Monthly Archives: November 2008

Dec. 1 meeting: Community Investment Plan and Comcast

The FY 2009-2014 Community Investment Plan is back for another review and we’ll hear from a Comcast representative at Monday evening’s Town Council meeting.

The Normal Town Council meets at 7 p.m. Mon. Dec. 1 at Normal City Hall.

A couple of years ago, I suggested a more thorough analysis of proposed capital improvements.  The traditional council budget process involved limited discusssion of projects that were included in the proposed five-year budget and that discussion was usually rushed and at the end of a long day of budget hearings.

Staff listened to the concerns and came back with the idea for a Community Investment Plan, which is prepared and adjusted throughout the year and presented to the council at a work session in Octrober.  The plan is part of the annual budget process and has been incorporated as part of the Town’s awarding winning financial reporting.

When I was a news reporter back in the late 80’s and covered local government, one city handed me a bound, easy to follow budget document.  Other city handed me two large stacks of loose leaf paper held together by a couple of large rubber bands.   Evidently, things haven’t changed much.  But I digress. 

The six-year community investment plan contains a little more than $10 million in projects for the upcoming FY 2009 year and about $48 million in proposed projects over six years.  Some of the FY 2009 highlights include:

  • Three new water slides and a spray park at Fairview Aquatic Center;
  • Uptown street (East Beaufort and North St.) construction as well as $1 million in Uptown water and sewer line replacement;
  • Widening and reconstructing Pipeline Road between Northtown and Ziebarth roads;
  • Patching Fort Jesse Road between Beech St. and Blair Dr;
  • Virgina Ave. construction — new bridge and new street between University St. and Franklin Ave;
  • Parking lot for Heartland CC stadium;
  • Annual road resurfacing program;
  • Sludge removal and completion of the conversion to radio read water meters.

Staff does a tremendous job on this report which is chocked full of information including project descriptions, estimated costs, funding sources, and photos.

Don’t get thrown by the number of projects that aren’t included in the budget.   Every department has a wish list.  Some are quite extensive.   Even several council initiated proposals appear on the “not included” list.   Given our projected resources, the council’s desire not to raise taxes, and the increasing costs of construction materials, it’s still a very ambitious list of  projects that will end up in our FY 2009-2013 budget.  Even in challenging economic times, you can’t back off community investment or it will come back to bite you.

A local Comcast representative has asked to speak to the Town Council.   He was out of town when the council voted down the company’s request for an increase in basic cable rates.   I spoke with the representative last week and urged him not to raise basic rates.   I also suggested, based on the amount of feedback I’ve received, to define a basic package and stick with it.  Nothing is more aggravating than paying more for a reduced level of service.

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Filed under Budget, Comcast, Community Investment Plan, Town Council

Let’s hope it was truly a Black Friday

In the wee hours of Black Friday morning, my wife and mother-in-law were out there performing their annual ritual of competitive bargain shopping.

And apparently they had some company.

I joined them later in the morning, and by noon our family had finished doing its part by dropping several hundred dollars into the local economy at several retailers.  The big purchase for us was a new camera which I will put to use on this blog.   We picked up a new chair for the office, some luggage, a few toys, and some clothes.  My daugher cashed in a few gift cards she’d been saving since her birthday.

Target was busy, particularly the toy and electronics departments, but I have to admit the store did not appear too much busier than it is on many weekends.   The major difference was that they were fully staffed and someone was responsible for directing shoppers to open registers.  Anywhere we went, Borders, Meijer, and a couple of other places, we did not stand in line for longer than a few moments. 

Obviously there were a lot of people out, but it left me wondering what kind of Black Friday it will prove to be locally.

Taken together, state and local sales taxes represent about a third of the general revenue the Town collects each year — about $15 million is budgeted this year.

In the first six months of the fiscal year, state sales tax collections were up about 3.4%  Through September, the Town had collected a shade under $7 million in state and local sales taxes.

Unfortunately, while collections are up, they are running about 3% below the amount the Town budgeted to collect.

Because there’s a three month lag in reporting sales taxes, we won’t know until the dead of winter whether today was the kind of shopping day that will help put Normal’s sales tax collections back in the black.

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Filed under Budget, Sales tax collections

Fun new exhibit to open at Children’s Discovery Museum

My daughter loves the Children’s Discovery Museum almost as much as I do.   We got a sneak preview this week of the new Healthy Kids Healthy Future exhibit on the first floor.

