By Steve Robinson | November 16, 2020 - 10:00 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

NORMAL – The prognosis for Normal’s general fund after nine months of conducting and trying to conduct business in a pandemic was addressed during Nov. 16’s regularly-scheduled Normal Town Council session done remotely. Town Finance Director Andrew Huhn indicated the Town’s operating tactic of “hoping for the best and preparing for the worst” appeared to be working currently in the Town’s favor.

In what Huhn deemed a preview to the Town’s final budget which would be released in February, he explained. Despite sales being down for restaurants with indoor dining, the only month in which the Town showed a loss of local sales tax income was in March, but in the months that followed, the Town took in increases of sales tax ranging from 69 percent in April to 100 percent in September.

Food and beverage tax income increased, as well during the same period versus the same time last year, ranging from 43 percent increase in April this year versus 25 percent taken in last year. This year, there was a 93 percent increase in August in that tax versus a 50 percent intake the same month last year. He said numbers for hotel/motel tax income could indicate some of those businesses could be in the red when taxed income is calculated as a result of the pandemic.

Last spring, as the pandemic was affecting communities, the Town projected a $10.4 million decrease in revenue as a result, Huhn explained. But, he added, as things turned out, the Town has only seen a drop of revenue totaling $$3.6 million, with the Town taking in $66,308,371 in the current fiscal year.

There was a downside to Huhn’s report related to the Town’s general fund for fiscal year 2021-22, he explained. He said there is a drop in projected revenue for the Town in that period. Part of that is due to difficulties restaurants and lodgings have had not being able to or not having guests.

Final Plat For Illinois Art Station Gets Approval Amidst Conversation: By a 6-1 vote, Council members approved a resolution conditionally approving the final plat of the Illinois Art Station subdivision by expedited process (101 E. Vernon Ave., 605-607 S. Linden Ave.). Council Member Stan Nord cast the lone opposing vote. The two properties on South Linden St. will be demolished to aid the expansion of the Art Station.

Koos To Freeze Salary If Re-Elected: Before adjournment, Mayor Chris Koos announced that should he win re-election as mayor to a fifth term, he will freeze his mayoral pay at its current $18,000 level. In December 2018, Council members voted to give the person holding the mayoral position a pay raise to $32,000 effective next spring, and raise Council members’ pay from $4,800 to $6,800, effective May 1, 2023.

Granting the pay raise, he said, “was done in a pre-COVID world, and in a COVID world, now, if I am that mayor on May 1, 2021, I will choose to freeze my salary at the current rate and keep it at that rate until we are in a post-COVID environment and the decision of when we are in a post-COVID environment will not come from me. It will come from you, my fellow Council members.”

Koos is being challenged by Marc Tiritilli for the mayoral post for the second straight election, the last one in April 2017. Tiritilli announced his intention to run for mayor a second time Nov. 15.

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

• Approval of minutes of regular meeting held Nov. 2, 2020.

• Report to receive and file Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Nov. 11, 2020.

• A motion to approve the Town meeting calendar for the year 2021.

• A resolution conditionally approving the final plat of the Illinois Art Station subdivision by expedited process (101 E. Vernon Ave., 605-607 S. Linden Ave.).

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

• A resolution waiving the formal bidding process and authorizing the purchase and installation of a multi-pump station control panel kit upgrade for the irrigation system at Ironwood Golf Course from Towson, Md.-based Absolute Service, Inc. in the amount of $31,168.

• An ordinance to concurring with a technical correction to the Bloomington-Normal Enterprise Zone Boundary Amendment – the Ferraro expansion.

By Steve Robinson | November 12, 2020 - 10:17 pm
Posted in Category: The Normalite, Unit 5

NORMAL – Concerns over a Covid-created teacher shortage, passage of an annual tax levy, honoring those who have served our country on Veteran’s Day, giving annual recognition of Board Members for their efforts on the district, and even hearing about a new extracurricular activity were all part of the mix that made up the contents of what was the only Unit 5 School Board meeting held Nov. 11 at Normal Community West High School.

Superintendent Informs About Sub Teacher Shortage: COVID-!9 has put “the district dangerously close to not being able to staff all of our buildings,” District Superintendent Dr. Kristen Weikle informed a small audience who sat far apart for safety reasons due to the pandemic. “What that means is, we may not be able to keep all of our buildings open if we don’t get more subs.”

Dr. Weikle said Unit 5 already had a shortage of substitute teachers before the pandemic hit a year ago, and if teachers contract the disease, they must quarantine for 10 days before they can return to classrooms, or 14 days if they have been in close contact with others. That timing “definitely put a lot of stress on being able to staff our buildings,” Dr. Weikle added.

As a result, the district will be adding employees to serve in the position of Classroom Supervisor to lighten the load, she explained. In the week preceding the meeting, the district needed to fill but could not find people to fill 44 classroom positions. In terms of teaching positions, the district found itself short between 12 and 28 positions in the previous four school days.

