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Gleason hesitant to abolish vehicle use tax in Bloomington

City of Bloomington
Bloomington City Manager Tim Gleason.

The city manager of Bloomington hopes the city council will not be too quick to eliminate the vehicle use tax.

The sales tax on Bloomington residents who buy vehicles inside and outside the city raises about $1.3 million per year. Normal Town Council recently eliminated the tax, and some Bloomington council members suggest the city do the same.

City Manager Tim Gleason said he wants to educate council members about what the money raised can pay for.

"The hydraulic monitoring study will come before the new council. We have the system-wide improvement for the water infrastructure of the City of Bloomington. We have the downtown streetscape study. We have several other initiatives I would not want to hastily eliminate," Gleason said on WGLT's Sound Ideas.

Gleason said he wants to brief the new city council on upcoming initiatives before a decision is make on the vehicle use tax. And there are ways to direct the money that fit the origin of the revenue.

"We have the ability to pledge this money to asphalt and concrete, to our roads," said Gleason.

Under an administrative intergovernmental agreement, the Town of Normal collected and distributed the tax for both municipalities. With the end of the tax in Normal, Bloomington will take over collection of its own tax. Gleason said the finance department already is working on procedures.

Gleason doesn't think there would be an incentive for dealers to move their operations to Normal because the tax does not affect dealers. Bloomington residents pay the tax no matter where they buy a vehicle.

Homeless campers

In 2021, Bloomington Police evicted a group of unhoused people from an encampment on West Market Street where landowners wanted to build a Panda Express restaurant.

Recently, police told people living in tents just off the Constitution Trail near downtown Bloomington to move along. The two situations raise the question whether there is a more permanent solution to homelessness when people can't go to existing shelters because they are full, or shelters won't accept particular people because of past experience or challenges in their life.

Gleason said he does not know what that a permanent solution might look like.

“I think it's just the capacity within the community to be able to respond to this increasing need. Often times, that falls to the police department,” said Gleason. “While we get the outcry of people wanting to help asking why can't we just let them stay here, they're at least getting some of the resources Home Sweet Home mission offers. We also get complaints on the other side where it gets scary. A couple in this encampment have been aggressive.”

Gleason demurred when asked whether the city should keep a bank of rooms available when shelters are full, or there are other reasons unhoused people can’t be in a shelter.

“You can take exhaustive steps to offer assistance. And if they refuse, there's nothing you can do. And that is the case as far as getting some of the people in this current encampment into temporary housing,” he said.

Gleason also distinguished the Panda Express encampment two years ago from the current one near the Home Sweet Home Mission.

“This is public right of way. At Panda Express, that was private property, and until the property owner requests our assistance to move them off of his or her property, there's not much that we can do,” said Gleason.

Downtown Coliseum

The city manager said the city is deliberately delaying efforts to secure new naming rights to Grossinger Motors Arena, though he said prospects for a deal are good.

“We want to be able to market our Coliseum appropriately to some of the businesses in the community that have expressed a desire to have naming rights," said Gleason. "I want to have my Coliseum house in order before we really pursue the naming rights change and that day is coming.”

Gleason said there is a major show on April 19 at the arena featuring rapper Wiz Khalifa. He said there will be periodic events of "opportunity" like that one, but a full schedule is likely to take shape for 2024 — not the fall and winter of this year. In February, the Peoria Rivermen played a hockey game at the arena when there was a scheduling conflict at their home venue, the Peoria Civic Center. Gleason said it was either the most or second most attended hockey game played at the arena.

Gleason said he believes the Rivermen will work out a long-term contract in Peoria, but it would be nice to have the team make its home in Bloomington.

“We know that City of Peoria and the Civic Center is very interested in keeping the Rivermen, now 40 years in that location, and completely understand that, but if there was an opportunity, yes,” said Gleason.

Editor's note: This story has been changed to reflect the fact that Bloomington residents pay a vehicle use tax no matter where they buy a vehicle.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.