BLOOMINGTON — The City Council Monday approved a revised brick streets master plan, but did not commit to the funding levels proposed in a related list of projects over 10 years.
In a related vote, the council did move one of those projects forward with approving a consulting contract for engineering services. However, approving the consulting services to begin the process of restoring a block of Monroe Street does not commit the council to the reconstruction project.
The brick streets master plan proposes reconstruction of 10 blocks of brick streets and patching 20 more over 10 years, beginning with the streets in the worst condition. The Public Works Department initially proposed $400,000 a year for reconstruction costs and $100,000 per year for patching costs.
A majority of the council expressed concerns about committing to the funding levels without first having a larger discussion on the budget and infrastructure needs.
Ward 6 Alderman Karen Schmidt suggested stripping the spending levels out of the master plan, but added that brick streets should be considered when the city prioritizes its overall infrastructure needs.
"I think it's dishonest of us that we have a plan here for $850,000 when we don't even know how big the puddle of water is that we have to spend on everything," said Schmidt.
The plan without any funding levels was approved by a 6-3 vote, with aldermen Kim Bray of Ward 9, Diana Hauman of Ward 8 and Scott Black of Ward 7 voting against the measure as proposed by Schmidt. Black said he favored a master plan with the proposed funding levels included.
The vote comes as the council has discussed recently cutting some city programs because of a projected deficit of about $3 million next year that could grow to $8.5 million by 2022 if revenue does not increase and the budget is not trimmed.
The city, which has about 320 miles of streets, once had 41 miles of brick streets, but only 3.5 miles remain. Some brick streets have been lost since the 2009 plan was developed but never adopted.
Ward 4 Alderman Amelia Buragas suggested the city use some of the $4.8 million earmarked for annual street resurfacing and sidewalk projects to preserve brick streets.
The first brick street project — Monroe Street between Clinton and Robinson streets — was estimated to total $839,000, which was higher than city Public Works staff initially anticipated.That caused the plan's total estimated cost over 10 years to be revised from $5 million to about $7.4 million, said Public Works Director Jim Karch.
When construction of a related water main is added in, the estimated project cost increases to a little more than $1 million.
Bray said she struggled with a $1 million cost to restore Monroe Street as a brick street when it could be resurfaced with asphalt at a cost of $44,000.
She suggested the city impose a special assessment for residents and businesses that want their brick streets restored.
"I'm just struggling with how this is the city's bill," said Bray. "I am having a real hard time with that. The reason being is that when these streets were put in (100 years ago) they were the common construction. They are no longer the common construction."
Bray, along with aldermen Hauman and David Sage of Ward 2, voted against awarding a $179,024 contract to Hanson Professional Services Inc. to provide engineering services related to design and construction work to restore the one block of Monroe Street as a brick street. The measure passed by a 6-3 vote.
Residents asked in April to have their block of Monroe Street repaired as a brick street rather than resurfaced with asphalt after Buragas canvassed residents and made them aware of that option.
It was that local reaction that brought the 2009 master plan back to the attention of the council.
"I think this is an example of us trying to protect our historic neighborhoods and invest in them appropriately," said Black. "Maybe it costs a little bit more ... but ultimately what I'm looking at is an investment in a key area that is going to return dividends to the property owners."
In other action, the council approved a funding agreement for the Small Business Development Center between the city, the town of Normal, Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council and Illinois Wesleyan University.
By a 6-2 vote the council approved an agreement that calls for Bloomington and Normal to split their share of the cost 50-50, with each municipality spending $61,845 over three years. Schmidt recused herself from voting because she is employed by IWU.
The center, located on the IWU campus, opened in March to assist in starting and/or developing small businesses in the community. Its primary funding is $80,000 in annual federal funds from the U.S. Small Business Administration passed through an Illinois Department of Economic Opportunity grant.