Candidate Questionnaire: Karyn Smith
These responses were submitted by Karyn Smith, a candidate for Normal Town Council. The questionnaire was prepared by GLT in partnership with the League of Women Voters of McLean County. See more candidate responses.
What in your personal and professional background has prepared you for this position? Include any experience serving in local government.
I have a strong financial background. I graduated with an MBA with a concentration in accounting, worked professionally to provide financial feasibility studies to diverse clients, provided financial planning services to individuals and businesses, and have taught accounting at the college level since 2006.
My family responsibilities have prevented me from serving in local government until now when my youngest child is graduating high school. Throughout Bella's and Carlos' school years, I have been a tireless advocate for them to ensure that they received educational services appropriate to their needs. I can bring that persistence to my work on the council to work tirelessly for local citizens to have their voices represented as the town carries out its plans for the future.
As for actual government experience, I did serve as treasurer when Frank McCloskey first ran for U.S. Congress for Indiana's 8th district in 1982.
Since 2000, the town has embarked on a massive redevelopment of Uptown Normal. What do you think of what’s been done so far? What should be done in Uptown in the future?
I think the completed Uptown development has enhanced the town. I am concerned that vacancies exist in the retail space in Uptown One and the street level of the garage adjacent to Heartland Bank, and that the residential apartments in Uptown One are not at full occupancy. [Did the building at the corner of College and Linden ever find a tenant to replace the Cosi restaurant that vacated that space several years ago or should that space also be listed as vacant and included in this inventory of underutilized commercial space in Uptown Normal?] I would like to pause further progress on the Trail East project until an audit of these completed projects is done to compare their original feasibility projections to the actual costs at completion and current operating results. My concern is that the forecasts used to support these projects were overly optimistic and that the assumptions used to support the Trail East project may also be overly optimistic. I also question why Normal is moving forward on additional commercial space while these completed buildings have vacancies. Until a financial audit can confirm that the feasibility studies are solid even under adverse economic conditions, I think additional Uptown development should be paused.
I am also frustrated that the Town Council appears to be oblivious to opposition to the focus on Uptown Development. Town Council meetings are conducted in a very efficient manner, but too often, it appears to me that the majority of decisions are made in advance of the meeting. Reports are posted on-line and only cursory summaries are provided at the Council meetings. Seldom are notices provided before the meeting to alert citizens of links where a complete report can be accessed. Normal does not host town hall meetings to provide ordinary citizens an opportunity have a complete presentation delivered on studies and plans that become part of the Town Council agenda. I would like to see Normal provide an opportunity to receive email alerts about reports and council agenda items in advance of Council meetings. I have begun receiving this information since becoming a candidate, but I believe the town should provide this opportunity to any citizen who wants to be informed of local government activities.
When is it appropriate for local government to use incentives to achieve an economic development priority? How would you make those decisions?
My first preference is that government NOT get involved in business incentives. If a business cannot survive without these incentives, I question whether that is a sound business. If it is desirable to attract a new business to our community, I agree with Stan Nord on this matter: government incentives should be reserved for businesses that bring in revenue dollars from customers who live outside our local community and those businesses are not simply cannibalizing existing businesses in Normal, Bloomington, or McLean County. Too often, we are competing with our neighbors rather than working together for the greater good of our communities. When our first instinct is to offer an incentive, I think we downplay the resources we do have as a very livable, family-friendly community.
If faced with a challenging budget situation, what would be your approach to balancing taxes and fees against preserving or expanding programs and services?
I would like to focus attention on the town's balance sheet—what assets does the town own and are we receiving market rate compensation for those properties? Are any properties sitting vacant that could be marketed to tenants for rental income or sold to private owners? Are tax assessments consistent for individuals and businesses? One idea I would like to propose is an audit of properties adjacent to the Constitution Trail. I have discovered that my own home does NOT include the easement adjacent to the Trail and neither do three of the ten lots surrounding me. If Normal could develop a systematic proposal to sell these easements to property owners, this would bring new dollars into Normal's treasury and increase the tax base. This could decrease the town's maintenance expenses as Normal would no longer have responsibility to service the easement properties that are transferred to private owners.
What new programs or initiatives do you think the town should pursue?
I would like to see Normal make a new Normal library a higher priority. This resource serves a majority of town residents over Uptown businesses.
I would also like to see Normal, Bloomington, and McLean County open discussions with State Farm about the possibility of State Farm transferring the State Farm recreational park to our community. State Farm is getting push back from its other hubs over providing this perk to employees at corporate headquarters and nothing comparable for employees at these other locations. Since State Farm has downsized, they have had to tighten security at the gate to ensure that only current employees are entering the park. With these challenges, State Farm might be open to parting with this property. The park has a wonderful water area, mini-golf, ball fields, tennis and volleyball courts, soccer fields, ball diamonds, and playground and picnic areas. This could become a regional attraction for a larger number of local residents compared to the proposed soccer development.
What should be the town’s role in expanding affordable housing opportunities?
Normal should provide support and assistance within existing federal and state grant programs to build new housing and rehab existing structures to make it available to residents seeking affordable housing. As ISU is now considering developing new on-campus housing, more units may become available off-campus for non-student use. Recent projections speculated that rental housing might experience occupancy rates of 85% or lower.
Do you think the town needs a full-time communications manager and/or economic development coordinator? Why or why not?
I do believe that the town needs a full-time communications manager to assist in connecting with local citizens about government reports, council agenda information, and town initiatives.
The economic development coordinator should focus on finding tenants for the vacant commercial space in completed Uptown developments.
Do you support either physical expansion of the Normal Public Library at its current site or construction of a new, larger building? Why or why not?
I do support the construction of a new, larger Normal Public Library. A library is a valuable community resource. It provides a central gathering place for sharing books, media, and meeting spaces. I think this project has a larger audience than either Uptown development or the soccer complex that has been discussed.
Do you think the town should offer up money, land, or other incentives to support development of a multisport complex in McLean County? Why or not?
No. This development serves a small minority of local citizens who participate in this sport. I am concerned that this would become another Coliseum that would continually operate at a loss. (I have also heard that the primary attraction of this project is its potential to attract visitors to local hotels that are experiencing occupancy challenges.)
If we are able to obtain the State Farm recreational park, I think this park could provide the practice fields to replace the airport area fields. I don't see the need to develop a multisport complex.