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Koos: Normal 'Cautious' But In Good Financial Position

Koos and Reece on the dais
Joe Deacon
Mayor Chris Koos and City Manager Pamela Reece prepare for Monday's Normal Town Council meeting.

While noting that most municipalities continue to face financial challenges, Mayor Chris Koos says the Town of Normal is in “good shape.”

“We currently hold a AAA bond rating by the rating agency (Fitch), so they think our fiscal house is in pretty good order,” Koos said Monday after the Town Council unanimously approved amendments to the operating and capital investment budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year.

“I’m not going to crow and say, ‘Aren’t we great? Everything’s perfect,’ because it’s not,” Koos added.

“It’s a tough world for municipalities in the United States right now.”

The figure for townwide revenue for all funds was revised to just under $129 million, a net increase of $3.35 million over the original budget. Ending expenses came in at $130.4 million, an increase of $3.4 million.

“We’re cautious about things, given the status of municipal economies all over the United States,” said Koos. “These are things we have to watch. I’m very proud of the budgeting that our financing department comes forward with.”

City manager Pam Reece says the town ended in a stronger financial position than anticipated thanks to higher than expected totals in sales tax and state income tax funds.

“We were very pleased to see that we ended in a stronger position than we anticipated,” said Reece. “It is typically our practice to underestimate revenues and overestimate expenses so that we can have a conservative budget and stay in strong financial shape.”

The town’s general fund saw an increase of $727,000 over the budgeted amount. Council member Stan Nord seemed to believe that the excess was being applied automatically to additional expenses, but Director of Finance Andrew Huhn explained that the surplus has been placed in reserve accounts.

“We haven’t spent it; it’s simply set aside for better fiscal planning for the future,” said Huhn.

During member comments at the end of the meeting, Nord said he disagreed with Koos’ decision to limit discussion of bills, but Koos noted those were payments previously approved by the council.

“If we can’t talk about expenses, it limits the public scrutiny we can have and the accountability,” said Nord, who removed approval of expenditure payments for July from the omnibus agenda and cast the only vote against it. “We shouldn’t just spend money and not question it. We’ve got people leaving the state because taxes are high, and spending is one major contributor as to why taxes are so high.” 

Nord's phrasing was imprecise. He used the word 'expenses.' The word 'bills' is more accurate, referring to payments made for services previously approved by the council during budget formulation and goods or services already rendered. 

Among its other actions, the Council passed:

  • A resolution approving an amended final development plan for the One Normal Plaza planned unit development (PUD), clearing the way for a new event rental supply business to open there.
  • Resolution supporting the mission of Connect Transit’s “Connect to the Future” working group
  • Agreement with Luci Creative to design and build the new “Healthy Me” medical exhibit at the Children’s Discovery Museum
  • Appointment of Luis Figueroa to the Human Relations Commission

All votes were 6-0, with council member Kevin McCarthy absent.
(Editors note: This story has been changed to correct the rating service from Moody's to Fitch, and to clarify the distinction between bills and expenses.)

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Joe Deacon is a reporter at WCBU.