By: Diane Benjamin
I’m sure I missed writing about other great moments from last night, but it was a VERY long meeting!
Only two citizens showed up to speak about the budget. The same two spoke at Public Comment in addition to one other citizen.
Budget: Karl Sila spoke 6:45. He mentioned the full budget was only posted for 2 days. He also mentioned the $550,000 “other expenses” for the City Manager. Karl also questioned CIRBN, he called it inappropriate and it needs to go away.
Ron Ulmer spoke next. He mentioned Illinois is a top high tax state and 49th in growth. He said the Council fails to end COLA’s for employees even though the private sector ended them years ago, He also claimed no employees were held responsible for the mistakes made with the tunnel project and high speed rail that cost taxpayers lots of money. He also mentioned the mural and the cost Normal incurred in fighting the artists.
Note: Normal sees the same few speakers at almost every meeting. Emailing the Trustees is great, but YOUR face needs to be on video. The citizens of Normal can change minds on this council by showing up. Emails they can ignore or politely respond and then ignore, they need to see your eyes laser focused on them when they make ridiculous votes and comments.
Public Comment starts at 13:30. Ron Ulmer spoke about the Fritzen gift, he called it unethical and looks awful. He also mentioned suggestions he has emailed to the Council for cutting spending without reducing services. He claims he gets no response. He stated speaking to them is worthless. Next was Karl Sila. He was happy with the lease for the cell tower, he suggested the Town put whoever negotiated that lease in charge of all leases. The last speaker was Doug Fansler. He wants to know why Normal is raising water rates again when money could be moved from other accounts. He also mentioned the gift to Jeff Fritzen, the Town held a dinner in his honor when he retired. The $550,000 “other” was also mentioned. The water rates are going up to collect $190,000, he suggested taking the money from the City Manager budget instead.
Koos took the opportunity to respond to Fritzen’s present – see 19:15.
His majesty Mayor didn’t appreciate his integrity and ethics being questioned. He never said why Fritzen deserved a bike instead of a plaque.
The theme for rest of the night was: This is the fiscally responsible thing to do.
It is fiscally responsible to inventory every tree and pay an annual fee in the future for the software.
It is fiscally responsible to buy golf carts directly from the manufacturer instead of contacting a local dealer for input. Buy local only means peons should.
It is fiscally responsible to give the City Manager a slush fund of $550,000 in case opportunities arise like grants that require matching funds. It also may cover training for employees. This line has not been in the budget for the last two years.
Kathleen Lorenz: 1:10:15 – claims it amounts to $10 per citizen. She must think college kids and those under 18 subsidize the Town spending. She claims it is reasonable and prudent financial stewardship.
Stan Nord: 1:11:00 – Stan asked if when a contingency fund was in the budget if was spent. Pam Reece said yes. Reece claimed this provides future financial planning. She also called it prudent. Stan stated the harder it is to access the money the harder it is to spend it. He wants it in reserves.
Chemberly Cummings 1:13:00. She supports taxpayers paying to train employees so they can take better jobs! Seriously, this you have to hear for yourself. She used an example of a former employee who became more marketable through training with YOUR TAX DOLLARS and is now a State Farm employee. She thinks the slush fund helps the bond rating, it’s immaterial the Town already has 15% sitting unused in reserves.
Kevin McCarthy: 1:15:00 He thinks this is good conservative budgeting, he loves having a slush fund. The Council calls it “contingency” and good money management.
Karyn Smith: 1:16:20. She wants the ability of citizens to see the budget addressed. It gets funny here. Last fall the Council heard trends and analysis. In January they held an all day event. Remember the audio going out less than half way through? 1:18:00 Koos claims citizens could have watched that. After, Reece states people could have seen it at the Clerk’s office or the library. Sure Pam, absolutely. Instead of reviewing it in the comfort of their home at their leisure, citizens would travel to Uptown (and pay to park).
Scott Preston: 1:22:00 Loves the 5 year budgets. Future Councils must be immaterial.
1:22:45: Stan is troubled by projects buried in the budget no one knows about, like the tree audit. Koos followed. He wants the Council to trust their profession staff. Refer back to the errors mentioned by Ron Ulmer. Think of the disaster created by the expensive software installation. Cummings followed, she only wants high level discussions. Essentially the staff runs the Town, not elected officials. She knows all she needs to know.
Stan voted NO, everybody else voted yes.
Next was raising water rates.
This was also the fiscally responsible thing to do. Even though the Water Fund got $100,000 from signing the cell tower lease and the Town doesn’t need the money now, the rates need to go up to prevent larger increases in the future. Koos calls this paying for services, not a tax. Maybe if employees didn’t get COLA increases and raises every year the enterprise fund would be more stable.
1:25:50 – Koos spelled out why the increase is necessary. Instead of shocking people with larger increases occasionally, he claims the Council agreed to increase rates every year. He claims this fund has no fluff, it is the actual cost of delivering water.
1:27:45. Karyn Smith asked about transferring money to the water fund. Reece claims that is not a “best practice” since enterprise funds have revenue supporting expenses. It is a nice concept and it leads to constant tax increases since rate increases can easily be justified while other money is therefore free to be spent elsewhere. (think Bloomington’s garbage fund)
1:34:00 Stan Nord mentioned the Water Fund has a 20% reserve now. He questioned why the increase is needed.
1:50:10 – Koos: It isn’t good practices to mix funds. Lorenz followed and asked Stan if he is suggesting Enterprise Funds should be tampered with. She wants the increase because of 5 year budgeting. She admits the increase isn’t needed now but will be in the future, she called not passing it bad practice.
Preston and Nord voted NO. Everybody else voted YES.
The program allowing home buyers to receive a federal tax credit also passed. This appears to be a company signing people up to take tax dollars and profiting from it.
Another can’t miss moment was Chemberly Cummings at 2:10:44. She launched into a social justice sermon demanding the Town participate to enable people with no ability to own a home to finally own one. Chemberly, do you remember when the housing market crashed in 2008? Not everyone should own a home. It crashed because people like you thought they should. Cummings would fit in well in Springfield, but she proves at almost every meeting why she shouldn’t be there.
Fiscal responsibility was the theme of the night.
Where was the fiscal responsibility when the Council decided to rent an entire floor of 1 Uptown Circle for around $36,000 a month just to get a building built?
Where was the fiscal responsibility when Normal rejected businesses that wanted to locate on the first floor but weren’t the right fit? Empty is responsible?
Where is the fiscally responsibility in paying property taxes the Town doesn’t owe?
Where is the fiscal responsibility holding debt and only paying interest on many of the bonds?
Where is the fiscal responsibility in giving ISU a free lease? Wild Country only paying property taxes? Pine Street lease for $120 a year? Buying property for way over market value and then selling for far less or giving it away?