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Normal Mayor Koos discusses council's next steps in ARPA spending plan

Chris speaks
Emily Bollinger
Normal Mayor Chris Koos.

The Town of Normal was granted $10.8 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to provide relief amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Town staff have recommended spending roughly 70% of $9.3 million in identified spending priorities on infrastructure.

The remaining $1.5 million still awaits council input. The town must decide how to use the federal relief money by the end of 2024 and spend it by the end of 2026.

Included in the recommendations are:

  • $10,000 per year to the Community Health Care Clinic for COVID-19 testing and related operating and capital expenses.
  • $100,000 in year one for water and sewer accounts receivable help for past due customers.
  • $500,000 for community behavioral and mental health initiatives such as Marcfirst.
  • $16,800 per year to expand support for the Small Business Development Center.
  • A maximum of $6.6 million in municipal revenue loss from the pandemic.
  • $100,000 in cybersecurity technology tools, system improvements and temporary staff.
  • $3.5 million for Savannah Green subdivision improvement to design, repair, and replace roads and alleys.
  • $2 million for intersection improvements at Ford Jesse Road/Landmark Drive, Fort Jesse/Greenbriar, and Greenbriar/Shepard Road to address mobility concerns at the two closest intersections to the high accident location of Fort Jesse/Veterans Parkway.
  • $200,000 per year of increased support to underwrite the cost of One-Fare-For-All pricing and to support transit service.
  • $1 million to study storm and sanitary sewer analysis and implement solutions, including manhole rehab and inflow and infiltration remediation to prevent future flooding.
  • $1 million to install a broadband network along Raab Road, from Millennium Boulevard to Towanda Avenue. This would develop a public-private partnership to bridge the digital divide in underserved neighborhoods.

Normal Mayor Chris Koos said during WGLT's newsmagazine show Sound Ideas that the council will look at the community investment plan and talk about capital projects going forward for the next four to five years before deciding where to put the final $1.5 million. Koos said there are no holes per se in the staff plan, and the council will make a collective decision addressing the most pressing needs.

“There’s just a huge list of projects there that could use attention, so we’re not going to have any trouble figuring out where that is, but we’re going to take our time and make sure we use it in the most expedient and impactful way,” Koos said.

He said the council will not receive its second allocation for another year, but he doesn't see the need to allocate the money immediately. The town already has half the ARPA money.

“We took care of the things that we needed to address immediately, and there were some pretty pressing needs, but again, we won’t have any trouble figuring out a place to put that, but we’re going to be mindful about how we do it,” Koos said.

He leaned toward more infrastructure spending, though other council members have pointed to other priorities. City Manager Pam Reece said there are always more needs than dollars available, but it will be up to the council to make the call.

"It could be one project taking up that whole allocation which could potentially be a stormwater project at Broadway and Beaufort, or it could be several minor projects or some behavioral health spending. We don't really know," said Reece.

That last area is what council member Kevin McCarthy put in a plug for.

"Looking at the growing mental health need in our community, more dollars to do more things is good in that category," he said.

Council member Kathleen Lorenz prefers to focus on a backlog of evictions she says has reached crisis proportions. Lorenz said most housing assistance grant money related to the pandemic is nearly gone. She said the town could make a move to help reduce what she believes will be a ramp up in move-out orders in the new year.

"We could find this housing issue at the affordable level become something that is pretty apparent across several sectors, not only disruptive to families and school children, but it could become a law enforcement issue as you have more people on the streets. Certainly, it is a social service issue," said Lorenz.

Even when the decision where to spend ARPA money is made, there may be challenges in bringing projects to completion. Koos said the town's project operations also will be impacted by soaring inflation rates, and the cost of projects will depend on having the workforce to complete town projects and the ability to complete city projects in a timely manner. He said he expected some projects to take longer because of those factors.

“We’ve got more to work with because of better sales taxes that we’re seeing, so it’s going to be tricky to get all these projects done in a timeline that we’re very used to doing,” Koos said. “Now I tend to agree with the economists who say a lot of this inflation is still based on logistics disruption and that it will smooth out probably (in the) first quarter or second quarter of next year.”

Managing COVID-19 cases

With lower winter temperatures hitting the Midwest and holiday travel returning, Koos encouraged the community to be cautious and take COVID-19 safety precautions.

“As much as I dislike it (masks), along with everybody else, it does seem to make a difference,” Koos said. “I can’t say enough if you’re not vaccinated; get vaccinated because we’re seeing across the country and talking to medical professionals in our community, the people that are the most ill from COVID and ending up in the hospital are unvaccinated.”

Throughout much of the pandemic, Koos convened a group of community leaders to discuss safety measures and the impact of COVID-19 on the community. Over time, the frequency of that the group meeting has met tailed off.

The group met six weeks ago after concerns with the rising rates, and Koos said it was a wake-up call from the medical community during the discussion given the increases in cases.

Koos said with recent increasing number of COVID-19 cases, the group is on standby, but will reconvene if cases continue increasing at current rates.

“It’s really to get everybody on a common page and understanding of what we have to do as a community," he said. "It’s helpful to hear from business people, from restaurant owners, from hospitality people, form medical people, university, K-12 schools to get a broader conversation, so we have an idea of what’s going on in the community and can react kind of in our own areas.”

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
Jordan Mead is a reporting intern at WGLT. She joined the station in 2021.