On the agenda tonight, Unit 5 will vote to approve funding for new two-way radios and a property abatement for Wirtz Beverage Illinois. (WJBC file photo)
By Zach Dietmeier
NORMAL - Unit 5 continues to sit wondering what will happen with pensions after another failure in Springfield.
Superintendent Gary Niehaus was surprised that lawmakers couldn't get a deal done before the lame duck session expired.
"It really messes us up, because there's no budgeting until May at this rate," Niehaus said. "If they would get this [pension reform] off the table, at least it would free up money for other possibilities."
Unit 5 has been waiting to see what economic impact a decision would bring to the district, and more discussion will come at Wednesday's first board meeting of 2013. Some relief did come last week, when House Speaker Michael Madigan decided to forego his cost shift back onto local school districts. Now, a decision must be reworked at the capitol, and the unknown still remains prevalent for McLean County's largest public school system.
Wirtz Beverage property abatement
Wirtz Beverage likely will find another advocate in the Unit 5 school board. Niehaus said the board is set to conditionally and partially abate the property tax to allow for a five-year freeze on behalf of Wirtz.
"75 percent of our money comes from property taxes," Niehaus said. "When someone like Wirtz or Bridgestone/Firestone comes in, we have determine as a board and a community whether it's worth our time and effort to give them that break for a five-year time frame."
Wirtz hopes to build a $7.25 million headquarters facility on the west end of Bloomington. The decision to support the abatement is paying it forward, according to Niehaus.
"We thought it is in our best interests to support community economic development efforts," Niehaus said. "You realize in five years that this plan will be worth a lot more money and we'll get our return in the future."
Two-way radio funding
Unit 5 will also approve funding for its two-way radio upgrades. Niehaus believed training and placement of the new equipment could happen within a week. The training for the system going district-wide will be mostly protocol based.
"These radios are just like the ones police, fire, and emergency management agencies use," Niehaus said. "It's more of a public domain approach versus just two or four walkie talkies in a building kind of a thing."
The board meets Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Unit 5 offices on Hovey Ave.
Zach Dietmeier can be reached at email@example.com.