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McLean County delays resolution to oppose Central Illinois Regional Airport's tax plan

The Central Illinois Regional Airport.
WGLT file
County staff drafted a resolution in opposition to the Central Illinois Regional Airport's proposed tax shift. It asserts that the majority of economic benefit the airport generates is within the boundaries of Bloomington-Normal, where the Bloomington-Normal Airport Authority’s taxing authority is currently limited.

McLean County government has delayed a vote on whether to formally oppose Central Illinois Regional Airport's plan to expand its tax base to the entire county.

A county board committee on Monday also found its first partisan divide on an issue since the board was split evenly between Democrats and Republicans in the November 2022 election.

Airport tax

County staff drafted a resolution in opposition to CIRA’s proposed tax shift. It asserts the majority of economic benefit the airport generates is within the boundaries of Bloomington-Normal, where the Bloomington-Normal Airport Authority’s taxing authority is currently limited.

“If this expansion takes place, there would be no additional representation of these disenfranchised property owners,” the resolution said of those living outside the Twin Cities who would pay the additional tax.

Alan Sender chairs the Bloomington-Normal Airport Authority. He addressed the county board's Executive Committee on Monday.

“I would say it’s rather extraordinary and perhaps unprecedented for one local governmental unit to expressly attempt to oppose another governmental unit’s effort to set its policy,” Sender said.

Sender said Bloomington-Normal property owners would see a 33% drop in the airport portion of their tax bill under the plan, noting the owner of a $175,000 home would drop from $83 to $55 per year. The average homeowner outside the Twin Cities would pay about $55 per year more. He said farmers would pay $61 more per year in property taxes for every 100 acres of farmland.

“We have said publicly, and we say it again here, that the airport authority is not looking to increase its tax receipts with this legislation,” Sender said.

Sender told the county committee the airport authority wants to expand its tax base to help it respond to future crises and to have the flexibility to take advantage of unexpected development opportunities.

Sender noted the airport authority first sought to expand its tax base a decade ago, when the federal government proposed cutting funding for the airport’s traffic control tower, which Sender said would have cost the airport $800,000 annually.

“The alternative, which would have been closing the tower, would have meant the end of CIRA as a commercial airport,” Sender said.

A bill has been introduced in the state legislature that would allow the airport authority to expand its tax base. The proposal, sponsored by state Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, awaits a hearing. The measure also would allow the County Board chair to appoint at-large members from anywhere in the county.

Sender said similar legislation has been used to expand tax bases for airports in Peoria, Crawford and DuPage counties.

The committee voted 6-2 to postpone a vote until its June meeting.

Lexington Mayor Spencer Johansen, who heads the McLean County Mayors Association, raised concerns about the bill when he previously spoke with WGLT.

Sender noted about one-fourth of the airport’s 185,000 passengers over the most recent 12-month period were from Bloomington-Normal. Residents from the rest of the county made up 3%. The rest were from outside McLean County.

Rules changes

The Executive Committee split along party lines on a measure that would have allowed county board members to participate in its monthly meetings remotely if they have a work conflict.

Currently, board members can request remote access if they have an illness or disability, a family or other emergency or are tending to county board business.

Without discussion, the board voted 4-4 on the measure. County board chair John McIntyre and fellow Republicans Chuck Erickson, Catherine Metsker and Susan Schafer voted "no." Democrats Lea Cline, Elizabeth Johnston, Val Laymon and Jim Rogal supported the measure that can still be brought to the full board for vote.

The committee narrowly approved a measure to ease the requirement for requesting to appear before the board. Currently, anyone who wants to address the board must submit a request at least two business days before the meeting. The plan would reduce that to 24 hours, the current notice requirement to speak about any item on that meeting’s agenda.

Metsker joined the committee’s four Democrats in supporting that proposal.

The full county board is expected to consider the request at its meeting on Thursday.

Corrected: April 11, 2023 at 9:50 AM CDT
This story had incorrectly reported the tax plan's impact on McLean County farmland.
Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.