Monthly Archives: November 2009

Normal to host another ASA national softball tournament in 2011

Normal’s bid to host another national softball tournament  hit the jackpot in Reno, Nevada.

Normal Parks and Recreation and the Bloomington-Normal Area Convention and Visitors Bureau staff report that Normal was awarded the 2011  ASA Women’s Under 18 national championships to be played at Champion Fields.  image002

With stiffer competition for championship softball tournaments, the winning bid demonstrates the quality of our tournament staff, our fields, and the hospitality of our community.    Normal beat out a number of other larger cities.

This year’s women’s 18 and under tournament attracted 144 teams.    In late July and early August of 2011, as many as 1,500 players, their coaches, and family members will stay several days here and  generate lots of business for the entire area.

A Pantagraph sports story from this past summer’s tournament indicated that travel softball families aren’t afraid to spend money even in a tight economy.

Leave a comment

Filed under Bloomington-Normal Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Parks and Recreation, Tourism

Pinehurst now pines for the leaf vacuum

We’ve come of age in Pinehurst subdivision.

Based on what I witnessed this past weekend, it seems this is the year when all of the sudden the leaf vacuum matters.

No more taking a back seat to Fell or Broadway or School or even Maplewood.    We’ve got mature trees, too.   OK, not 70 footers with leaves covering every square inch of grass, but we’re getting there. 

I’ve even seen neighbors employ the tarp method of leaf transport from backyard to curb.    IMG_3208

I’ve noticed something else around here.

Maybe it’s our inexperience with massive quantities of leaves, but we don’t seem to be very sure where to pile them for collection.   More often than not, they’re being raked beyond the curb and placed in the gutter, which can plug up storm sewers in the event of heavy rain.   As a reminder to the newly initiated, here are the rules from the Public Works department:

Leaves should be raked to the back of the curb on the grass, or to the shoulder of the roadway. However, if you live in an area where cars are continuously parked in front of your residence, place the leaves at the edge of your driveway or as near to the driveway as possible. Keep leaf piles no higher than three (3) feet for safety. Please do not rake the leaves into the gutter or street.

The equipment used is a vacuum machine that is designed to collect only leaves. Brush and other items are not to be placed in the leaf pile. Items other than leaves will cause clogs and possible equipment malfunction. Mixed piles will not be collected.  

 The truck follows the same route as waste collection, but because of the high volume of leaves, it’s typically behind schedule.    Please be patient.

Town staff estimates the cost of leaf collection to be about $100,000 next fiscal year.    I don’t think the Town Council considered  for a moment eliminating a service which, with each passing fall,  becomes more important  to more citizens of this community.

1 Comment

Filed under Leaf collection

Jesse’s Grille is music to my appetite

You know, I wish that I had Jessie’s girl,
I wish that I had Jessie’s girl
Where can I find a woman like that

Jessie’s Girl — Music and Lyrics by Rick Springfield

Remember that one?

I don’t know if  the name of Uptown’s new restaurant is a play on words, but every time I see the sign for Jesse’s Grille in the lobby of the Uptown Normal Marriott, the song Jessie’s Girl, that 1981 staple of early MTV starts running through my head.   So if it isn’t a play on that popular song, it should be.

Despite the 80’s musical flashback, I’ve been to Jesse’s Grille twice in the past three days.   And I was  impressed on each occasion.IMG_3194

Dayna and I met there for an impromptu lunch Friday and were seated in a booth.  I was able to lean up against a pillow.    You can’t do that everywhere.

I ordered a bowl of the chicken gumbo and the skirt steak dip.  The soup was hot and had a flavorful kick.     The skirt steak was very tender and was piled high on a fresh, soft bun.   The au jus was actually a very small bowl of french onion soup.   My fries were hot and crisp.    Good lunch.  

I know it’s shocking, but we knew several people who were dining there.   When of one of them joked to us that “this place is like Mayberry and there’s a new restaurant to try in Mayberry.”  I had to laugh. 

Guilty as charged.

(Note to those following the Town’s budget discussions:  Our state income tax receipts are down, but the economy hasn’t slowed local food and beverage tax receipts too much.   I’m not a big fan of the property tax, but I really draw the line when it comes to raising taxes on one of our community’s most beloved activities — eating out.) 

After lunch, we walked through the Normal Conference Center to see who was holding meetings.   It looked to be a conference of the Association of Illinois Architects.   They had a small trade show in the pre-function area of the center.   The day before,  Growmark, Inc. was holding a meeting next door to the local Economic Development Council’s annual meeting.

Anyway, we took my mother-in-law to the hotel Sunday morning to show her around and try the Jesse’s Grille breakfast buffet.   The buffet features the chef making three egg omelets to order.  There’s also a selection of breakfast meats, hash brown potatoes,  blueberry pancakes, bagels, cereal, and pastries.    Juice and coffee are included in the price of the buffet.

Sold.  

My Denver omelette was excellent, and Dayna offered me some of her outstanding wild mushroom and cheese omelette, which I will probably order the next time.    The pancakes are rolled up, filled with blueberries and dusted with powered sugar.

I was so full I shouldn’t have had to eat the rest of the day.  

No question, I got my $13 worth, and we will be working Jesse’s Grille into our Sunday morning breakfast rotation.

Other than the familiar faces of a few restaurant employees, this time we didn’t recognize a single soul in the restaurant.  By the time we left, there was a line of folks waiting to be seated.     Evidently, it was a busy night at the hotel.

It was gratifying to see a number of families of ISU students spending the weekend in Uptown Normal within walking distance from campus.

These hotel guests probably didn’t know it, but they were staying in a property rated four diamond by AAA, the only hotel between Chicago and St. Louis with the four diamond rating.

