with staff gaining employment in larger departments.

Under the proposed agreement, the HFPD will pay the Town $225,000 for services in the first year, with a 3 percent increase in both the contract’s second and third years. The Town will agree to provide EMS service 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.

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 with “paramedic-level transport.” 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 told Council members at a work session last month. He added Hudson receives money courtesy of a tax levy for emergency medical services of roughly $300,000.

Council Approves Contract With Company Serving As Political Advocate: Council members unanimously approved a six-month contract with Turing Strategies, LLC, a company which, according to a memo written to Council members by Reece, will “seek out available funding opportunities for capital projects, engage with state agencies and stay abreast of legislative issues impacting the municipality.” The Town will spend a total of $24,000 on the contract for the period covered.

Council Approves Contract With Phoenix Investors: Council members unanimously approved executing a development agreement for the North Normal Warehouse Development area with Phoenix Investors for property located at the southeast corner of the intersection of N. Main Street and Kerrick Road. The 68.9 acre site contains an unfinished 500,000 sq. ft. warehouse and distribution building that started construction in November of 2007 and stopped in October 2008 prior to completion.

According to a report prepared for Council members by Assistant City Manager Eric Hanson, in an attempt to support completion of the project, improving the existing warehouse for use, the Town approved a Tax Increment Financing area in 2013 with an expiration of 2036. When adopted in 2013, it was expected the project would require an investment of approximately $10 million to complete the warehouse. Hanson indicated in his report that “Since no activity has occurred in the 2013-adopted TIF, the TIF will expire in December 2020 unless TIF-eligible investment occurs prior to that date.”

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

• Approval of the Minutes of the Public Hearing of May 18, 2020.

• Approval of the Minutes of the Public Hearing of May 18, 2020.

• Approval of the Minutes of the Regular Council Meeting of May 18, 2020.

• Report to Receive and File Town of Normal Expenditures for Payment as of May 27, 2020.