Category Archives: City of Bloomington

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.

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Filed under Budget, City of Bloomington, Taxes, Uncategorized

Rating agencies keep Normal’s creditworthiness in top 3 percent nationally

The Town of Normal sold two fixed-rate bond issues this week at 3.9 percent, lower even than the projected 4.1 to 4.3 percent range our financial gurus thought we might see.

The Town's putstanding bond rating means local government can borrow money at lower rates.  The Town's bond payments are covered by a combination of a quarter cent sales tax (enacted in 2000 for the purpose of repaying redevelopment bonds), a large portion of the hotel-motel tax, and some food and beverage tax revenue.  Uptown TIF revenue also covers a portion of the bond payments.

The Town's outstanding bond rating means local government can borrow money less expensively. The Town's bond payments are covered by a combination of a quarter cent sales tax (enacted in 2000 for the purpose of repaying redevelopment bonds), a large portion of the hotel-motel tax, and some food and beverage tax revenue. Uptown TIF revenue also covers a portion of annual interest payments.

The lower rates will result in significant savings over the course of the issue which will help fund public portions of Uptown redevelopment . 

The Council voted two weeks ago to turn an older variable rate bond issue into a fixed rate, locking in more than $1 million in accumulated interest savings as a result of rates which were below 1 percent for a time.

A new 2009 issue takes the Town’s general obligation debt to about $80 million for Uptown redevelopment.

The best news was that despite the national economic slowdown, despite lower than anticipated sales and income tax receipts, and despite the less than stellar financial performance of our next door neighbor, all three major bond rating agencies (Standard and Poors, Moody’s and Fitch) left the Town of Normal’s bond rating unchanged.

At AA1, the Town’s bond rating is nearly unmatched among local governments in the United States, ranking in the top three percent of all U.S. municipalities, a testament to local economic conditions and long held conservative financial management philosophy of underestimating revenues and overestimating expenses.

The State of Illinois is borrowing billions to balance its fiscal 2010 budget.  Rating agencies are deciding whether to downgrade the state’s bond ratings, which could have a negative ripple effect throughout the state.

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Filed under Budget, City of Bloomington, Sales tax collections, TIF, Town Council, Uptown Normal

Labor peace, statewide recognition, and compatible radios?

Quietly, the Normal Town Council ratified a new four-year contract this week with the Normal Police Benevolent and Protective Association Unit #22.

The contract is retroactive to April 1, 2008.   Officers covered under the contract will receive a 3.5 percent retroactive raise and 4 percent raises this year and next.  In 2011, police officers will see another 3.5 percent raise. 

Who cares what reason the City of Bloomington gives for moving to the Starcom 21 radio system.  If it happens, it'll be a welcome move and a huge boost for public safety

Who cares what reason the City of Bloomington gives for testing the Starcom 21 radio system. If they move in that direction, it'll be a welcome development and a huge boost for public safety

Over the course of the contract, the base salary will increase from $53,260 to $61,756.

Under the contract, the Town will not contribute to the cost of retiree health insurance premiums for Unit #22 members hired after last Nov. 1.  Employees hired before Nov. 1, 2008 will be required to waive the Town’s contribution to retiree health insurance premiums if they choose to participate in the sick leave incentive program.  

The improved sick leave incentive program for new officers and those who choose to give up Town-enhanced retiree health insurance premiums gives officers the chance to exchange a higher percentage (60 percent) of their accumulated sick leave, with the value of the sick leave deposited into the employees retirement health savings account.

Current policy allows officers to live within a 15 mile radius of College and Main.  The new contract gives Unit #22 members the flexibility to live anywhere in McLean County, or within a 20 mile radius of College and Main.

Believe me, it’s nice to be able to resolve a contract without mediators or interest arbitration.   Congratulations to all those involved.  

Congratulations also go out to Chief Kent Crutcher for winning the Illinois State Bar Association’s Law Enforcement  Award for developing a program for citizens with mental illness or other special needs to register their addresses with NPD, so officers are better equipped to repond to their calls for assistance.

Finally, how about the City of Bloomington testing Starcom 21 radios for BPD?   That’s a very positive development for public safety in this community.   I think all of us in Normal look forward to day when Bloomington, Normal, and McLean County sheriff’s police can communicate with each other directly and easily in crisis.

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Filed under City of Bloomington, NPD, Town Council, Uncategorized

Pantagraph editorial applauds NPD’s volunteer Constitution Trail patrol

The Pantagraph editorial board weighed in on the Normal Police Department’s plan to train volunteer safety ambassadors to patrol Constitution Trail with police radios and report any problems.      

The volunteer bicycle patrol organized by the Normal Police Department will be a good addition to the trail. The radio-equipped volunteers will be able to summon help quickly, whether it is to report a crime in progress or someone injured on the trail.

Normal Police Chief Kent Crutcher said about 30 people have volunteered so far and he expects to have them on patrol starting this week. He is pleased with the response and said people can continue to volunteer. Additional training sessions will be organized as needed.

The “safety ambassadors” will work in teams of two, wearing lime green vests. That will make it easy for people to recognize them and flag down the volunteers to report any problems or suspicious activity. We hope their presence will also deter some of the criminal activity that was reported last year, which included instances of indecent exposure. Bloomington should work with Normal in organizing volunteers to cover the entire trail. Crutcher said he has spoken with Bloomington “several times” and they seem receptive to the idea.”

