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Audit: Normal Finances In Good Shape

Normal's attorney Brian Day, left, and Normal city manager Pam Reece, answer questions from the Normal Town Council during its meeting Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021, at Uptown Station's council chambers.
Michele Steinbacher
Normal town attorney Brian Day, left, and City Manager Pam Reece, answer questions from the Normal Town Council during its meeting Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021, at Uptown Station's council chambers.

Moviegoers visiting the historic Normal Theater now can add a brew to their view. On Tuesday, the town council voted to allow alcohol sales at regular events there, as well as in surrounding areas in Uptown, during certain town-sponsored events and festivals.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting the council OK’d spending about $1.2 million for annual sanitary sewer cleaning, which is 27% higher than expected; and formally accepted an independent audit showing the town’s financial records are in order. After the auditor’s report, Normal finance staff presented its annual financial trends and condition report, indicating the town’s overall finances are in good shape.

The council regularly meets on the first and third Mondays, but met Tuesday because of the Labor Day holiday.

Movie theaters selling booze at concession stands has become a norm across the country, and within the Twin Cities. Tuesday’s 6-1 vote amends Normal’s liquor code to bring the Uptown venue in line with the liquor licenses for privately-owned movie theaters in town. Normal already sells alcohol at the town-owned Ironwood Golf Course.

The amendment also clarifies that alcohol may be available during some Uptown events, such as festivals. Council member Stan Nord was the only “no” vote.

Auditor praises Normal’s organized, clean records

In another matter, the council voted 6-1 to accept the Lauterbach and Amen CPA firm's audit of fiscal year 2020-2021. Nord was the only “no” vote. The council then unanimously accepted a federal compliance audit. The latter item relates to federally-funded grants distributed to Normal, including federal COVID relief.

The independent audit found no major issues in the town’s comprehensive annual financial report, and thus labeled it a “clean audit,” according to Jamie Wilkey, a partner with Lauterbach who presented audit findings to the council prior to the vote.

Wilkey praised Normal’s administration for being organized better than any similar sized municipal government with whom her firm has worked.

"We put controls in place. We're utilizing those controls, and they've put us in a great position," council member Chemberly Cummings said of Normal's audit preparations.

Lauterbach found it noteworthy that Normal fared the pandemic better than expected, ending the fiscal year with a $1.4 million surplus. Council member Kevin McCarthy said such a success was due to Normal’s finance staff budgeting conservatively to weather the pandemic.  

Wilkey also noted that Normal has been making progress increasing contributions to its fire, police and IMRF pension plans. State law requires those funds be 90% funded by 2040. As of last year, police is about 49%, fire is about 54%, and the IMRF fund is at 97%.

Mayor Chris Koos said called the clean audit pretty amazing. He said it speaks well to the sound financial position of the town, and the record keeping of the town’s staff.

Trends report shows financial stability

Later in the meeting, Normal finance director Andrew Huhn walked the council through Normal’s financial trends report for 2020-2021.

The town’s financial condition remains positive, he said.

This report looks back over the past decade, considering areas that impact the town’s finances. The council and town administrators track six key indicators, with a big focus on the town’s general fund. Other indicators include tax revenue and expenditures, as well as the area's economic growth.

"This kind of helps us retool things," Huhn said of the conditions report data, and how its used in planning next year's budget.

He said the town came out OK after last year's economic shutdown — with several categories doing as well or better than pre-COVID figures.

Huhn said growth is somewhat attributed to automaker's Rivian’s growing footprint, as well as increased sales tax revenues since the pandemic lockdown.

He's optimistic growth will continue, pointing to a turnaround in building permit growth after three years of decline.

One category that is proving a challenge for the town's budget is the cost of health and dental coverage for employees. That's listed as a negative indicator, with the town's reserve fund seeing several years of decline.

Hoerr Construction to finish sewer project

The council also unanimously approved a $1.2 million contract with Hoerr Construction Inc. that includes underground camera views, with the work to begin this fall, and be completed by next summer. It’s part of the town’s annual sanitary and storm sewer cleaning, and uses underground cameras to provide a review of pipe conditions, assisting public works in prioritizing future sewer and manhole updates.

Part of the town’s sanitary sewer master plan, and scheduled as a five-year program, a summer 2022 finish date is one year ahead of schedule.

The town originally budgeted about $932,000 from sewer and storm water funds for this year’s project. However, the council OK’d a $250,000 budget adjustment to cover the additional costs, after town administrators cited this year’s high fuel costs and labor shortages.

In other business, the council:

  • Approved the final plat for Greystone Fields subdivision’s third addition. The developer plans zero lot-line duplexes on a 1.5-acre section in the northeast corner. 
  • Addressed traffic congestion in the Savannah Green neighborhood by restricting parking just south of Shelbourne Drive, on the first block of River Landing and Montgomery streets.
  • Appointed Larry Schumacher to the town’s historic preservation commission, filling one of two vacancies on the six-person board.
  • Heard from Normal resident Julie Hile, who along with her husband, Bob Broad, own Normandy Village in the One Normal Plaza area. During public comments, she criticized Nord’s accusations during the previous council meeting when he said the business owners planned to open a bar. She said it wasn’t true, and decried his saying so.

Michele Steinbacher was a WGLT correspondent, joining the staff in 2020. She left the station in 2024.