For the work teachers who have covered another teachers classrooms on a short-term basis, Dr. Weikle said, “I am extremely and beyond grateful for our staff who have stepped up and offered to cover one another’s classrooms.” To do that, Dr. Weikle said that often meant the teachers stepping in were often giving up preparation time for their own classes in order to oversee an absent teacher’s class. She added even building administrators have stepped into classrooms when need arose.

But Dr. Weikle cautioned, “We can only do this so long because when teachers are covering for other teachers, that means they aren’t answering emails and help students in a timely manner.” She said anyone interested in becoming either a sub or classroom supervisor should apply for either of those posts at the district website,

Dr. Weikle also reminded the district is using metrics provided by Illinois Department of Public Health concerning whether in-person learning can and should continue versus needing to revert back to remote learning. She added that in the previous 10 school days, “students have done a great job wearing masks, and our staff are doing a great job.”

Tax Levy Decision Coming At December Board Meeting: Board members heard from District Business Manager Marty Hickman concerning filing the tax levy by the Dec. 31 deadline. Board members, at their next meeting Dec. 11, will consider adopting the levy. The County Clerk’s office will verify the levy in March or April and collecting the tax will begin in May or June.

Hickman said tax levy dollars account for nearly 65 percent of money used by the district, with State and Federal revenue, as well as other sources making up the rest of the money used by the district. The percentage taken in using property taxes for Unit 5 is $71.4 million. Federal revenue accounts for 7.54 percent, or over $8.3 million; State revenue accounts for 21.52 percent of what the district gets, or over $23.9 million, and 6.64 percent comes from other local sources, or over $7.3 million.

Veterans Day Remembered: This year’s November Board meeting, having been held on Veteran’s Day, and in the wake of the Coronavirus causing problems for large gatherings, meant the district could only mention and honor any veterans in attendance during the meeting. Normal Community West Principal Dave Johnson introduced meeting attendees to Normal West junior Hope Knoerle, and Art teacher Ali Akyuz and Technology teacher Bob Scormavacco who joined forces to produce a video which honors veterans. Akyuz establishes a theme for projects to be displayed in the school’s main corridor.

Akyuz said because students needed to meet digitally, the project became a video featuring students and veterans. Knoerle, who has been involved in the school’s technology program also addressed the meeting, saying during her three years at Normal West, she “has worked her way up in the digital media realm.”

In past years, Social Studies Teacher John Bierbaum and a number of his students would host a dinner for area veterans in the school cafeteria. But the Covid-19 pandemic prevented that from taking place this year.

Normal Community High School’s Doubles It’s “Good News”: Normal Community High School had two “Good News” items to present at the session, the first one being about a young lady seemingly always on the go, and winning awards in the process. Ali Ince may only be in the middle of her freshman year at Normal Community High School, but, thus far, she has proven when it comes to Cross Country, she can’t be slowed down.

NCHS Principal Trevor Chapman introduced the 9th grader to Board members who, as a member of the school’s girls’ cross country team, managed to win at recent meets including Intercity Cross Country, Illinois High School Association Class 3A Regional Championship, Big 12 Conference Cross Country Championship, and IHSA Class 3A Sectional Championship.

“She has been running like somebody’s chasing her everywhere she goes,” joked Chapman, in mentioning Ali, the daughter of Tony and Addie Ince of Bloomington. She has even managed to break a record in a 3 mile race with a time of 16:58:19.

“She’s involved in many other activities at school,” Chapman told Board members. Those would include Student Council, Best Buddies, and is also active with the school’s basketball and track teams.

“I want to say thank you to the school board for making Cross Country possible,” Ince said, addressing its members.

For the other item, Chapman introduced Board members to members of Normal-based Future Farmers of America chapter. He said that chapter has been named National Premier Chapter in Building Communities by the national organization during its 93rd annual convention and expo on Oct. 28. Students Madelyn Hubble and Kelsey Kern were among the presenters at this function. In addition to current FFA students, three NCHS graduates were honored for having received the highest honor FFA bestows on members, an American FFA Degree. He said it has been over a decade since such a recipient came from the district.

Those three and the year they graduated NCHS are: Makayla Kelley and Becca Merrill (Class of 2017), and Kenzie Kraft (Class of 2019). Of the honor the trio has received, Chapman explained the award is the highest recognition an individual can receive from National FFA and less than 0.05 percent of its members attain it.

Board Members Honored On Their Day: The State has set aside a day to honor school board members for the work do and hours they put in. This year, Illinois Association of School Boards designated Sunday, Nov. 15 as Illinois School Board Members Day. Honored this year were Board President Amy Roser, Vice President Alan Kalitzky, Secretary Dr. Kelly Pyle, and Board members Mike Trask, Meta Mickens-Baker, Barry Hitchins, and Taunia Leffler.

Roser, Kalitzky, and Dr. Pyle were recognized for having completed IASB courses related to Board membership. They all completed work related to earning a Board Member Level II designation while Leffler completed work related to earning a Master Board Member Level I designation.

