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Normal calls for $13.4M flat property tax levy, decrease in tax rate

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Normal is calling for a flat property tax levy just shy of $13.4 million — but with a twist: Leaders say the town also proposes slightly decreasing the 2022 property tax rate by about 10 cents.

That’s because higher property values are driving up assessments. So, the proposed balancing act allows the town to take advantage of the current strong revenue sources, while offsetting a negative impact to taxpayers, according to Normal leaders.

After hearing about the idea, the Normal Town Council at its meeting Monday night authorized staff to prepare the levy ordinance proposal with that approach.

A vote is planned for December.

“This property tax levy is used primarily to fund our retirement and pension costs, and the Normal Public Library,” said City Manager Pam Reece. She said one of the town’s goals is to fully fund pensions by the year 2040. The town also will be using money from its general fund to meet the pension obligation, she said.

Also at Monday’s meeting, the council paved the way for the Normal Police Department to access a $500,000 state grant; awarded contracts for a Children’s Discovery Museum project, and a Main Street sewer rehab; and renewed the town’s employee group insurance plans.

Flat property tax levy paired with tax rate decrease

The council votes in December on whether to levy nearly $13.4 million for fiscal 2023-2024, which is expected to bring the property tax rate down to $1.36 per $100 of equalized assessed value (EAV).

Normal Finance Director Andrew Huhn told the council Monday this formula would allow the town to take advantage of the past year’s growth.

The town’s tax rate is based on the EAV and town budgetary needs. The town’s estimated EAV for 2022 is expected to be nearly $983.5 million. That’s about 7.25% more than last year, said Huhn.

“You have a levy that’s the same as last year, the increasing EAV, and then the rate drops accordingly,” Huhn said of the plan.

The estimated tax rate could dip from $1.45 per $100 of EAV to $1.36. Because of higher assessments, Normal leaders anticipate that would result in a similar, or lower, tax bill for most.

For example, the owner of an $180,00 home in Normal last year paid about $815 to Normal on the property tax bill. Leaders say that same homeowner would see a similar bill for 2022.

The levy has a three-year period: The proposed levy is set in the fall of 2022. Revenue is collected in 2023, and then used for fiscal 2023-2024.

State grant could buy drones, body armor for NPD

Earlier this year, Normal leaders learned the state would set aside a $500,000 community development and violence prevention grant for the town.

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity grant is part of a statewide effort to reduce crime. So, the funding will be channeled through the Normal Police Department, said Reece, adding it's a one-time grant.

One requirement is submitting an application detailing how the money would be spent. So, at Monday’s meeting, the council authorized the submission. First, the group heard details from Normal Police Chief Stephen Petrilli about the spending.

The chief told the council his proposal calls for funding four areas — technology, enhanced protective equipment, officer training and community education.

Funding might cover the cost of drones, digital forensics tools, and improved bulletproof vests, for starters, he said. Other ideas call for trailer surveillance cameras, and a rapid-response trailer for disasters and other events.

The state has a vetting process about such proposals, said Petrilli. So, he can’t say for sure what would be approved.

Mayor Chris Koos called the technology tools “beyond nice-to-haves,” but rather tools to help police work.

Bid rejected for repairs to historic properties

The council also voted Monday to reject a bid for repairs to the exteriors of three historic properties in town.

Repairs to masonry, roof and siding, as well as some demolition projects were sought for Sprague’s Super Service Station, The Ecology Action Center’s Hewett House, and Broadview Mansion.

Only one bid came in, though, and it was close to $1 million — more than double the project budget of $470,000.

Town staff reviewed the project plans, and decided they were sound. So, rather than simply reject, and rebid, they opted for a different approach. Now, the plan is to start with $470,000 as a sticking point, and see how much of the proposed work can be done with that amount.

Contract triples for work at kids’ museum

The council also OK’d a roughly $460,000 contract with Felmley-Dickerson to set the stage for the spring installation of an updated climber exhibit at Children’s Discovery Museum in Uptown. The Bloomington-based company submitted the lowest of two bids. The other was $70,000 higher.

The project’s focus is preliminary construction of steel structural work, platform and flooring, and railings prior to the Luckey Climber company installing a climber vertically in the museum entrance.

Felmley-Dickerson’s work is being funded by a state grant and museum foundation contributions. The council previously approved contracts with Luckey for installation, and with Core Construction for demolition of the old climber.

Felmley-Dickerson’s piece covers steel structural work, as well as platform and flooring modifications and rails. Originally, this step was projected to cost $135,000.

But the price of steel has skyrocketed since 2020, tripling the cost estimate since then. While an Illinois Department of Natural Resources grant will cover that original cost, the museum’s private foundation will fund the remainder, accounting for nearly three-quarters of the cost.

On Monday, the council OK’d the process for the town to first pay the contractor, and then will be reimbursed by the foundation and grant money.

Sanitary sewer system work OK’d

The council awarded Goodfield-based Hoerr Construction a $432,000 contract for a major sewer project on Main Street.

The sanitary sewer lining rehab begins at the intersection of Harris and Main streets, focusing on an 800-foot stretch of Main Street sewer line reaching just west of the Union Pacific railroad near Sugar Creek.. That pipe has played an integral role in the town’s sewer system for more than a century.

It’s part of the sewer master plan approved in 2017. Hoerr’s was the lowest of four bids. The others ranged from about $730,000 to $950,000. This project is part of a five-year capital project using the sewer fund.

Audit finds town’s finances in good shape

The town presents a comprehensive annual financial report to show the flip side of its annual budget, Normal finance administrators say. Whereas a budget projects and plans, the annual report looks back on the previous year’s budget, and what actually happened with spending.

The state requires an annual audit of that report. On Monday, the council voted to accept the audit. First, Huhn, and Jamie Wilkie, a partner of the Lauterbach & Amen CPA firm, discussed the process.

For nearly three decades, every year the town’s audit has earned a certificate of achievement of excellence in financial reporting, said Huhn.

In council materials, town financial administrators noted Normal is among just 10% of U.S. municipalities obtaining a AAA rating for its finances.

In other business, the council:

  • Renewed the town’s employee  group insurance benefits program. Most employee health plans will see a 7% premium increase, effective Jan. 1. But dental and life rates stay flat.
  • Authorized the final plat to subdivide about two acres of Armstrong property. The owner doesn’t plan to sell the lots now. But because the space is within 1.5 miles of Normal town limits, the plat is legally required.


Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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