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Normal council takes first steps toward banning future smoke shops in Uptown, OKs increases for water and sewer rates

Mayor Chris Koos (right)
Jack Podlesnik
Normal Mayor Chris Koos speaks during the Normal Town Council meeting on Monday, March 4, 2024.

The Town of Normal is one step closer to prohibiting future smoke shops from opening in Uptown. The town council voted to initiate a zoning amendment regarding tobacco establishments at its meeting Monday night.

Two council members expressed dissent prior to the vote. They were Andy Byars and Scott Preston. Their concerns with the zoning amendment revolved specifically around the action of recommending a ban of all future tobacco shops to the Normal Planning Commission. Byars thought it was too strong at the offset.

“I just struggle with no tobacco shops being that starting point. I think there’s a lot of room for conversation here,” said Byars.

Other council members and town staff said that the initiation of the amendment doesn’t guarantee a ban of future smoke shops, rather that the planning commission will have a chance to study the issue further and open the issue up to the public.

In a memo sent to council members before the meeting, town staff expressed concerns over the abundance of tobacco, cannabis and smoking accessories available in Uptown, saying “the proliferation of these establishments in Uptown would run counter to the purpose and policy of the zoning district.”

Byars and Preston were the only two votes against the move.

Water and sewer rate increases

A 2% increase for water and sewer rates in Normal will take effect April 1. The council unanimously agreed on the rate hike.

The rate increase is standard practice for the town. Mayor Chris Koos said during the meeting that small, incremental rate increases over time have been the motto since he was first on the council in 2001.

Council member Kevin McCarthy, though, said it may soon be the time to ramp up those hikes.

“I’m fully behind a 2% [increase.] I’m gonna say out loud on a microphone, it is not enough for what’s coming for our water system in the future. It will not be enough,” said McCarthy.

While desiring a greater increase in water and sewer rates, McCarthy said voting to approve the 2% increase was “the responsible thing to do.”

Starting in April, the monthly water fee per 1,000 gallons consumed will go from $6.83 to $6.97 and the system maintenance fee will go from $6.23 to $6.35. The sewer fee per 1,000 gallons consumed will rise from $3.07 to $3.13 and the system maintenance fee will uptick from $4.25 to $4.34 a month. The increases will bring in an additional estimated $210,000 for the Normal water fund, and $98,000 for the sewer fund.

Scott Preston motioned to create a five-year review plan of water and sewer rates. Every five years, the council would analyze the efficacy of the rate increases and open them up for public discussion. It passed, with Kevin McCarthy being the sole “no” vote.

Operating and capital investment budget

The $223 million budget for fiscal year 2024-25 was also approved at Monday night’s council meeting. It was approved unanimously, with multiple council members praising town staff for their work.

The budget marks a near 7% increase over the current spending plan and reflects increased tax revenue collections.

Preston approved of the town’s support for police and fire.

“With this budget, as well as last year, if my math is correct, the town will put an additional $9 million into the police and fire pension system, above and beyond what a regular contribution would be. I think that is a testament not only to how much we value our public safety workers and their future and the future of their families, but also the future financial wellbeing of the town of Normal,” said Preston.

Byars praised the town’s holistic approach.

“There’s a lot of great things happening from a broader, fiscal front with the town this year. We’re paying down debt, we’re investing in our infrastructure, we’re ensuring increased funding for our pensions, and we’re also providing some property tax relief along the way,” said Byars. “I think there’s a lot of great things going on this year, and I appreciate everything everyone’s done to get there.”

The budget includes $3 million more in town contributions to police and fire pension funds, $2 million set aside to support economic development, an additional $11.3 million in transportation spending (including street resurfacing), and additional town staff positions, according to a draft released ahead of the meeting.

A 3.35% cost of living adjustment to the salary schedule for non-contract employees is also accounted for in the budget.

Pedestrian loitering

Loitering in medians of busy intersections in Normal is now prohibited. Such intersections include Greenbriar Drive and Fort Jesse Road, and Greenbriar Drive and Shepard Road.

The unanimous approval follows a memo from town staff showing concern about vehicular accidents due to people loitering in medians.

The passed ordinance specifically targets medians where pedestrians are not designed to walk there. So medians with crosswalks don’t apply.

In other business, the council:

  • Awarded the bid for water main and service line materials to Water Products Company from Bloomington.
  • Authorized a contract with Luci Creative for design concepts plans for the Children’s Discovery Museum’s second floor. It shall not exceed $182,500.
  • Passed a resolution to award a contract to J.G. Stewart Contractors Inc. for 2024 miscellaneous sidewalk improvements. It’s worth $885,975.
  • Reapproved the final plat of the third addition to trails on Sunset Lake.
Jack Podlesnik was a reporter and announcer at WGLT. He joined the station in 2021.