NORMAL – At their June 17 meeting, members of Normal Town Council members called for an explanation of a decision by Connect Transit to eliminate one route that goes through Normal and a scheduled rate increase from $1 per ride to $1.25 per ride scheduled to take effect Oct. 1. Ahead of that, however, the transit company has proposed ending the Olive Route, which, in part, serves residents on low incomes. That route is slated to cease running July 1.

Prior to the transit officials’ presentation, Council members heard from members of the community concerning the affect an increase in fares, among other concerns, had on their minds.

“To change routes and fares will negatively impact our community,” Angie Rich, Bloomington, told Council members. Her disabled son, a Normal resident, uses Connect Transit, she told Board members. She then added her concern about Connect Transit’s plan to eliminate the Olive route entirely. “To eliminate the Olive route, I believe, will negatively impact our community,” she said. The Olive route extends from across north Normal from OSF PromptCare on Fort Jesse Road to Walmart to Shelbourne Drive and Linden Street to the Orlando Northbrook neighborhood. She added that many disabled riders who use the Connect Mobility service, which takes those riders from door-to-door pay $65 for a pass for that service, and that many are on fixed incomes.

Mary Wuhrmann told Council members she has asked Connect Transit board members, among other things, what had the transit service done to try to increase Olive route ridership. She pointed out that there are 37,000 riders who depend on using that route, and she asked Council members, “What is your solution to help those riders?” Rich and Wuhrmann were among five citizens who stated similar remarks to Council members.

The Transit Board has seven members on it, 4 from Bloomington and 3 from Normal, but Normal’s panel has a vacancy as one member has left. Mayor Chris Koos said he is looking to hear from interested individuals who would like to fill the slot. In her public comment to Council members, Deborah Hutchins said, “I’m available.”

During the presentation to Council members, Isaac Thorne, Connect Transit’s general manager, said, “We are not a perfect transit system. We are a good transit system and we are always seeking to become better.”

Glaze told Council members Connect Transit did surveys to determine where riders wanted to get to. He said the transit company continues to hear from riders seeking improvements such as more frequent buses, better on-time performance, and extended hours of operation.

Hile told Council members the transit system “is a living and breathing system” which is seeking a “concept plan for a community-wide transit system. We begin with our ridership. The more riders we have, the more stable we will be.”

Among comments from Council members following Connect’s presentation, Council Member Karyn Smith sought support to negate the amount of funding the Town provides the transit provider before July 1, but did not find any assistance with that suggestion.

Council Member Chemberly Cummings addressed the gathering, asking those who spoke to be patient with the Town as it tries to find ways to help them.

Council Member Kevin McCarthy said he was encouraged a solution could be found for those who addressed the Council regarding their concerns. “I’m nothing but encouraged that people came and shared and told us what concerned them. We need to continue to address disability access.” He encouraged other municipal entities to look into how to raise funding for the transit operator.

But the transit system is also facing an end to Federal funding it receives. Thorne explained Connect Transit faces running out of Federal funding by 2024, adding it uses 65 percent of what funding it gets from the government on operating expenses. “Our funding is leveling out and our expenses are increasing. Therefore, we will be out of Federal funding by 2024,” he explained.

He said the company has been using its local reserve fund to offset the costs that Federal funds would pay for. “You can only do that for so many years,” he said.

Addressing the need to fill the vacancy on the Transit Board, Koos said following the session there is a link on the Town’s website which will guide people to information for those persons interested in applying to become a Board member.

Easterseals Honored With Proclamation: Prior to the start of Monday’s Council session, the Town issued a proclamation honoring Easterseals on the organization’s 100th anniversary. Locally, Easterseals does work with children with disabilities, including at its camp located at Camp Heffernan on Lake Bloomington, which began in 1948. Along with a few of the youngsters who benefit from Easterseals’ work, Cathy Oloffson, vice president for development for the organization in its Bloomington office, accepted the plaque on Easterseals’ behalf.

Harmon Arts Grants Distributed: Also prior to the start of the meeting, organizations who applied for Harmon Arts Grants received their checks. As former Mayor Paul Harmon introduced each organization which was receiving money, current Mayor Chris Koos handed each check to a representative from the group receiving money.

Normal Town Council members unanimously approved a motion to approve recommended Harmon Arts Grant Awards at their June 3 meeting. A total of $25,000 in grants were awarded to local groups, the money for the grants earmarked from the Town’s general fund. A total of 28 groups applied for grants from the program, with the projects seeking money totaling $71,827. That amount of money to be distributed is down from the $74,000 in grants distributed last year. The maximum amount a group could receive is $5,000, and the programs or projects receiving the money would need to take place between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020.

Winners, and their grant dollar amounts awarded, are: Illinois State University Symphony Orchestra, $2,000; Illinois Symphony Orchestra, $2,000; Illinois Prairie Theatre, $2,000; ISU – Gelli Printing at Sugar Creek, $1,565; Twin City Ballet, $1,500; USA Ballet, $1,500; McLean County Arts Center, $1,500; ISU’s University Galleries Field Trip Program, $1,500; Shakespeare Festival at ISU, $1,500; Further Jazz, $1,500; Illinois Chamber Music Festival at Illinois Wesleyan University, $1,400; Heartland Theatre Company, $1,200; ISU for 2019 Concerts On The Quad, $1,200; Brass Band of Central Illinois, $1,100; ISU-PUB.UNUT Presents Aditi Machado, $1,000; Crossroads Area Student Theatre. $875; Share The Music, $660; McLean County India Association, $500; and Orpheus Mandolin Orchestra, $500.

The grant program is named for former Normal Mayor Paul Harmon and his dedication to the arts and was created in 1993 to help promote various art forms in the community. Among the criteria used to determine which applicants are awarded are: Programs takes place in the Town of Normal; Programs are administered by non-profit groups; and programs are administered by organizations with a stated purpose to promote the arts.

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

• Approval of the minutes of the Council’s regular meeting held June 3, 2019.

• Approval of Town of Normal expenditures for payment as of June 12, 2019.

• A resolution approving an amended final development plan for Constitution Trail Centre PUD – Jiffy Lube.

• A resolution conditionally approving the final plat for the eighth addition to Constitution Trail Centre Subdivision – Jiffy Lube.

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