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Illinois Senate passes McLean County airport bill, sending it to governor's desk

The Central Illinois Regional Airport.
WGLT file
The Central Illinois Regional Airport. Currently, only those who live in Bloomington-Normal city limits pay property taxes to the airport. After this change, everyone in McLean County will pay them.

The Illinois Senate on Friday approved a bill that changes who pays property taxes to support the Central Illinois Regional Airport, sending it to the governor’s desk for a signature.

The bill’s final passage caps a yearslong effort by CIRA leaders to expand the airport’s taxing boundaries. Currently, only those who live within Bloomington-Normal city limits pay property taxes to the airport. After this change, everyone in McLean County will pay them. It’s expected to raise the overall tax bill for rural McLean County residents but lower them for those living in Bloomington-Normal.

The bill faced opposition from many living in those rural communities, as well as the McLean County Mayors Association and the McLean County Farm Bureau. Airport leaders say it will allow more financial flexibility in case of federal funding cuts, or an economic development opportunity, and better reflects that CIRA serves the entire county, not just Bloomington-Normal.

In Friday’s vote, state Sen. Dave Koehler, a Democrat from Peoria who represents parts of Bloomington-Normal, voted “yes.” He’s also a sponsor of the bill. Republican Sens. Sally Turner and Tom Bennett, who also represent parts of McLean County, voted against it again.

The Illinois House approved it on Wednesday. Democrat Sharon Chung of Bloomington voted “yes.” Opposing the bill were all four House Republicans who represent parts of McLean County: Dan Caulkins, Dennis Tipsword, Bill Hauter, and Jason Bunting. The Republicans argued the issue should have been brought to a referendum, not to Springfield.

Airport Authority board makeup

The current Bloomington-Normal Airport Authority will be replaced by a Central Illinois Regional Airport Authority, with a seven-member board.

An approved change to the bill requires that three of the board's seven members be from outside Bloomington-Normal. The McLean County Board chair would appoint two members who live in municipalities of 5,000 or less and one resident from an unincorporated area of the county. The mayors of Bloomington and Normal each get two appointees, as they do currently.

The McLean County Farm Bureau lobbied against the bill. Assistant manager Anna Ziegler said the three rural board appointments can at least provide some balance.

“It makes us feel marginally better,” Ziegler said, noting that Bloomington-Normal’s share of the board would still hold the majority.

Lexington Mayor Spencer Johansen was among the vocal opponents of the bill, as chair of the McLean County Mayors Association. He said he was disappointed in the final outcome, especially the party-line votes.

Johansen said the amendment was a "partial victory," as it increases rural representation.

"It's not what we wanted, but it's not a perfect world either," Johansen said.

Ziegler cited the Illinois Airport Authority Act in saying the Bloomington-Normal Airport Authority should have brought the request to the voters, rather than going through the state legislature.

What happens next

It’s unclear when this change will be reflected on your tax bill.

It’s expected to take months to complete the processes necessary at the federal, state, and local levels to create and seat a new Airport Authority board, and to develop and approve all the policies and complete all the other paperwork, including the tax levy, said Alan Sender, chair of the current Bloomington-Normal Airport Authority.

As for the tax levy, you might see the impact on the tax bill that will be due a year from now if those processes get done before the end of 2023, Sender said. If it takes longer, you might not see the impact until the 2025 property tax bills, he said. McLean County Treasurer Rebecca McNeil, the county’s tax collector, referred questions to CIRA leaders. County officials will not know the details until the final version is shared, McNeil said.

Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.