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Bloomington Passes New VenuWorks, Labor Contracts

Kim Bray and Tim Gleason
Breanna Grow
Bloomington passed new contracts with VenuWorks and AFSCME Local 699 to help curb future spending.

The Bloomington City Council unanimously approved a contract with AFSCME Local 699 effectively ending the city’s sick-leave buyback program for employees.

The program allows eligible employees to take sick leave payouts over the final three months of their employment, resulting in higher pension calculations.

The city ended the program for new hires in 2012, but City Manager Tim Gleason said the council made it clear last fall they wanted more action to limit future pension spikes.

Gleason explained the city has a large group of employees looking to retire within the next 10 years; under the sick-leave buyback program, that could end up costing the city between $10 million and $12 million.

Renee Nestler, staff representative for the union, said this year’s round of bargaining was different than those of the previous nine years she’s been on the job.

“It is nice to be able to work in a cooperative and collaborative relationship rather than an adversarial relationship, as it has seemed in the past,” she said.

Nestler said it took the groups about half the usual number of bargaining sessions to reach an agreement.

The city also did not hire an attorney to negotiate on behalf of the city; “instead the city manager was at the table setting the tone,” Nestler said. “The type of relationship the union currently has with the city is the type of relationship we have wanted for a long time, and we hope it continues.”

Alderman Mboka Mwilambwe thanked Gleason for leading the talks.

“You asked us to try something different, and we agreed, and then we can see the result, and I’m happy to have what seems to be the building of a long-standing relationship,” he said.

The union represents about 100 employees in public works, parks, recreation and cultural arts, police and facilities departments.

Under the new agreement, eligible employees have until April 30, 2020, to take the payouts, as long as they give their intent to retire by the end of October this year.

The three-year contract includes 1.25% pay raises on May 1, with another 1.25% increase coming Nov. 1. The contract also includes a 3% increase in the second year and a 2.5% increase in the third.

The 12 to 15 employees eligible for the buyback payouts can opt for a $1,000 signing bonus instead, given they remain with the city until after the April 30, 2020, cutoff; employees ineligible for the buyback program will receive a $250 signing bonus.

Capping Arena Losses

The council also approved a change to its agreement with Grossinger Motors Arena manager VenuWorks, helping the city curb future losses on the facility.

Tari and Diane embrace
Credit Breanna Grow / WGLT
Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner embraces Alderman Diana Hauman as she and three other outgoing aldermen receive commemorative plaques for their service on the council.

Council members voted 8-1 to approve the change and require VenuWorks to cover a portion of losses topping $350,000 over the contract’s remaining 2 years.

VenuWorks agrees to pay up to half of its management fee which includes an annual fee of $114,000 and a commission on food, beverage and other sales. 

Last September VenuWorks told the council the city can expect $500,000 in annual losses on the arena.

Alderman Scott Black cast the lone opposing vote, calling for a more focused approach on reducing those deficits and “just to make sure that residents know we’re looking for more.”

“I’m ready to see better from the arena,” he added.

Mwilambwe said the amended contract isn’t a sign that the city is ready to accept the losses.

“Everybody’s going to work toward decreasing those losses even more,” he said.

“We are definitely not satisfied,” Gleason agreed.

Gleason said the city is “cautiously optimistic” that VenuWorks can fill the space with additional events while the Central Illinois Flying Aces hockey team is off the ice next season.

“While this is not hopefully the end of this, capping the losses at $350,000 was definitely a step in the right direction,” he said.

Under the new agreement the arena can also charge $1.50 parking fee for events it expects will draw more than 500 attendees.

In other business, the city council also:

  • Approved the creation of a separate concrete and asphalt projects fund within the city budget. After aldermen disagreed on the language of the proposal at the April 9 meeting, staff amended the proposal, limiting spending revenues from the local motor fuel tax to “sidewalks and street maintenance projects within the City,” including overlay projects, concrete or asphalt resurfacing, sidewalk repair and maintenance, and other related projects specifically approved by the council.
  • Presented a proclamation declaring April 27 “U.S. Army Ranger Sgt. Joshua P. Rodgers Day,” ahead of the scheduled dedication of a portion of Airport Road in his name on Friday. The 2013 Normal Community High School graduate was killed in action in April 2017 in the Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan.
  • Passed measures reorganizing the city clerk’s department and appointing Leslie Yocum as city clerk. Staff say the changes add up to a reduction of one full-time equivalent and will save the city an estimated $35,000 annually, as well as improve the department’s customer service. Yocum has served as the interim city clerk since December.
  • Recognized outgoing Aldermen David Sage, Amelia Buragas, Karen Schmidt and Diana Hauman for their service on the council.

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Breanna Grow is a correspondent for GLT. She joined the station in September 2018.