Wednesday, April 29, 2009

TON Water Department

The Normal Water Department pumped about 1.6 billion gallons of water in 2008. A lot of work goes into providing a reliable supply of safe water to Normal. The department is divided into three divisions: Treatment, Distribution, and Administration/Billing. Treatment includes sampling and testing of water, maintaining the water sources and storage facilities, and continuous operation of the treatment plant.

Distribution operates and maintains the water mains and meters. With the growth of Normal, it isn’t surprising that 332 new meters were installed in 2008. Other work performed last year included: 1,959 hydrants flushed; 231 hydrants painted; 32 water mains repaired; 1,490 replacement meters installed; and 3,235 final reads of meters. This division handled a total of 14,348 work orders and service requests in 2008.

Administration/billing prepared and mailed over 105,393 bills in 2008. The biggest consumers of Normal water were residents (39.2% by owner occupied residences and 26.9% by rental residences). We are fortunate that not very much water was used for irrigation (just 2.9%). The charts show that in 2008, the highest demand for water was in August through October (for the town as a whole and for the Illinois State University campus).

We take access to safe water for granted but even the limited information provided here shows that this service requires an impressive network of people doing a variety of jobs. Let’s raise our glasses (of water) in a toast to everyone in the Water Department! (Well, at least I didn’t use a “flush” or “drip” reference…)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

TON Uptown Development

It’s interesting to read about the history of the business district in Normal. The layout of the streets seems to have been greatly influenced by the placement of the railroad tracks, and the types of businesses attracted to the area were certainly influenced by the university next door. After so many years, it isn’t easy for residents and people who visit Normal to accept the dramatic changes that are taking place in what is now called Uptown Normal: new businesses and buildings, changes to parking, infrastructure repair, and streetscape changes.

In addition to some new and relocated retailers and restaurants, the larger projects going up in Uptown are the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center (with an attached parking garage), two mixed-use buildings, and a parking deck. The mixed-use buildings (Uptown One and Uptown Crossing) will provide condos and apartments as well as retail and office space. The proximity to the university will undoubtedly bring many conferences to the Marriott and many students, professors, and other university personnel to the new residences. The parking deck is already in use and should prove very convenient for those attending special events in Uptown (e.g., the Sugar Creek Arts Festival, Trailside Markets, and the Sweetcorn Blues Festival).

The main streets through Uptown have been redefined, in a way. There is now a traffic circle at what was once an awkward intersection. The circle was constructed in 2008 and is now open to traffic. Work continues on the water feature and landscaping for the circle. Some fa├žade work was also completed on several businesses in Uptown, with more improvements planned for 2009.

So, it’s a new Normal and maybe the saying “no pain, no gain” is true. I haven’t heard anyone talk about the Uptown changes in terms of attracting students to Illinois State University, but I think that this has to have played a role in the planning. When prospective students and their parents visit Normal to check out ISU, of course they are going to look at the community around the university. The students expect to venture off-campus for entertainment and shopping, so they are looking to see what’s available. And their parents look to see if the area seems inviting and safe. An active business district with new (and newly renovated) retailers should be just what they’re looking for. And, over time, residents will adjust to and appreciate the changes. (Well, this resident will adjust to most of the changes…)

Friday, April 24, 2009

TON Public Works Department

You might say that the Normal Public Works Department is where the rubber (and leaves, and asphalt, and sodium chloride) meets the road(s). Street Maintenance and Waste Removal are the two divisions within Public Works that residents are probably most familiar with (and appreciate the most). Let’s get right to the statistics for 2008: 217 tons of pothole patching was put in place; 10,784 curb miles of streets were swept; 31,670 cubic yards of brush were collected (a personal thanks for that!); there were 26 winter storms requiring snow and ice removal; and 9,167 cubic yards of leaves were collected (a couple thousand less than in the record set in 2002; that must have been a good year for trees). While residents of Normal still throw away lots of stuff (9,347 tons of household waste and 4,656 tons of bulk waste collected in 2008), there was an increase in recycling: 7,377 tons of materials were transferred through Normal’s recycling facility (anyone can drop off items at the recycle containers throughout town, so this number probably includes some non-Normal contributions). For some reason, the Kroger location receives the most tons of materials for recycling. Most of the recycled materials were of the “mixed paper” variety but the town also collected 147 tons of electronics for recycling.

