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Normal Approves $138M Budget; OKs Nearly $4M In Road Projects

Normal Town Council meets remotely Monday, March 1, 2021.

The Normal Town Council on Monday night adopted a $138.2 million budget for fiscal year 2021 that begins next month.

In a year of pandemic, the budget represents the town's strength, said Normal Mayor Chris Koos. 

“The world has thrown us some curves, and some tough, tough issues,” said Koos. “Year in, year out, staff in the town of Normal figures out ways to do the best they possibly can, to have the least negative impact on our citizens.” 

Also at the four-hour meeting, the council moved forward with several projects using state and federal funding, including a nearly $1 million Towanda Avenue bridge rehab project; using more than $1 million in federal funds to design a $10 million reimagined West College Avenue; and earmarking about $1.7 million in state funds to handle a variety of road resurfacing work throughout Normal.

Upcoming budget

The FY21 budget was approved on a 6-1 vote, with council member Stan Nord being the only  “no” vote.

The $138.2 million planrepresents a balanced budget, said City Manager Pam Reece. “It’s really solid. It’s conservative revenue estimates and pretty realistic expense estimates,” she said.

Enduring the past year of pandemic has been difficult for everyone, and that includes for those managing the town’s finances, said council member Kathleen Lorenz.

“I would like to applaud the expert forecasting and estimating that’s gone on over the past year by our finance team and the administration,” allowing Normal to plan for its $711 million five-year outlook, she said.

The council held budget review sessions Jan. 26 to Feb. 1.

Normal administrators estimate it'll take five years for the town to recover from COVID-19’s impact.

WGLT reported after the January planning sessions that Reece said staff expects modest growth based on indicators and uncertainty from the pandemic. A year-over-year comparison is difficult to make because of federal pandemic aid, spending reductions in the parks and recreation department, and declines in sales tax, the hotel-motel tax, and the food and beverage tax that will be different next year.

Nord said Monday some reasons he voted against the budget were that he didn’t like Normal’s debt bond restructure plan, and he didn’t like the town setting aside money for water main work out by Rivian Motors plant.

Council members Karyn Smith and Kevin McCarthy said saving for the water main infrastructure helps the town be prepared for future growth. Reece pointed out no money has been authorized yet for the water main project, and pointed out the $4.5 million proposal represents only a small fraction of the $138  million budget.

Smith also disagreed with Nord about the bond restructuring. She said the transfer was a smart fiscal move, and forward thinking, given the negative impact of the pandemic in FY20.

West College Avenue design begins

The council formalized an agreement allowing the town, the state, and federal governments to work together on an estimated $10 million, multi-year project to upgrade West College Avenue. 

Monday’s council action allows the town to use about $1.1 million in Federal Urban Surface Transportation  Program funds in the first two design phases for the project -- stretching from Rivian Motorway to White Oak Road. Normal also will be contributing about $370,000 toward the design phase, said Ryan Otto, city engineer.

This project will be a major focus for Normal over the next few years, he said. “Potentially there’s around $8 million in grant funding,” for the College Avenue project, with $3 million secured so far, said Otto.

Nord voted “no” on the agreement, saying he didn’t want to wait for a lengthy design stage. He’d rather repairs be made immediately from existing funds. 

Several other council members disagreed with Nord, arguing he was being shortsighted, and that such a weighty project requires careful planning. The road’s been open since the 1980s, said Otto.

About $1.7 million state dollars to repair roads

A variety of resurfacing projects got the go-ahead Monday, as the council appropriated about $1.7 million of its state Motor Fuel Tax (MFT) funds for the projects. The council also authorized the town’s engineer to sign an agreement with the Illinois Department of Transportation related to the work.

Towanda Avenue bridge project

The council awarded a $983,000 contract to Bloomington-based Stark Excavating, Inc. to handle the Towanda Avenue bridge repair project, at Vernon Avenue.  Money will come from state Motor Fuel Tax (MFT) funds.

On Monday, the council OK’d using an additional $180,000 from those MFT funds toward the project, following a $550,000 bump approved last month.

Now at nearly $1 million, the huge jump in project costs raised concerns from some council members Monday night.

“The project has become more complex, certainly more so than we originally anticipated,” said Reece. 

In January, the council learned the Farnsworth Group’s engineers found extensive additional work would be needed, including expanded sidewalk and median repairs, a temporary support system required for certain concrete repairs, and more. 

Nord said he wondered if the town should brace itself for similar spikes in other projects in 2021.

“We might be looking at increases on a lot of projects,” he said, wondering if materials such as steel are going up in price.

But the main culprit of the Towanda Avenue bridge's high figure is the unique complexity of such a project, said Otto. Workers must take into account Sugar Creek, a busy intersection, and the Constitution Trail, he said.

“It’s on a main route with a lot of traffic,” and crews will be knocking a hole in the 50-year-old bridge and building it back up, he said. 

Construction is planned this year. Work will be staged to maintain traffic flow, when possible. However, the bridge will be closed between 30 and 45 days. And at times, the project also will require closure of the section of the trail that runs beneath the bridge.

Lead pipe replacement program

The council also approved a plan to replace lead water-service lines throughout the town. About $50,000 is available in the upcoming year’s budget; while an additional $350,000 is set aside for fiscal 2022-23. 

Of the more than 17,000 lines in Normal, fewer than 75 are lead pipes, according to council materials. The town will pay for replacements from the water main to the property shut-off valve;  homeowners must pay for the stretch to their houses.

About 65 homeowners will be affected and have to spend between $3,000 and $7,000 on the replacements. Normal is creating a 0% interest loan program to help those homeowners finance the updates.

In other business, the council:

  • Awarded a $245,000 contract to Cortland-based Northern Illinois Fence, Inc. to replace the steel fencing at Maxwell Park. The replacement is part of a major renovation project at Maxwell Park, in which the state is spending $400,000 through an open-space grant, with Normal matching that amount.
  • Awarded a $523,000 contract to Bloomington-based J.G. Stewart Contractors, for various sidewalk and ramp improvements throughout the town. Plans for a sidewalk on Landmark Drive, near the College Avenue Kroger’s Connect Transit bus stop, will be a separate projec that will be bid later this spring.
  • Amended its federally-funded Community Development Block Grant program to allow for disbursement ofits second round of pandemic-related housing aid, about $335,000.
  • Extended through 2023, its auditing agreement with Naperville-based Lauterbach & Amen LLP.  About $100,000 is budgeted for the additional two years. 
  • Awarded an annual bid for water main and service line materials, to Aurora-based Water Products Co., with up to about $112,000 set aside in the water department budget.
  • Heard a report on the McLean County Mental Health Action Plan from county leaders.

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Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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