Normal is looking to save its citizens as much money as possible this year with a flat tax levy and municipal aggregation. (photo by B. Corbin)
By Zach Dietmeier
NORMAL - The Town of Normal won't be raising its property tax levy afterall.
The town council voted to keep a flat levy for 2012 after a six percent increase was proposed in October.
"It's not an easy decision to make but I think it's important to say we can't continue to do this looking at next year," said Normal Mayor Chris Koos. "We'll look at this with fresh eyes and evaluate the decision at that point."
The amount levied will stay at $9.88 million, the same as in 2011. Councilman Jeff Fritzen added the decision had to be made.
"We still present a balanced budget every year and have appropriate reserves there," said Fritzen. "We saw how much it would hurt to cut to where we needed to be but we still cut and worked our reserves back up."
The decision to hold the levy leaves a budget shortfall of $459,000.
"The result doesn't leave us much room for adjustment or much wiggle room because budgets are very tight to start," said Koos. "I think this is the prudent thing to do at this point, and we're going to have to look at some places that we can make adjustments."
The council voted to reallocate $300,000 from road resurfacing projects to help make up for the shortfall caused by the decision not to raise the tax levy.
Although the levy will remain the same, the property tax rate will still increase due to the equalized assessed valuation decreasing. The owner of a $150,000 house will likely pay about $5 more per year.
Normal is pushing forward with municipal aggregation after citizen approval in the Nov. 6 election. Council member Adam Nielsen said the voters made the right choice.
"I commend the citizens for getting it right," said Nielsen. "It's not often you get the opportunity to vote yourself a $200 decrease in energy bills. I know there was a lot of confusion the first time about what all this meant, but it's pretty straight forward: you vote for this, you have the opportunity to save big dollars on your electricity."
Nielsen himself won't see the savings, as he is a Corn Belt Energy customer. That company is not included in the aggregation plans.
After multiple public hearings, City Manager Mark Peterson added it's a collective decision to get the best price for electricity.
"The highest priority is to reduce the cost of energy," said Peterson. "We are optimistic that whether a community elects green energy or doesn't care, the cost will remain the same across the board."
Concerned citizens brought up maintaining coal-generated power as the push continues toward clean, renewable energy. The council assured the public that many plans are still being explored, including attempts to tap into nearby wind energy while still including more traditional generators like coal.
Normal will be a part of a collective decision along with 55 other communities on Dec. 11 in Decatur, when bids are received. An easy opt-out is available for those not wanting to go with municipal aggregation. All eligible customers will receive the option by mail.
The council estimates the average customer in Normal will save $200 per year under the aggregation.
Zach Dietmeier can be reached at email@example.com.