I appreciate Chief Crutcher’s leadership and the willingness of so many trail users to volunteer.  I also couldn’t agree more about encouraging Bloomington’s participation.   Sounds to me like a perfect opportunity for cooperation.

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Filed under City of Bloomington, Constitution Trail, Crime, NPD, Uncategorized

Red light cameras have some motorists seeing red, some cities seeing green

The Pantagraph article  Friday on the status of enabling legislation for red light cameras in Normal, Bloomington, and Decatur prompted me to a little research on the topic.

There’s plenty on-line about this controversial subject.   

A red light camera in Chicago.  In January, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of Chicago's red light photo enforcement program.

A red light camera in Chicago. In January, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of Chicago's red light photo enforcement program.

The non-profit, independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety — home of vehicle safety ratings — is a proponent of red light cameras, arguing that the research shows cameras reduce the incidence of red light running, side impact collisions, injuries, and death.

National Motorists Association sympathizes with motorists who claim photo enforcement of speed limits and signalized intersections is fundamentally flawed and nothing but a cynical cash grab.

There are better alternatives to cameras.
If intersection controls are properly engineered, installed, and operated, there will be very few red-light violations. From the motorists’ perspective, government funds should be used on improving intersections, not on ticket cameras. Even in instances where cameras were shown to decrease certain types of accidents, they increased other accidents. Simple intersection and signal improvements can have lasting positive effects, without negative consequences. Cities can choose to make intersections safer with sound traffic engineering or make money with ticket cameras. Unfortunately, many pick money over safety.

Governing Magazine wrote in 2007 that Sioux Falls, South Dakota has seen revenue hit the brakes as motorists have cut down on red light running.

After Sioux Falls, South Dakota, installed red-light cameras at a key
intersection, it saw its revenue from tickets for red-light
infractions plummet.
In 2005, their first full year of operation, Sioux Falls’ cameras
snapped 8,000 scofflaws. In 2006, it was 5,000, and as of August of
2007, only 2,000. Almost all the money collected from red-light
tickets at the intersection now goes to pay the vendor that operates
the system.
Of course, those statistics mean that the cameras are having a
positive effect: Accidents are down. “From my standpoint, it’s purely
a safety issue,” says Lieutenant Jerome Miller of the Sioux Falls
Police, “and it works.” 

In January, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago upheld the constitutionality of photo enforcement.   

Like anybody else, I occasionally see people blow through red lights around town.   The problem seems worse at some stop signs.   We were almost t-boned several weeks ago by a car that sped south through the intersection of Linden and Shelbourne without stopping.  

I would be interested if we have any intersections with an accident history that our staff believe might benefit from red light cameras.

Of course, if the bill dies in the Illinois Senate, then it’s academic.

 

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Filed under City of Bloomington, NPD, Town Council, Traffic signals

What’s this Main St. Corridor all about?

What’s this Main Street Corridor and this, this..form-based zoning proposal they keep talking about?

Those are questions I suspect many citizens are asking themselves after reading and hearing a series of recent news stories on the subject.  

The whole notion of form-based zoning doesn’t come out of the blue, nor is it some radical concept.  However, it is new to our area.   

Here’s a little bit of history.

The Normal Town Council and our partners Illinois State University, Illinois Wesleyan University, BroMenn Medical Center and the City of Bloomington have been talking about how best to shape the future of the very important Business U.S. 51 corridor from Raab Road to the south edge of Bloomington for the past two or three  years.

The discussion included significant input from property owners, community leaders, and other interested residents at several community meetings and resulted in both councils adopting the Main Street Development Plan.   

Over the past year, the councils and our partners have asked the planning firm Farr Associates to develop form-based zoning for future development in the Main Street Corridor. 

It does not involve making changes to any existing homes or businesses.     

The form-based zoning proposal is now before the Normal Planning Commission for additional input.

Please take time to become acquainted with the objectives of the plan and the proposed zoning rules.

I am paying close attention to the comments being made on the proposal. 

At this stage, I’m concerned about the proposed elimination of drive-up windows.    It’s a bit unrealistic to think many businesses like banks, drug stores, or fast food restaurants could function without a drive-up window.   Let’s face it, the corridor will continue to be one of the community’s busiest thoroughfares.   I know some would like to do away with or greatly de-emphasize the automobile. 

Ain’t gonna happen.  

I’d also like to bump up the proposed maximum height of signs along the corridor.  

This corridor is a vital part of Bloomington-Normal.  It links many major employers and institutions.  It was Veterans Parkway, long before Veterans Parkway, and over the past several decades it has been allowed to develop in a disjointed, haphazard fashion.  

While there’s a lot right on Main St., I don’t think anyone can deny that it needs — and deserves–attention.  

Ultimately, I believe  the ongoing strategic, cooperative planning approach and tools like form-based zoning can only help improve property values and create a surge of redevelopment interest along Main Street for many years to come.

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Filed under BroMenn, City of Bloomington, Illinois State University, Illinois Wesleyan University, Main Street