Thanks to our Normal mayoral candidates for participating in this morning's chat. With us today are incumbent Mayor Chris Koos and challengers JeVaughn Martin and Victor Connor. The chat will go until 11 a.m. and readers are urged to post questions and comments. I'll get things started with a question I asked of the Bloomington mayoral candidates on Tuesday: With the campaign in the final week, what are the one or two issues on the minds of residents you've talked with and met?
The state economy and how it will affect this community is something I hear much of.
Communication with the council and having their thoughts/opinions considered when making decisions
The number one issue that the citizens I've met and who are willing to talk is the increased costs of property taxes and the cost of local government.
Chris, on the subject of the state economy... how do you think it will affect Normal. JeVaughn, Victor, please weigh in, too.
Reducing our share by $600,000 will definitely hurt and either cause us to tighten our belt, borrow more, or add/increase taxes or fees.
The State needs to fix its budget, and one of the things being considered is a raid on the income tax dollars distributed to municipalites. This would be a major hit to local communities. To Normal, it would be about $600,000 anually
The economy at the state level will present challenges to the town of Normal, but we must find a way to be proactive rather than reactive.
It is certainly my plan to serve a full term. Am I looking that old?
If the State takes dollars?
I would suggest we reallocate funds. For instance, do we need to spend 85K for a projector or increase the entertainment budget for town employees? No... if we use the general fund properly, and focus on the needs of our residents, we will be in a better position financially.
We would have to evaluate all our levels of service to make adjustments to balance our budget. This would be painful. Obviously a lot of the extras would have to go.
I would also recommend to the Council that there are other options besides taxes. We have major corporations between the twin cities that are willing and able to provide sponsorships and donations so that the town can accomplish "wants". We need to become aggressive with grants as well!
The projector cost is for the Normal Theater, not town employees. Without going digital, we would have to close the Theater.
NDR, the most I could say would be non-essentials. Without a comprehensive review I can't name programs. It would certainly be done with public input.
I apologize, those were meant to be 2 separate examples. The projector cost being something that could've been researched to provide alternate solutions. The employee entertainment budget is a second issue...
The committee fold due to a lack of participation by student government at that time. We are always open to re-energizing if the desire is there.
I would recommend we find a way to get the student body involved in their government through an increase in social media technologies and apps. If we provide them more options, listen to them when they become engaged, and show them their voice has power, we can grow and thrive together...
Things always change and move with the times, John. A more specific question?
I would like to see all downtown street parking changed from 1 hour to 2 hours. A lot of senior citizens told me they cannot shop or eat at a restaurant having to go to and from their cars in less than an hour.
The parking was changed from two hour to one hour at the request of the merchants, because two hour allowed students to park and go to class. A little secret, the enforcement of one hour is actually and hour and fifteen.
John: I would like to see the town become more involved with providing opportunities with ALL residents. This would include low/middle class, small business owners, and the underemployed
John, Shops at College Hills, Constitution Trail Center, Sam's Club, Fairview Pool and Anderson Pool Rehab, significant center city water main replacement?
John, concerning the whole town, one of the things I would do immediately is study why the cost of the water utility bill has gone up 320% over the past twenty years. I've worked as an engineer and I know that with enough info and creative thinking, there are always ways to improve and reduce costs.
Victor, you know much of that increase is federally mandated and increases by The Bloomington Normal Water Reclamation District, not the Town.
John, the only pay to play on my list is Sam's Club.
I oppose property tax increases and will work with the council and city manager to reduce property taxes over the next 4 years. To increase taxes upon the hard working members of the town of Normal would be far too harsh given our current economic climate. I do support, however, preventing another 1.2 million dollar increase in salaries and benefits while our fire stations are in dire need renovating, our streets are in dire need of resurfacing, and our water system in dire need of quality maintenance. I am also in opposition of an increase from 60k to 75k dollars for employee activities, given that 58k dollars was spent the previous year. As mayor, I would begin with comfortable increase of entertainment and sales tax. As I do understand that there comes a time for difficult and life changing fiscal decision making, increasing property and utility taxes should always be a last resort.
Storm Water Utility fees to pay for mandated action from the federal government.
Here is a question from a reader that I want to get out there but rework some: What can the town do to prevent students from being overcharged for routine maintenance like painting when the students leave?
John: you should have the same opportunities to enjoy Normal as the upper middle class, and that is why I am running for mayor. If you want to open a business, you should have resources available! If you want to seek a better job, you should have access to resources... the same access of everyone else so that YOU can do the things that make living in Normal such an enjoyable experience!
NDR, we need to put things in perspective. Factoring in inflation and population growth, workers income have increased 4% between 1991 and 2011. During that same time, McLean County property taxes have increased about 38%, while the Town of Normal's government costs have increased 130%. Both of these numbers are too high, of course, but I think we should concentrate on the town. And remember that the Town of Normal only gets about 10% of the property taxes.