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Bloomington council OKs plan for waste disposal site, rejects proposal for D.C. lobbyist

The Bloomington City Council meets Monday, Jan. 23, 2023, at the downtown Government Center.
Michele Steinbacher
The Bloomington City Council meets Monday, Jan. 23, 2023, at the downtown Government Center.

Henson Disposal’s proposal to build a waste transfer station south of the city advanced Monday night, with the Bloomington City Council approving a preliminary plan and agreeing to extend sewer and water mains to the property.

The nearly 41-acre tract is just outside city limits, at the corner of East Hamilton Road and South Bunn Street. Before moving forward, McLean County and the state need to sign off on the project, too.

Also at the meeting, the council adopted a priorities list for a new Bloomington strategic plan, approved the John M. Scott Health Care Trust’s decision to award more than $700,000 in grants, and rejected a proposal to hire a Washington, D.C-based lobbying firm.

Henson Disposal proposal

The council OK’d the preliminary plan for Henson Disposal on a unanimous vote, as part of its consent agenda.

The plan outlines how Henson, owned by TKnTK, will create six lots for the property south of Bloomington, with one lot for the waste transfer station. Garbage trucks and other vehicles would access the station via South Bunn Street and Hamilton Road.

Currently, a recycling facility and concrete plant are on part of the property.

Henson Disposal proposes building a waste transfer station just south of Bloomington.
City of Bloomington
Henson Disposal proposes building a waste transfer station just south of Bloomington.

McLean County needs to OK the site for the transfer facility, and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency decides whether to issue a permit for Henson’s plan. Bloomington won’t annex the land, but would retain extraterritorial jurisdiction.

The council also approved a utility agreement that provides Bloomington water and sewer service.

Under that agreement, Henson will pay for main extensions. Water and sewer rates will be twice the rates for outside water and sewer customers. The company will pay the city a host fee of $1 per ton of municipal waste handled. Bloomington staff estimates that likely will be somewhere between $75,000 and $90,000 per year.

The city also will be reimbursed up to $50,000 for professional fees relating to the agreement.

Strategic plans report approved

The council voted 8-1 to adopt a reportthat will serve as the building block for Bloomington's new strategic plan.

Ward 2’s Donna Boelen was the only “no” vote, citing opposition to the report's inclusion of objectives she doesn't believe are the city's purview.

Approval of the strategic planning report means forward momentum, Deputy City Manager Billy Tyus told the council.

“The next steps are for us to work together as a staff, and work with you” on how to implement and develop the actual strategic plan, he said.

The resulting document will identify more-detailed objectives, and prioritize which projects to initialize. The plan also will outline logistics such as frequency of strategic plan reviews, said Tyus.

City Manager Tim Gleason was absent from Monday’s meeting.

The report stems from a council retreat in September, where city leaders drafted six priorities:

  • Improve infrastructure
  • Revitalize older communities
  • Emphasize economic development
  • Promote housing diversity
  • Improve efficiency in service delivery
  • Enhance public safety and well-being

Council nixes proposal to hire lobbyists

In another matter, the council narrowly rejected a proposed three-year, $270,000 contract with Washington, D.C.-lobbying firm Thorn Run Partners.

Voting against the proposal were: Grant Walch, Ward 1; Sheila Montney, Ward 3; Nick Becker, Ward 5; De Urban, Ward 6; and Tom Crumpler, Ward 9.

Before the vote, Tyus pitched the agreement as one that would help Bloomington improve its foothold in D.C — as decisions on federal spending and other legislation develop.

He said it’s common for municipalities to enlist such lobbyists, and pointed to neighboring communities success on that path, including Normal's.

Thorn Run has a proven track record of securing federal funding for areas the council has prioritized, said Tyus. Road infrastructure, electric vehicle infrastructure, and safe water are among those, he said.

In the nearly half-hour discussion that followed, a division emerged among council members, ending with the narrow rejection.

“It just doesn’t set well with me that this would be our priority,” said Montney, arguing Bloomington already is part of trade organizations that lobby on the city’s behalf such as Illinois Municipal League, and League of Cities.

Walch said voters elect state and U.S. representatives to act on behalf of Bloomington in D.C., so he disagreed with paying for a lobbying firm.

Becker agreed: "I find it ludicrous that we have to spend money for this," he said before asking Tyus if he was confident $90,000 would come back each year in grants.

Tyus said based on city staff research, he would bet that dollar-amount would be recouped. But he stressed the benefits also included advocacy, and pushing for Bloomington's priorities.

Ward 4’s Julie Emig, among four members who supported the proposal, thought Thorn Run's expertise and daily D.C. presence, would help Bloomington build pointed relationships and networks to secure federal funding for the city.

Ward 8's Jeff Crabill also voted "yes." He agreed with Becker's sentiment Bloomington shouldn't have to hire a D.C.-based lobbyist, but he called the cost a "necessary evil" in a competitive climate.

"I don't think we step up to the plate as well as we should, unless we have a federal lobbyist to help us," he said.

“Some would argue this is something we could do internally. It absolutely is not,” said Tyus, saying Bloomington would continue to face missed opportunities without such a lobbying contract.

Council moves forward with Scott Trust awards

The city doesn’t fund the health care grants. But because it manages the trust, the council needed to OK this year’s more than $700,000 in grants.

It voted 8-0 Monday to release the funds, with Ward 6’s De Urban not voting due to a conflict of interest.

Commisson chairperson Karen Stipp told the council the trust's grants fall into three categories — operating grants; community health priorities; and emergent and emergency needs.

Community Health Care Clinic and McLean County Center for Human Services both will receive $125,000 grants for FY24 operations. The rest of the grants fall into the second and third categories. Those grants each are between $15,000 and $45,000.

In other business, the council:

  • Approved a $110,000 contract with Tyler Technologies for its annual MUNIS software agreement.
  • Heard a Fiscal Year 2023 financial summary, from Bloomington finance chief Scott Rathbun.
  • Recognized the local chapter of nonprofit Hindu group Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), and its 18th annual Health for Humanity Yoga Awareness Program, Jan. 14-29.

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