Normal leaders voted to fund half of a new $5 million fire station on the east side of town, using a low-interest bank loan.
Work on the station at the corner of Shepard and Hershey roads will likely begin this fall, with a target opening in the spring of 2023, Normal Fire Department Chief Mick Humer said. Now the city will solicit bids for the design and construction, he added.
Whether the station would be built next year was not in dispute: it is in the tentative plan for fiscal year 2023. The debate was whether to finance part of the construction or pay all costs upfront.
The 5-2 vote at Monday’s regular city council meeting means Busey Bank will lend the city $2.5 million, at an interest rate of 1.46%. The city will use $1.4 million from existing funds and a $1 million grant to cover the remaining construction costs.
Council members Stan North and Scott Preston voted against the fundraising plan. Preston said going into debt, when the city budget is in surplus, is not a good idea.
City Manager Pam Reece told council that taking the loan is a solid investment. “We think the time is right,” she said of the low interest rates on offer.
Over the 10-year period, the interest amounts to approximately $200,000. The city is in good financial shape, Mayor Chris Koos said, saying it’s not that the city needs to borrow, but rather that it’s taking the opportunity to get interest rates low. The move means that in fiscal year 2023, the city can transfer $2.5 million from working capital to the capital improvement fund, Reece said.
“Because of the very favorable borrowing rates, it makes sense,” she said.
Cash on hand will be used by the city to fund improvements to parks and recreation areas, including potential resurfacing of tennis and pickleball courts, and needed HVAC work at park facilities, said Reice.
Nord and Preston said that if Normal had the money available to cover the construction of Shepard Road station, it should use it. Nord also accused city staff of using the loan as a way to pay for development projects.
“It seems dishonest and not very transparent,” Nord said of the decision to borrow $2.5 million for the fire station. But several council members and Reece pushed back against that characterization.
Reece said there was nothing to hide and the city didn’t borrow money for one thing and then divert it for other purposes. “The loan is for what it is – a fire station,” she said.
Board member Kathleen Lorenz said funding the station and keeping money in the city budget for smaller projects is akin to a personal budget where a person borrows for a car but pays upfront. for smaller, short-term purchases.
“Here’s an opportunity,” she said, low interest rates offered.
The new building will replace the oldest normal fire department barracks – the site built in 1981 at 1300 E. College Ave., across from Blair House. The new location on the east side reflects population growth in this part of town and a desire to reduce emergency response times in this area.
In 2017, NFD opened its current $8 million, 30,000 square foot headquarters at 606 S. Main St., near the southern edge of the Illinois State University campus. NFD also operates a third station at 1200 E. Raab Road near Carden Park. This site opened in 1999.
The fire department previously operated a station at 605 N. Adelaide St.; it closed about seven years ago. This property now belongs to the ISU.
Maggie Miley’s extension is OK
Also on Monday, the council approved expansion plans for Uptown restaurant and Maggie Miley’s Irish pub. The two-story addition, in an empty lot at 128 E. Beaufort St., includes plans for an outdoor patio, as well as more event space.
In other cases counsel:
- Reduced property taxes for The Shoppes in College Hills by approximately 67%. After the reduction, owners will pay approximately $50,000 in taxes. The deal stems from a 2004 effort to revitalize the mall as an outdoor shopping area.
- Approved expenditures of approximately $55,000 to cover its share of a three-year stormwater education program run by the Ecology Action Center. Other members include Bloomington, McLean County and the Bloomington-Normal Water Reclamation District. In January, Bloomington City Council approved the same proposal.
- Authorized Stone River Group to solicit proposals for an electricity aggregation service agreement for city residents and small commercial retailers; and for the city manager to select the best offer. Customers can opt out of the program, offered since 2012.