By Steve Robinson | November 6, 2017 - 10:22 pm
Posted in Category: Normal Town Council, The Normalite

Town of NormalNORMAL – Normal Town Council members unanimously approved a motion to authorize preparation of the Town’s 2017 Property Tax Levy. Town Staff is estimating the levy be established at $13,016,100 in fiscal year 2018-19, an increase in the Town’s tax rate of 6.38 percent.

The Town’s 2016 tax rate was $1.4115. The projection for this year assumes property assessed valuation will increase by one-half percent. Actual assessed values of property will not be determined until next April.

The majority of the increase will help the Town keep its obligation to continue funding police and fire pensions responsibly, according to a report given Council members which was prepared by Town Finance Director Andrew Huhn.

Through its “Truth In Taxation” statute, the State mandates communities like Normal to meet at least 20 days before approving the property tax levy ordinance in order to determine the amount of the levy. Town Staff will present to Council a levy to consider and vote on at their regularly scheduled meeting on Dec. 4. The Town, as will all other taxing jurisdictions in the county must submit an approved levy to the County by Tuesday, Dec. 26.

But before Council members approved the measure, they received comments from constituents who expressed differing opinions on the effect of the increase. Normal resident Craig Stimpert reminded Council members Illinois pays the nation’s second-highest property tax, second only to New Jersey . “Residents are being taxed to death,” Stimpert said. “How can Normal consider a tax increase?” He also wondered “when is this going to stop?”

Resident Dave Shields publicly credited the Town for how it researches solutions facing the Town and reminded the Town “has a history of conservative financial decisions.” Another resident, Julie Hile, told Council members she sees the Town meeting the pension obligation as upholding “a sacred trust.”

During Council members’ deliberations on the matter, Mayor Chris Koos said deciding on the increase was not “a comfortable decision,” and Normal “doesn’t want to go down the path of the State of Illinois on our obligations.” He reminded 40 people in the audience in Council Chambers on the fourth floor of Uptown Station that wanting to approve this is “not a comfortable decision.”

Council Member Jeff Fritzen said the Town is responsible for delivering necessary services like police protection and fire and emergency services. People sometimes take such services for granted, Fritzen said, but added, “When people have such a need for those services, you don’t want to settle for second rate.”

“The State of Illinois hasn’t done its job on pensions,” Council Member R, C. McBride said. “We shouldn’t go down that same path.”

The State of Illinois gave communities a mandate to have police and fire pensions at 90 percent funding by 2040. The Town used that marker to challenge itself to have its police and fire pensions 100 percent funded by that same deadline.

“I wish I could tell you this will be the last property tax increase you’ll ever have to consider,” City Manager Mark Peterson told Council members. But he quickly added there will be future increases in pension costs which could prompt the Town to consider raising property taxes. He said there have been pension increases in the past and likely, he said, there will be increases in the future.

Council Declines To Release Remaining Funds For Feeney Property Upgrade: By a 4-3 count, Council members declined to approve a resolution which would release the remaining money in redevelopment funds for a project at 208 Parkinson. Until September 2016 when Council members approved a measure offering to contribute $40,000 to property owner Chuck Feeney to help him upgrade the property, the property had sat vacant for 15 years.

Once the resolution was passed, Feeney received $25,000 of the money toward work that had been done up to that point. Feeney began plans for the renovation in February 2016 and it was estimated, before the Town’s contribution, the project would cost around $300,000.

The building underwent a remodel and is now being used as an office by Stout Chiropractic. However, while the building’s look is improved, the Town felt the improvement fell short of what the Town and Feeney agreed upon. Chief among the concerns was a drainage and storm water retention area which still sits where Feeney proposed a sunken patio.

Mayor Chris Koos, and Council Members Kevin McCarthy, Kathleen Lorenz, and Scott Preston voted against releasing the remaining money while Council Members Chemberly Cummings, McBride, and Fritzen voted in favor of releasing the remaining money for the project. “It just seems like there was a change in scope for the project from what was originally presented,” McCarthy said regarding his concerns about the project.

“What was delivered varied too much from what we agreed to a year ago,” Lorenz said after the meeting.

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

• Approval of the minutes of the regular meeting of Oct. 16, 2017.

• Approval of Town of Normal Expenditures for payment as of Nov. 1, 2017.

• A resolution to accept bids and award a contract to Springfield-based Halverson Construction Co., Inc. in the amount of $113,045.74 for timber pile repairs on the Belt Drive Bridge .

• A resolution to approve bids and award a contract to Decatur-based Bodine Electric in the amount of $125,277.73 for communications and traffic signal upgrades on College Ave. and Mulberry Street from Oak Street to Main Street .

• A resolution authorizing the City Manager to negotiate and execute a sublease with Amtrak for platforms at Uptown Station.

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