The Town of Normal has a new plan in place to get more residents’ input on Community Development Block Grant spending.
Council members approved the citizen participation plan Monday night as part of preparations for the next five-year consolidated planning process, where the town decides how to allocate federal funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The current plan is effective through March 31, 2020.
City Manager Pamela Reece said the purpose of the plan is to seek input from a variety of community stakeholders to help identify needs and set priorities for the town’s CDBG programs.
Those programs can vary widely, said Normal Mayor Chris Koos.
“It’s a pretty broad-brush in terms, but they have to be spent in those areas; there are certain projects that they can’t be spent for,” he said. In the past the town has used CDBG money for low-interest loan buy downs for first-time homebuyers and to underwrite the Unity Community Center.
Koos said the plan’s regional scope is new for the town.
“We’ve always had public comment, but we’ve never reached out to the public like we’re doing now in conjunction with the City of Bloomington to get this information from the general public,” he said.
Town planning staff worked with staff from the City of Bloomington and the McLean County Regional Planning Commission to develop the document.
The plan outlines processes for public participation, including holding public hearings and events locations accessible to all residents, as well as offers standards for providing access to public records, technical assistance and responses to complaints.
The plan received unanimous support from council members.
“We have public hearings that we’re required to have about different matters, and we get a few comments,” said Council Member Jeff Fritzen. “I’m glad to see a couple of citizens out here tonight, but that’s the exception typically rather than the rule.”
John Walter said he’d like to see the funds used to add more recreational opportunities in his neighborhood, such as replacing a blacktop basketball court that was demolished to make way for Fairview Family Aquatic Center.
Longtime Normal landlord Ron Ulmer shared some “outside-the-box” ideas to create more affordable housing throughout the town, like converting vacant commercial space into residential units.
Council Member Chemberly Cummings said she’s looking forward to hearing more from the public.
“I think the more we start to have this dialogue and conversation, and also let our constituents know we’re listening, and we’re also taking note, I think it will allow us to move forward,” she said.
She has a few of her own ideas, too. Cummings has been a vocal advocate for what she calls equitably diverse housing.
“I don’t like to use the term affordable housing,” she said. “You have to talk about affordability for all levels of income,” she said.
Cummings added the town could do more to offer a variety of types of housing, from apartments for young professionals to right-sized homes for seniors.
Homeowners in Normal will see a slightly lower property tax bill next year.
Council members approved the town’s property tax levy Monday night.
Koos said while the $12,958,494 levy has stayed the same for many years, the town’s projected Equalized Assessed Valuation went up slightly, resulting in an expected 1.5 percent drop in the town’s tax rate.
The town estimates the owner of a $165,000 home will see a $7.50 decrease on their property tax bill.
The town primarily uses the levy to fund police and fire pensions.
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