The Equipment Maintenance Division keeps all 299 town vehicles working. In 2008, these vehicles used 213,951 gallons of fuel for a total cost of $690,694. The Engineering Division plans, designs, contracts, and inspects all public works and private development projects, and manages storm water. Their work last year resulted in the improvements at the College Ave. and Towanda Ave. intersection; the traffic signals and second northbound left turn lane at the Towanda Ave. and Shelbourne Drive intersection; replacing the College Ave. bridge; and extending the Constitution Trail along the north side of Northtown Road east of Towanda Ave. They also reviewed and inspected improvement plans for a number of subdivisions, and kept traffic moving by maintaining signals and regulating other traffic control devices. I don’t know what to say about sewer maintenance except that all of the testing and maintenance that they are doing seem to be working just fine.

The Public Works Department also staffed the new position of Storm Water Engineering Technician, worked with other local governments on various projects, including the East Side Highway Corridor, and department staff participated in classes and seminars as part of their continuing education and license renewals. I’ve heard quite a few positive comments about the services provided by the Normal Public Works Department, and I join others in expressing my appreciation for all of the hard work done by those in this department. THANKS!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

TON Police Department

The Normal Police Department’s 2008 Annual Report gives the reader the view of police work from the officers’ perspective and shows a very proactive approach to keeping Normal safe. The report is divided into summaries by shift and summaries by division/unit. It’s interesting that each of the four shifts (7-3, 3-11, 11-7, and 6-4) focuses on somewhat different situations, but it makes sense because people engage in different activities, depending on time of day or night.

The Traffic Unit is probably the one unit that many citizens are familiar with (and grumble about). Yes, there were many (over 2,000) citations for speeding in 2008, as well as (fewer) citations for school zone, school bus stop arm, seat belt, and construction zone violations. It’s really all about safety. Other units that are perhaps less familiar are the Proactive Crimes Unit, the Emergency Response Unit, and the Canine Unit. In case you’re interested, the two K-9 partners are “Gunner” and “Rico.” In addition to participating in demonstrations to various organizations, this unit performed 289 vehicle searches, had 204 “positive alerts,” and seized 3,987 grams of cannabis in 2008. And on the subject of drugs, the Vice Unit seized a lot of drugs (including mushrooms; what is this, the 60s?), quite a bit of cash, some guns, and some pipe bombs (well, they didn’t “seize” the bombs, they had them destroyed by the SOS bomb squad).

The Criminal Investigations Division looked into financial crimes, juvenile crimes, domestic violence, and general investigations (theft, burglary, robbery, sexual assault). The police working these cases did not just respond to crimes committed, but also provided follow-up help for those involved, such as helping financial crime victims repair their credit history, providing visits and phone calls to domestic violence victims, and working with other agencies in cases involving juveniles.

Some behind-the-scenes work that is crucial for the department is that of the evidence technicians and the crime analyst. The evidence technicians processed crime scenes and collected evidence (and there are way too many TV shows about this job). The crime analyst gathered and analyzed information about crimes and criminal offenders, and provided reports to officers.

The NPD also worked to keep young people safe and to educate them about safety through the School Resource Officer program and the Elementary Health and Safety Education program. A new program started in 2008 to help young people who are “at risk” of juvenile delinquency: the Youth Intervention Program. This program only just started in August, but by the end of the year, 17 young people participated in the program (out of 71 who were referred). Hopefully, word will get around about successful interventions and more will participate.

Other activities that the NPD is involved in include: the Minority and Police Partnership (M.A.P.P) to improve relations between the minority and law enforcement communities, crash analysis (accidents decreased slightly in 2008 but there were no fatal accidents in Normal; the intersection of College Ave. and Veterans Pkwy. had the most accidents), the Summer Youth Program, the Neighborhood Watch Program (there were 48 watch groups in Normal), the Crime Free Multi-Housing Program, and the Citizens Police Academy. The NPD participated in ongoing training (12,311 hours of training in 2008), received its fourth reaccreditation award, and recognized a number of officers for various awards in 2008. And the Policemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association Normal Unit #22 was very active in local fund-raisers and in providing for less fortunate families in Normal.

The report includes a chart of crime trends. I won’t report all of the statistics here but I think that there are always going to be people who look at the numbers (or read about local crime) and say that Normal has very little crime compared to other places, while other people will react to that same information by saying that Normal just isn’t safe anymore. It all depends on what city/town (or what year) you are using as a basis for comparison.

