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Prevailing wage dialogue expands in advance of Bloomington council vote on apartment project

 Billy Tyus
Billy Tyus is a deputy city manager for Bloomington.

A Bloomington City Council discussion about whether to apply prevailing wage rules to a private development if there are government incentives at stake is spreading beyond the apartment project in question.

That's according to deputy city manager Billy Tyus, who said in a WGLT interview the ongoing dialogue is not just about wages.

"It's about what people are paid, for sure. But it's also about training opportunities and outside of this project what could a plan or a program look like," said Tyus.

The developer of the proposed $18 million upscale apartment building on the site of the former Coachman Motel has said the project would not be feasible if he is forced to pay prevailing wages.

"I think it's a misnomer that developers don't want to pay fair wages. In a market that is as tight as this in terms of employment, when you are building you have to," said Tyus.

The prevailing wage statute usually applies only to projects originated by public bodies.

The project in question is located inside a Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, district, and would get property tax breaks for a period of years as an incentive to place the project in a blighted area. The site just off the downtown is the location of the former Coachman Motel that was razed years ago after it became an eyesore.

Tyus said whatever consensus emerges from council discussions could have broader applications.

"There's a lot of building happening here now. There will be lots more building happening. One of the goals would, for sure, be how can we do something that would be helpful on projects going forward regardless of what those are, as it relates to labor," said Tyus.

Discussions are ongoing on the issue that scheduled to return to city council on June 12, Tyus said.

ARPA grants

Pandemic relief-funded grant awards could begin as early as this week. That is about a month after the application period began.

"Those requests come in on a first-come, first-served basis," said Tyus. "We review applications based on the federal and local guidelines and then we will begin to make allocations. There are not-for-profit grants that are being provided and business rehab grants as well."

Grant applications from nonprofit organizations are coming in, he said. That sector is eligible for several larger awards of $150,000-$200,000 as well as smaller grants. Tyus said there are federal guidelines that have been published and the proposals must meet city priorities as well, according to comprehensive and strategic plans the city has created over the years.

"We were looking for applications serving low- to moderate-income individuals with incomes at or below 300% of the federal poverty line; things like homeless services, senior services, food services, health services focusing on health disparities, mental health services, workforce development, job training, and issues of addiction," said Tyus.

There's also money available for both affordable housing rehab, and for broader programs, said Tyus, adding the affordable housing part of the package addresses low income and underserved constituencies.

Tyus said the city has been transparent in the application documents available in print and online, noting the city also been talking with several applicants in advance of document submissions to clarify some elements of the program.

City leaders felt first-come, first-served awards would be the fairest process given the wide range of priorities identified in city plans and federal guidelines, he said, adding the process does not rank city priorities. He said it's fair because each of the the categories is important.

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