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Bloomington Council OKs Uniform Economic Incentives Policy

Emily Bollinger/WGLT
Patrick Hogan, who leads the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council, speaks Monday, July 26, 2021, at the Bloomington City Council meeting held at the downtown Government Center.

Local economic developers are a step closer to improving how they attract potential new businesses, after the Bloomington City Council voted Monday night to support a new standardized incentives policy.

During its meeting at the Government Center, the council voted 8-0 to amend the Bloomington-Normal Enterprise Zone operating criteria. The vote also OKs a related intergovernmental agreement. Several other governing bodies need to approve it before it's finalized.

Council members Jamie Mathy and Jenn Carrillo were absent. However, Carrillo participated remotely, voting by phone.

Patrick Hoban, who leads the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council (EDC), has been pushing for the change since he assumed that post two years ago. “It really comes down to time — time and efficiency,” he said.

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity oversees the state’s enterprise zone. But the local EDC handles thenearly 15 square miles in Bloomington, Normal and parts of Ford County.

Hoban said Bloomington council and McLean County Board have OK’d the standard incentives. If Normal, Gibson City and Ford County vote to amend the rules, and the state OKs the change, the new policy could be in place by next year, he said.

Offering a single set of incentive rules to all developers is better than negotiating deals on a case-by-case basis, and cuts through a lot of bureaucracy, Hoban said.

For incentives, a lot of times a community is eliminated based on the timing and availability of funding in other communities, he said.

“Uncertainty is the No. 1 killer of a deal,” he said. “If they know they can go to Texas, if they can go to a surrounding state, a surrounding community — and that’s a for sure thing, they’re going to go that way.”

Under current rules, Hoban said EDC leaders can offer sales tax exemptions right away to developers. That’s helped land wins such as Rivian, Ferrero, and Brandt, he said, adding, “But with standardized, we could have brought so much more.”

If approved, the new policy would treat each enterprise zone deal as a 15-year zone. Besides eliminating the sales tax, higher impact businesses also would get a property tax abatement for five years, he said.

For other companies, the standard incentive graduates down from that five-year property tax abatement, he said: total abatement the first year, 80% the second year, and so on.

Currently, enterprise zone operators have a labor utilization plan, showing local construction workers will be part of the project, Hoban said. But under the standard incentives version, the company would get a better deal for employing local workers at the business, as well as partnering with local school districts, he said.

City expects to deny most flood claims

In another matter, Bloomington City Manager Tim Gleason shared details about the city’s five-year infrastructure plan, as city leaders begin to discuss possibly reorganizing some of those priorities in response to June 24-25 floods.

Bloomington City Manager Tim Gleason, left, speaks at Monday's city council meeting.
Emily Bollinger
Bloomington City Manager Tim Gleason, left, speaks at Monday's city council meeting.

Gleason also told the council the city’s insurer, PMA, likely will deny the majority of flood claims against the city from that event.

More than 500 Bloomington residents and business owners filed claims, “as they should have,” he said, adding he is not surprised few claims will be accepted.

“The overwhelming majority will be denied, based on the city’s infrastructure system was not at fault for a rain event. Act of God is the terminology that you hear quite often. But a rain event that had a fraction of a percent of happening in a given year,” said Gleason.

He said PMA began sending letters to filers last week, with more going out Monday.

Gleason encouraged residents to take advantage of federal relief with Small Business Administration low-interest, long term loans now available to McLean County residents, business and nonprofits affected by the storms.

Ward 6 vacancy process

Mayor Mboka Mwilambwe told the council he expects to announce Tuesday the process for people interested in filling Carrillo's Ward 6 council seat.

Carrillo announced last week they’ll be resigning Aug. 31, because they’re moving out of the ward. The community organizer was elected in April 2019.

Mwilambwe will recommend a replacement, who then must gain council approval. He said rules call for the position to be filled within 60 days. But ideally he’d like to have the seat filled in early September. Several people have expressed interest informally, he said.

In other business, the council:

  • Approved spending about $285,000 for the Bloomington Fire Department, to get a Ford F-550 four-wheel drive ambulance from Foster Coach in Sterling.
  • OK’d a site plan to construct a Panda Express at 1901 W. Market St. The location will feature a drive-thru window, and have 65 parking spots.
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Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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