One last item: the Normal Police Department has gained a new honor by the production of a Hot Wheels version of the NPD car. A former Normal resident was on the Hot Wheels team that designed the “Cop Rods” line. If you haven’t already purchased one, they will be available for sale at the Children’s Discovery Museum. Bring one home as a reminder of those who work to keep Normal safe!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

TON Planning Department

As stated in the annual report, the main responsibility of the Normal Planning Department is to coordinate “orderly growth and development” through the “enforcement of the zoning and subdivision codes.” In 2008, some of the major land use actions included an annexation of land, adding sites for businesses, construction of a new Masonic Lodge, and approvals for new apartment buildings. Plans for additions to the local community college and one of the grade schools were also approved. And three churches gained approval for expansions.

There were two significant zoning changes in 2008: one was to allow for smaller parking spaces and 100% “stacked” parking at apartments in the area immediately surrounding the university (to maximize parking); and the other was a change in zoning from residential to business to allow for the building of a Walgreen’s next to a residential area. These were difficult decisions and required lengthy discussions of the advantages and disadvantages by the Town Council. Time will tell if they were the right decisions.

The Planning Department has also been involved with the Main Street Redevelopment Plan, which will (hopefully) result in a more attractive, functional, environmentally responsible, and pedestrian- and bicyclist-friendly Main Street all the way through Normal and Bloomington. (An ambitious plan that seems to be either loved or hated.) And the department implemented two TIF districts for projects that have now been placed on hold due to economic circumstances.

Finally, there is more “green” in Normal than just the town logo: Normal purchased a house next to one of the parks and is planning to use it as an example of environmentally friendly building, as well as a new location for the Ecology Action Center. The Planning Department also prepared a request to have some of the Uptown area certified as LEED-ND (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – Neighborhood Development). And the department has been working with the town’s Green Team and other local organizations in sponsoring “green” events. Maybe it should be subtitled the Greening Department?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

TON Parks and Recreation Department

The Parks and Recreation Department 2008 Annual Report is difficult to summarize because there are SO MANY facilities, programs, and events included. So I will describe their accomplishments in very broad terms, and put into just a few categories.

First, the “parks” category: In addition to ongoing maintenance of all of the parks and park facilities, some major accomplishments in 2008 included extending the Constitution Trail, making improvements to Ironwood Golf Course, renovation of Fell Park, improvements at One Normal Plaza, and renovations at the skate park. Plans are underway for additional tree planting (to replace the unfortunate ash trees and to maintain our status as a Tree City USA) and for the building of new waterslides at Fairview Park.

Second, the “recreation” category: Swimming, fitness classes, field trips, and a multitude of “ball” sports and league play are provided by the Parks and Recreation Department. And these activities are divided into different age categories, starting with the very, very young. Basically, you can start your children in a recreational activity not long after birth (ok, that’s a slight exaggeration).

Third, the “cultural activities” category: The Connie Link Amphitheatre is used for several theatre programs as well as special concerts and events throughout the summer months. Being conveniently located near the Constitution Trail has helped to increase attendance at the amphitheatre events, and bike racks will be available for the 2009 season. The Normal Theater continues to provide a variety of unique films for our enjoyment, as well as hosting some film festivals. With the connection to the new Conference Center, there will undoubtedly be an increase in activity at the theater in the coming years.

Fourth, the Children’s Discovery Museum category: Yes, it gets its own category. Compared to the museums that I visited on school field trips, this is certainly not a “normal” museum, all self-contained with static displays. Instead, the CDM has interactive displays and reaches out into the community with many programs. They had over 134,000 visitors and over 28,000 participants in at least some of their programs in 2008! I won’t even try to begin to list all of the exhibits and programs, there are so many. I would be very surprised if there were any families in this area who haven’t participated in at least one of the CDM opportunities.

Given all that the Normal Parks and Recreation Department provides, I’m amazed that anyone in this community ever spends any time at home! (You’re reading this on a laptop, sitting under a tree in a local park, right??)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

TON Public Library

Oh, let’s just skip the Library report. Ha, ha. Just kidding, Brian!

The Normal Public Library embarked on a master plan in 2008, using information from a survey, focus groups, and an open community meeting. Library staff also addressed convenience for customers by promoting parking in the College Avenue Parking Deck, providing maps of available parking, locating book and CD/DVD return containers throughout Normal, and by subscribing to databases for cardholders to access from their home computers. There are also computers available for use at the Library.

In addition to circulation of print- and non-print media (over 535,000 in 2008), the Library conducted many programs, including: summer reading programs for children and teens, a reading program pairing college students with elementary school students, a variety of story hours, programs that take place at different locations in the community, and additional programs for teens, adults, and seniors.