  Four Diamond
These establishments are upscale in all areas. Accommodations are progressively more refined and stylish. The physical attributes reflect an obvious enhanced level of quality throughout. The fundamental hallmarks at this level include an extensive array of amenities combined with a high degree of hospitality, service, and attention to detail.

3 Comments

Filed under Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, Uptown Normal

Normal has plenty of company

Based on the discussion at Monday night’s Normal Town Council meeting, it appears the town will be able to address our budget situation without cutting jobs.  It would appear that our mix of budget cuts and revenue increases will leave our general fund in the black this year and allow the Town to slowly build up its reserves over the next five years, averting a projected end-of-the-year budget deficit in 2010-11 and beyond.

The main culprit has been a projected $1.3 million drop this year in state income tax receipts and flat sales tax collections.IMG_1462

You don’t have to spend much time on line to see the revenue picture impacting communities all around us.

If the snow plow breaks in Peoria, they’re not sure what they’ll be able to do with the city’s $14.5 million budget deficit.

To the south in Decatur, the city entered the current fiscal year with deficit spending in three of the past four years.  They projected a $3 million general fund defcit for the current fiscal year and planned to postpone some capital improvements and adopted a voluntary severance plan for employees.

Read about Danville $1.5 million deficit and its desire to rebuild its reserves.

It would interesting to know how Bloomington is doing.   Last we heard, they were projecting they would end the current fiscal year with a roughly $2 million deficit, after entering the current year with a roughly $5 million deficit.

 It’s not just Illinois that’s hurting.   Cities all across the country are being pinched.

Leave a comment

Filed under Budget, City of Bloomington, Taxes, Uncategorized

So what happened Monday night at City Hall?

The Normal Town Council spent another evening discussing how to deal with a revenue shortfall.  Unchecked it would mean going from a surplus in the general fund to a deficit in two years.

The Town is not currently in a deficit situation.  In fact, the town will end the current 2009-10 budget year with a surplus in its main operating fund.   But due to reduced state income tax collections and state and local sales tax receipts, the anticipated eight percent cushion will  fall to 2.5 percent of total general fund expenditures.   Our finance department recommends an end of year balance of eight to ten percent of general fund expenditures.

2009 Election

In this year's council campaign, we were well into the deepest recession in my lifetime. My top priority had to be maintaining the fiscal integrity of the town. And I remain committed to that goal. We will get through this without experiencing the kind of budget crises have enveloped cities unwilling to make difficult decisions.

The council’s goal is to avoid a deficit and to shore up the general fund reserves through a combination of budget cuts and tax increases.

While it’s tempting to simply cut your way out of your predicament,  we discovered that you have cut far too deeply into the basic services that define Normal town government.   That was not an option.

 Two employees signed up for the early retirement incentive.   Understandably, many employees close to retirement considered taking the benefit, but concluded that they would rather work, a typical response in an uncertain economy.

Still, staff identified several areas that could be cut without impacting services too much.  

  • Shiny cars and trucks take a back seat to programs.  At this time, it didn’t make a lot of sense to me to have enough vehicle reserves on hand to replace every police car, garbage truck, or mower at once.     $1 million from this fund will be transferred to the general fund over the next two years.   As far as I’m concerned, excessive vehicle replacement reserves are a good place to start.
  • Program cuts that are significant but are manageable.   The Harmon Arts Grants are a great gesture, and we are able to help several arts programs in the community, but we can eliminate those dollars while funds are tight.  The same holds true for Normal Newsline, half of the town annual tree planting budget, City Vision, and the parks and recreation program brochures.     Eliminating electronic recycling will save $175, 000 over five years.   Turning over operations of the Activity Center to Normal Township will save $323,000 over five years.   We need to develop a cost sharing arrangement with Unit 5 on crossing guards.
  • The 1/4 cent sales tax adds a quarter to the purchase of $100.  While I don’t relish it, imposing the quarter cent sales tax is the most painless way to collect $1.3 million per year.    We have done our best to delay matching Bloomington’s rate.   I had hoped we could hold out.   We no longer have that luxury.
  • A temporary property tax hike.  The 4.3 cent per hundred dollar rate increase would allow the Town to cover more of the cost of state-mandated employee retirement benefits with the property tax.  It would boost the tax bill of the owner of a $200,000 home about $30 per year.   We resisted a proposal to boost the property tax another 6 cents for operations.   In my mind, when the economy recovers, this tax hike goes away before the Harmon Arts Grants or the parks and recreation brochures return.
  • Other revenues include increasing the parking fines for the first time in 20 years to $20, boosting summer camp fees, imposing towing fees for cars involved in alleged crimes, and new technical rescue and auto extrication fees (usually born by insurance companies).

We said no to moving up the second half of the planned garbage fee increase.   The water/garbage bill has provided too much sticker shock as it is this year.  There was no reason to provide another premature shock.

I said no to a “convenience fee” for paying your bills on-line.  That’s my definition of an “inconvenience fee.” 

If we follow this plan, we will build up the Town’s general fund reserves to near $3 million by March 31, 2011 and $3.8 million the following year.

After the work session, the council met in executive session  for about an hour to receive information about the potential for involuntary job cuts.  At this time, there does not appear to be any council appetite for layoffs.  

 Hopefully, that relieves some of anxiety that I sensed in the city council chambers Monday night.

This is an unhappy but necessary part of the job.   During my re-election campaign, I pledged that the financial integrity of Normal Town Government would be my top priority.   It will remain my top priority for the rest of my term.

Program cuts and tax and fee increases are necessary at this time to prevent a budget crisis.  The economy will turn around, and these actions will help the Town rebound quicker than other communities.  

Our employees are doing a super job working through this time of reduced revenues and providing the kinds of services that make us all proud to live here.

9 Comments

Filed under Budget, Taxes, Town Council, Uncategorized