She couldn’t stop making pizza.  When you see it, you’ll know why.   healthy-kids

In this brand new exhibit, you will learn the importance of putting a rainbow on your plate.  You can sit in a porch swing and have a relaxing chat with your child.   You will be charmed by the “laughing well.”   And your child or grandchild will recognize they have more in common with other kids than they think.  When the weather warms up, the exhibit takes visitors outside to a horizontal climbing wall and other hands on experiences in a beautifully landscaped and fenced courtyard.  

There’s even a new cash register in the grocery store – well done!

Healthy Kids Healthy Future is a great addition to a museum which welcomed its 500,000th visitor earlier this year.  Many thanks go to the donors, to the CDM Foundation Board, and to CDM manager Shari Buckellew and her excellent staff.

CDM is not only a magical place, it’s an important Uptown anchor, and one of the biggest attractions in our community.   Please make this experience part of your Thanksgiving weekend.

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Filed under Children's Discovery Museum, Uncategorized

Comcast reaction keeps coming

As a Town Council we are powerless over whether Comcast ultimately gets its 7% basic cable rate increase because the proposed rate hike falls below the maximum basic rate permitted by the FCC.  But we didn’t make it any easier on them Monday when we voted unanimously not to grant the rate hike.

It’s unusual for the public to testify at public hearings, but Jim Armstrong and Eugene Irving stepped up and questioned the level of service they’re getting.   I appreciate their willingness to be heard.

I was quoted in Tuesday’s Pantagraph:

“They’ve dropped three channels and want a rate increase. It seems like that’s a decrease in service,” said Councilman Adam Nielsen. “I can’t support this. You don’t reward someone for cutting back service.”

I feel the same way today. 

I also pointed out that no one from Comcast bothered to show up to the council meeting.   I always perceive that as an insult, not to the council, but to the community.  You want something.   You know there will be public discussion, but you’ve got better things to do.

I’m pleased to hear that Comcast’s regional representative will be meeting with Town staff Monday at City Hall.

In the meantime, the council action has sparked a discussion that is resonating throughout the Twin Cities.  I’ve received a number of phone calls and emails congratulating us on our action.  Mostly, residents are  sharing their Comcast experiences which I plan to pass along.

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Filed under Comcast

No increase in Normal’s share of the property tax rate for 2009

The Town Council will consider the 2009 Property Tax levy at Monday night’s meeting.   The Town’s share of the overall property tax rate is projected to remain unchanged at $1.08 per hundred dollars of assessed value.  The biggest single town expense covered by property taxes is employee pensions.  The Town also levies for property taxes to pay for library operations. 

For the fifth straight year, the general fund levy will remain at $1.6 million.  That has been a Town Council policy and the amount represents a very small percentage of general fund revenue.  In fact, it would pay for approximately 29 police officer salaries.

Unlike property tax reliant school districts and other units of local government, municipalities collect revenue from a variety of sources.   I recognize that and it’s one of the big reasons why I support keeping the Town’s share of the property tax bill as low as possible.

Compared to other Illinois muncipalities near and far, Normal’s rate is the lowest.

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Filed under Budget

Nothing wrong with Bloomington

But this blog is Just about Normal.  Okay, at least most of the time.

Welcome to Just About Normal, which might be the first weblog written by an elected public official in Normal, or even in Bloomington for that matter.

I might be wrong, but I think we’re breaking new ground here.  And I’m pretty excited about that.

Not long after I was elected to the Normal Town Council, I discovered that in addition to listening to concerns one of my primary responsibilities was to serve as a source of accurate information — to share with my fellow citizens what’s going on in local government and why. 

My hope is this blog will help me do a better job of communicating and engage you in a conversation about how we make a great community even better.

So look for plenty of information, loads of opinion, and hopefully a little give and take.  I plan to post a lot of photos, and eventually work my way into video and audio.  I might take an unscientific poll or two.

In the end, I’m committed to this thing and that’s why I invite you to send this link to your family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.   Bookmark this site, and send it to anyone who cares about our community.  

I want to create a lot of traffic, and I defintely want visitors to feel comfortable commenting.  While I’d prefer you identify yourself, I’m more concerned about hearing from you.   I know a civil dialogue is possible around here. 

I welcome any feedback.  Always feel free to contact me directly at adamnielsen63@gmail.com

Oh, and I should mention that I’m only speaking for myself on this blog.   While I plan to link to the excellent content at www.normal.org   I created this blog and am solely responsible for what appears on Just About Normal. 

Adam Nielsen

Normal Town Councilmember

 

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Filed under Introduction