The Normal Public Library partners with other local organizations -- schools, the Children’s Discovery Museum, retirement villages, area colleges, the Bloomington Public Library, etc. -- to provide lots of great educational and fun opportunities to everyone. Close to 27,000 people took advantage of these opportunities in 2008! Clearly, this is a valuable community resource.

Monday, April 13, 2009

TON Inspection Department

The Normal Inspection Department enforces codes in plans for new commercial and residential construction, inspections of all rental properties, inspections of exteriors of commercial and residential properties, and in responding to nuisance notifications. The codes include categories such as building, mechanical, gas, fire, plumbing, electrical, and energy conservation.

There were a number of major commercial projects in 2008: a parking deck, a theatre, additions to the community college, church expansions, and a hotel re-development. There were also new multi-family developments in anticipation of the increased need for housing by ISU students. New single-family home “starts” were not as numerous as in previous years (just 95), following the national trend. But there were more remodeling permits issued (761).

There are two inspectors who conduct an annual inspection of all rental units – all 7,500 of them! And with more rental units being constructed, those inspectors will be even busier. Most people understand and support the need for inspections of rental units, but there seems to be more cynicism toward remodeling inspections and code enforcement. My take on this issue is that code enforcement is a safety issue and an aesthetic issue for not only the occupants/owners of property, but also for others in the community and for future occupants/owners of the property.

With that said, in 2008 the Code Enforcement Officers performed 4,361 inspections regarding nuisance issues. The nuisance that topped the list in 2008 was “illegal signs” (perhaps all of those election signs had something to do with that), followed by “trash and debris.” The “upholstered furniture” nuisance (violation of the infamous “cushy couch” ordinance) was further down on the list.

There are more new construction projects planned for 2009, including a couple of drug stores, new waterslides, new restaurants, a multi-sport ballpark, and a couple of daycares. Combined with ongoing rental and nuisance inspections as well as new housing “starts,” the Inspection Department will continue to be busy keeping everything up to code.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

TON Information Technology Department

I admit that I don't speak computer technology language, so my summary of the Information Technology Department's 2008 Annual Report will avoid technical details. One of the projects of the IT Department this past year was implementation of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software, which provides a variety of maps showing construction, parking, snow removal, and LEED certification in the Uptown area, TIF District locations, public parks, police beats, and sex offender locations. IT also worked to provide wireless access in Normal and installed a fingerprint scanner and analysis system for the Normal Police Department.

The six IT staff members play a critical role in upgrading, updating, and maintaining the TON website, which is a fantastic source of information and communication. The statistics showing use of the website are impressive: 3,130,916 hits (an average of 8,578 per day and 357 per hour) in 2008; the day with the greatest number of hits (25,267) was December 3; 788 submissions of questions, suggestions, and problems; 772 online applications; and 15,303 online payments of water bills, tickets, and fines for ordinance violations. The report also provides statistics on the number of work orders (categorized by department of work order origin, type of work order, and location of work order origin). July was the month with the most work orders.

The chart showing the increased use of computer technology by Town of Normal staff since 1999 reveals the importance of having a great IT Department: 291 PCs in 2008 (only 43 in 1999); 457 users in 2008 (it looks like there weren't any in 1999); and 21 servers in 2008 (compared to 2 in 1999). It makes you wonder how much the local demand for computer technology will increase and the types of computer technology needed will change in the coming years.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

TON Human Resources Department

The Normal Human Resources Department serves 366 regular fulltime employees by providing training and development (there is a long list of training and development programs completed in 2008), handling compensation, benefits, employee and labor relations, managing records, and providing supervisory counseling. They also recruit and hire employees, which involved processing 857 employment interest forms and conducting 701 criminal background checks in 2008. Human Resources completed two health fairs in 2008, both of which had good attendance.

The Human Resources staff also serves the Human Relations Commission: coordinating meetings, receiving complaints of unlawful discrimination, conducting conciliation meetings, and helping to coordinate the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Luncheon.

A few HR statistics from 2008: there was a 6% turnover rate among regular employees; 3 employees utilized the Family Medical Leave Act; 190 employees received flu vaccinations (as part of the Wellness Program); and there were zero positive results from the CDL Drug and Alcohol Testing Program. There were 77 injuries (an increase from past six years) for a total of 272.2 lost days of work (an increase from the past two years).

