NORMAL – Two incumbent Normal Town Council members, and five of the seven challengers seeking to win a Council seat left open by another Council member’s decision not to run for another term participated in a debate hosted by Neighbors Association of Normal (NAN) Saturday, Feb. 2. The event was held in the Community Room at One Normal Plaza, the former Illinois Soldier’s and Sailor’s Children’s Home.

Two one term Council incumbents – Kathleen Lorenz and R. C. McBride – faced five of the six declared first-time candidates during the two-hour session facilitated by NAN Member Lyndetta Alsberry. Five of the six other formally announced candidates for the two seats – Alex Campbell, Dave Shields, Joel Studebaker, Karyn Smith, and Stan Nord — round out the field of candidates and also took part in the session. The sixth candidate, Pat Turner, was unable to participate due to a family emergency. Karl Sila, a write-in candidate for a Council seat, did not participate in the session formally, but was present in the audience.

Lorenz and McBride are each seeking re-election to a second term on the Council. There is a vacant seat needing to be filled as a result of Council Member Jeff Fritzen’s decision not to seek another term in what was the second of two stretches on the Council, having first been elected in 1983. He stepped away from politics in 1999, and ran again in 2003, and has been reelected onto the Council since.

The priorities the Town of Normal ought to consider when offering tax incentives to businesses wanting to come to Normal was one topic which generated numerous comments among the candidates.

“I think one of the most important things you should do with tax incentives is affordable housing,” stated Campbell, an ISU student. “I think it’s an issue that, while it definitely effects students.” But he said he believes the most neglected group to be affected by the incentives are people he put into classification of “non-student non homeowners.” He said he believed it important to see the Town provide incentives to local developers so they can use that cash to create “more mixed income housing.”

“I think that’s super important,” Campbell said, adding, “While it’s just as important to build nice homes, it’s also just as important to build things like newer townhomes.”

Shields said when it comes to what citizens deem important enough to considering offering tax incentives, every citizen will come up with a different need they believe worthy of the incentive being warranted. Those items range from affordable housing to money for a new Normal Library to living wages to senior citizen programming.

“The fact is none of these are mutually exclusive,” Shields stated, adding depending on individual concerns, all of those items are considered worthy of being given priority. “The job of a Council member is to make sure the Town is a thriving, livable place for everybody.” He added each opportunity for such incentives should be looked at for its individual merits and the Town should do “what we can when we can with what we’ve got.”

This subject is “a crucial question for us right now,” Studebaker said. The Town, he added, “has had a number of controversies over the last couple of years, and so, we need to decide ‘what do we want to decide in this community?’

“For me, one of the priorities is a library,” Studebaker explained. He added that if the Town opts to give money or incentives for a developer for any future project, the Town should prioritize such projects.

“I disagree with the premise that tax incentives are necessary,” Smith stated to begin her response to the question. She said the Federal Tax Code begins by describing what items do not get taxed.

“Rather than make concessions to what gets taxed, I think if we took a look at broadening the tax base, and then examining how different entities are taxed, then we could be sure it was done fairly for businesses and residents alike,” Smith added. Doing that, she explained would keep the Town from being concerned about tax incentives to promote development.

“Tax incentives should be used when there is a need for the community, or if there is an economic benefit for a business to come into the community,” Nord said. “If a business like Portillo’s says it’s not profitable to sell their hot dogs in our town, we should not give them incentives so it would be profitable to be here.” He called the deal the Town agreed to with the Oak Brook-based restaurant chain “straight out corporate welfare.”

Referring to Tax Increment Financing districts, or TIF Districts, Lorenz said they are used “as an economic tool.” She said the point to using them “is to increase the wealth of the community.” She added after government bodies like the Council approve such action, they are considered “a public-private endeavor” where developers approach the Town or other governing body seeking permission to build things such as affordable housing.

Once such a project is approved, Lorenz said, government steps back and “those seeking to construct and capitalism takes over.” She said she provided that illustration to give the roughly 25 people who attended the session an idea of how governing bodies like the Council intend for TIF Districts to function.

Evaluating the need for TIF Districts “need to be evaluated on a case by case basis, and they are,” McBride said. He said the need for such a district came into play in December 2016 when the Council unanimously approved a TIF district for the former Mitsubishi Motors North America plant to be used by electric car manufacturer Rivian Motors.

“We had a plant that was going to be stripped and turned into a concrete slab,” McBride recounted, had Council members not entered into the agreement, along with other area taxing bodies including Normal-based Unit 5 School District.

The subject of Normal offering tax incentives was prompted with candidates recalling Normal Town Council members unanimously voting, also in December 2016, to authorize executing of a redevelopment agreement with Bloomington Landmark Development Inc. regarding construction of Portillo’s which was built and is now located on N. Veterans Parkway.

At the time Council members approved the Portillo’s agreement, Bloomington Landmark Development Inc. sought and Council approved $1,825,000 to meet a standard rate of return for such a real estate investment. The agreement provided for a rebate from the Town of all sales, and food and beverage taxes from the restaurant to the developer to a maximum in that amount. The Chicago-based eatery formally opened in August 2017.

Other subjects candidates discussed included issues concerning municipal water policies and rates, candidates’ views on climate change, and funding liability for Town employees’ and retirees’ health costs.

Council candidates are scheduled to meet again in a candidate forum which will be broadcast by Illinois State University’s National Public Radio affiliate, WGLT FM 89.1, on Thursday, March 7. The 90-minute debate will be held in the Old Main Room of ISU’s Bone Student Center beginning at 6p.m.

This entry was posted on Saturday, February 2nd, 2019 at 10:50 pm and is filed under Normal Town Council, The Normalite. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

Comments are closed.