These responses were submitted by Kathleen Lorenz, an incumbent 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 hold a Bachelor’s of Science in Industrial Engineering from Purdue and a Master’s in Business Administration from Illinois State University. Purdue taught me to think critically and creatively to solve problems, and the ISU MBA program taught me to dig into the facts of a case. Because of this, I am that geeky person who loves digging into our council packets every two weeks. I love the breadth of topics we have to cover, and I thrive on the challenge to study them and make the best decisions.
My early professional career included assignments as a management engineer and process improvement analyst. Over my career I have held roles that have ranged from manager of people, manager of customer service, and internal consultant for process improvement. More recently, I branched out into not for profit work, and I have also done some external consulting. A common thread through all of these assignments is to find the best way to do something, and very often, creative ways to do more with less.
Prior to serving on council I served from 2004-2008 on the Zoning Board of Appeals, and then from 2008-2015 on Planning Commission. I firmly believe that both of those appointments readied me to take the leap to the council in 2015, and shortened my learning curve in the transition to being a council member.
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 am impressed with the transformation of our Uptown business district, in terms of the improved value of the property, the improved quality of life for residents, and the synergy it provides to our university neighbors. I favor policies that will continue to attract developers to make strategic investments in Uptown, particularly for commercial-office space and residential units, both of which would shore up the investments already made in the retail and hospitality sector. While I am glad that we have begun envisioning plans for development south of the tracks, at this time I favor pumping the breaks a bit on the underpass project. I am concerned about undertaking such a large project that in all likelihood would require matching local funds. I would rather see development south of the tracks drive the need for a connecting underpass, not the other way around.
When is it appropriate for local government to use incentives to achieve an economic development priority? How would you make those decisions?
The goal of incentives is to achieve economic growth in our community, which in turn increases the tax base and the overall wealth of the community. In other words, incentives help to attract opportunities to grow our community, that otherwise would not happen. The government plays only a supporting role in this process, insofar as adopting policies that create the fertile ground for such investments.
It takes several players to make the economy work: government to lay the groundwork, developers to seize opportunities to develop property, banks to be willing to finance projects, businesses and people willing to locate here, and of course the consumer. The incentives are just a piece of the entire package that help make a project turn into a positive economic impact for a community. Not all projects need incentives, and all incentives should be closely tied to metrics (such as total investment, types and number of jobs, etc.) that will improve the wealth of the 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?
Our first approach can’t be to raise taxes and fees—not during these unsteady times of our community and state. I don’t mean to sell fear, but there is unsteadiness now as we adjust to significant changes in our local employer base (2016 closure of Mitsubishi, 2016-present reorganization at State Farm). I believe we will cycle back to steadier times, and it may not be that far off—if Rivian starts pumping out cars by 2021, Brandt settles into a full workforce, and homegrown businesses like Destihl can successfully mature. These are all promising signals for our local economy; but in the meantime, we may need to pump the breaks on some things and make some tough choices.
What new programs or initiatives do you think the town should pursue?
The town needs to be actively working on a pension funding strategy and a budget cost reduction plan to position itself for the soundest fiscal position possible. The town also should further develop policies for equitable and diverse housing stock, based on strategies laid out in the housing portion of the Comprehensive Plan.
What should be the town’s role in expanding affordable housing opportunities?
I am for improving the affordability of housing in Normal, through increased diversity and accessibility. We are not very diverse in our housing stock in our community. One could argue that we have an overabundance of larger single-family homes, and yet not enough smaller, affordable housing for ownership and/or non-student rental properties. It is the council’s role to set policy towards achieving more equitable and diverse housing, and we have taken initial steps towards this with the housing study portion of the Comprehensive Plan. I would like to help shape policies that create a fertile environment for developers to want to build in our town in a way that is consistent with our current and anticipated housing needs, and to work with our real estate partners such as banks, builders, and property management companies to make sure that we’re all working towards this common goal.
Do you think the town needs a full-time communications manager and/or economic development coordinator? Why or why not?
The expertise of a communications manager would be helpful; however, I will need assurances from staff that we have the bandwidth in our “checking account” (aka General Fund) to afford a full-time role of this type right now. Without such assurances, we may need to defer on filling this position right now. As for economic development expertise, we do need stronger, more robust and better coordinated economic development leadership for this community (Bloomington, Normal and McLean County). Until we get on better footing there, I favor the town retaining access to some form of economic development expertise.
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?
Libraries are still relevant, as evidenced by the growth in outreach, technology and programming that Brian and his staff are planning for 2019.
It is very impressive how Brian Chase and his staff continue to squeeze the maximum efficiency/value out of their existing facilities, and even thinking “out of the box” to go outside their library facilities with various outreach programs—Ex: Curb It curbside pickup program, a bigger emphasis on home deliveries and more Books on the Go pop-up libraries. Brian Chase and his staff should be commended for thinking innovatively and doing more with less when resources are constrained.
As for a new library, I favor giving the library foundation time to fundraise from the private sector. The more our private sector is involved we can be sure that the residents are speaking for what they want.
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?
I haven’t made up my mind, but I do think it’s worth looking into this project as an economic development opportunity that leverages our central location. Venues like these in other communities, have proven to have significant economic impact in terms of sales, hotel, and gas tax revenue. The top risk of this project is the investment, and who takes that risk. I think the questions that we must honestly ask ourselves as the review is conducted are: where is the funding to build it going to come from? Is it sustainable to operate? Does it make sense for our community as a good “fit”? We’ve seen some entertainment venues in our community work better (e.g. softball, festivals) than others (e.g. Arena, semi-professional teams). We need to carefully assess how this opportunity and this venue compares.