To me, the work of HR departments reflects our humanity: people come and go from jobs, they get injured and get sick, they learn their jobs and strive to improve, they struggle to get along with others, and they want to enjoy life.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

TON Fire Department

After reading the Normal Fire Department section of the 2008 Annual Report, you will realize that it's a mistake to think that firefighters sit around waiting for calls to come in. These people are BUSY. Their work falls into three categories: responding to emergencies, providing safety education, and employee development. One of the biggest changes to the NFD in 2008 was the transition to a paramedic ambulance service (providing advanced life support). This transition required not just training for those involved, but cooperation from other firefighters to cover shifts during the training period.

Some interesting statistics regarding responding to emergencies: 5,115 total responses (the most frequent type of response being rescue/accident/medical assistance); an average response time of 4.43 minutes; of EMS-related responses, slightly over half of the patients transported to hospitals were females and the average age of all the patients transported was 49 years. Also, Saturday was the day on which the most runs were made, with Friday and Sunday close behind, and the time of day with the most runs was 3:00 p.m. (5:00 a.m. seems to be the slowest time of day).

There were 113 public education events in 2008, with lots of presentations in schools and other organizations, monthly car seat checks (which have been increased to twice monthly in 2009), and lots of fire drills. The robotic fire hydrant "Pluggie" seems to be a big hit with the kindergarten set. The number of inspections fluctuates due to loss of old buildings, addition of new construction, and the number of reinspections required. In 2008 there were 1,880 initial inspections and 651 reinspections.

Employee development in 2008 involved completing the National Incident Management System compliance (under the administration of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security). There were also many hours of in-house classes and lots of training. The demolition of dorms on the ISU campus provided the NFD (and others) with a great opportunity for training (they had over 400 fires in five days!). And this is just a very brief summary of all that they do. Impressed??

Sunday, April 5, 2009

TON Department of Finance

The Department of Finance handles the money for the town of Normal. In a nutshell, total assets outweigh total liabilities. That's always good. Specific items of interest include the fact that sales and income taxes provided the greatest revenue and public safety required the greatest expenditures. When you look at a rank-ordering of department spending for the previous fiscal year, Police is at the top and Mayor and Council are at the bottom (a real bargain, I'd say). Just 1,330 customers are using the electronic water bill payment system (out of 16,176 water accounts) but perhaps more people will pay using the internet. Many people "contributed" to parking ticket revenue for last year, with the most revenue collected in February (maybe people are sloppy about parking during winter weather?) and the least revenue collected in July (maybe because there are fewer vehicles in Normal, or because more people are biking and walking?).

One final note: the annual budget document received the Government Finance Officers Association's "Distinguished Budget Presentation Award" for the 16th consecutive year. I'm not sure what the criteria are for that award, but it sounds like Normal's Finance Department has them all figured out. Let's try for number 17 next year!!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

TON Facilities Management Department

As in any organization, there are those working behind the scenes to keep everything looking nice and working properly. For the town of Normal, one of these groups is Facilities Management. The Facilities Management Department is responsible for maintaining 16 municipal facilities in Normal. In addition to routine cleaning and special events services (set-up and tear-down), the people in this department have made some significant improvements to rooms at the Police Building, they updated the sound system at City Hall to ensure that all voices at the Town Council meetings are heard (very helpful to those attending or viewing the meetings), they worked with IT staff to provide an intranet form for work requests from town employees, and they installed bike racks at City Hall. They have also made changes to lighting in various locations in order to reduce usage of lights and electricity. So, in addition to keeping the facilities clean and in good repair for town employees and citizens, these hard-working folks have also joined in the "green" efforts of Normal. A BIG thanks for all that they do!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

TON Corporation Counsel

The next section of the Annual Report is for Corporation Counsel. Very briefly, this is the Legal Department for the town of Normal. At the risk of making errors (and, ahem, possibly upsetting anyone in this department, although I'm sure that all of the people in this department are very nice and very professional), I will not list all of the functions of this department. Instead, I thought it might be interesting to note some of the statistics in this report: 1,209 ordinance violations issued by the NPD for unlawful consumption of alcohol (resulting in over $300,000 in fines received); 86 ordinance violations for urination in public (resulting in over $10,000 in fines); and one ordinance violation for "missiles" ($25.00 fine). There is also a list of ordinance violations issued by the Inspection and Fire departments, which include: 37 for obstructing right-of-way, 18 for illegally parked trailer, and 10 for grass, weeds in excess of 8" (I'll have to measure the grass in my yard the next time I wait a little too long to mow). The total for all fines collected in 2008 was $572,428 (compared to $611,733 for 2007). The actual total for all fines in 1983 was -- can you believe this -- just $5,110!! My goodness, people in Normal were sure well-behaved in the '80s (or the fines were really low)!