Next Board Meeting Dec. 9: Because of the Thanksgiving holiday, there will be no second Board meeting in November. The Board’s next meeting will be on Wednesday, Dec. 9, at Normal Community West High School beginning at 6:30p.m. The district has been using Normal West for meetings to help attendees maintain distance during the Coronavirus situation.

NORMAL – Shutting down indoor dining in the Twin Cities as a result of a recent rise in Coronavirus cases in the State prompted comment from Normal Town Council members as the governing body met virtually Monday night. Effective as of Wednesday, Illinois Department of Public Health, announced indoor dining will be restored provided the central Illinois region’s COVID testing positivity rate falls below 6.5 percent for three consecutive days.

Should the rate stay above 8 percent over the next 14 days, the state may impose additional restrictions. As of Monday, the region in the State which includes the Twin Cities and McLean County restaurants recorded a positivity rate on Monday of 9.7 percent.

The circumstances will also reduce the number of gatherings allowed to 25 people or 25 percent capacity, with the exceptions of schools and polling sites. Restaurants and bars were the businesses IDPH zeroed its restrictions toward when they were announced last week.

During discussion of IDPH’s mandate, Mayor Chris Koos told Council members, “I’ve heard from citizens on all sides of this issue,” he explained. “Some want tighter controls and others want fewer restrictions. The reality is there is no singular approach that will widely support or satisfy everyone.

“I think I speak on behalf the entire Council when I say we are concerned for our restaurants and businesses,” Koos continued. “The current restrictions will make it difficult for some to survive.” He added once the pandemic began in the spring, the Town has been trying to balance “the health of our community with economic realities.”

Koos acknowledged while the community has a low positivity rate for the disease, Normal is in a geographic region where those rates are higher, adding the Town is aware the State’s only barometer for determining when to shut down was the positivity rate.

Koos announced that in an attempt to keep restaurants and other such establishments to “be a strong part of our economy,” he was joining other local leaders in the State to take a “multi-pronged approach” on behalf of these businesses. He said there are ideas being considered by mayors in the State who are part of Illinois Municipal League to try to improve situation for those businesses.

Among the ideas Koos said are being considered to approach the State with are: IML-member Mayors are trying to encourage the State to use broader metrics in evaluating the need for COVID shutdowns. He said this group of Mayors believe increased exposure to COVID are the result of private gatherings, something Koos said he is encouraging to limit participation in as a means of preventing spreading the virus.

“We all need to support our local businesses,” Koos said, encouraging residents during such shutdowns “to order delivery or pick up curbside, dine local, spend local.” He added he was reaching out to State and Federal legislators in an attempt to convince them providing an additional stimulus package should be considered to help businesses. “We want our restaurants to continue to be successful,” he concluded. He said actively working with State and Federal leaders changes which would benefit the businesses in order for them to stay open.

Should the Town receive any complaints concerning restaurants or bars, Koos said, those would be forwarded to McLean County Health Department. He added when high positivity rates were indicated in August and September, the community worked together. “That’s what we need to do now,” Koos said. “We need to protect the health of our community and help small businesses by working together to find solutions that will keep them viable into the future.”

Among a number of things in a statement she read to the Council, Council Member Karyn Smith said she believed it was important to “get the virus under control before we can support our businesses.”

Agreement With Midwest Fiber Prompts Discussion: By a 6-1 count with Council Member Stan Nord casting the lone opposing vote, Council members approved a resolution authorizing the Town extending a supply and processing agreement with Midwest Fiber until Dec. 31. That company provides daily collecting and processing of drop box materials.

The cost to the Town is $7,500 per month under terms of the existing agreement, which includes waste collection seven days per week. The proposed two month extension required the Town pay an additional $15,000 to support the recycling agreement, which would require the Council to approve a budget adjustment of that amount to complete the agreement.

City Manager Pam Reece said the Town was seeing if both the City of Bloomington and McLean County would be interested in entering into an intergovernmental agreement with the Town which would allow City and County residents to have access to the recycling and share the cost with the Town.

She said such discussions among the three parties have not begun yet, but could be achieved before the current contract expires.

In response to a question from Nord, Reece said the $15,000 that would be spent would be in addition to what was spent when Council originally approved a contract originally with the company six months ago.

Nord said entering into this agreement “was not critical” in part because of a revenue shortage experienced by the Town, adding there were other locations residents could take recyclables.

Nord said he has had conversations with people who work in waste hauling who wondered why this job had not been put up for bid by the Town, adding he would like to see the Town put up the assignment for bids. Council Member Kevin McCarthy said it sounded to him the City and County were interested in becoming involved in the agreement which, he said, “would be worth the couple of month of conversation to arrive at an agreement.” He added such agreements would reduce the cost of operating the program for the Town.

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

• Approval of minutes of regular meeting held Oct. 19, 2020.

• Report to receive and file Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of Oct. 28, 2020.

• An ordinance to conditionally vacating easements on Lots 152, 153, and 154 of the Heather Ridge Subdivision located at 2107-2129 Heather Ridge Dr.

• A resolution conditionally approving the final plat of the Cyphers Subdivision (Heather Ridge) by expedited process.