NORMAL — Your vote for Normal mayor may boil down to one question: How much debt is too much?
"Normal is a wonderful place. We've built some wonderful things. We've also put ourselves in a very risky situation," said challenger Marc Tiritilli. "Quality of life involves cost of living, and it's gotten too high."
"Our debt load is well within our capacity and allows us to do projects (that) generate additional economic activity," responded Mayor Chris Koos. "We do not have as much flexibility for large projects as we did when we started uptown. ... This is exactly the reason, exactly the reason we need to focus on economic growth in our community."
Koos and Tiritilli faced off in public for the first time Thursday night in a public forum about a month before the April 4 municipal election.
The 68-year-old Koos, who owns Vitesse Cycle Shop, is seeking a fourth term to continue building up Normal, but Tiritilli, a 51-year-old Bloomington High School teacher, wants the town to slow down and pay off its $94 million debt.
That theme repeated as the pair discussed several of the top issues facing the town, including whether to pay businesses to come to Normal; supporting building a soccer complex versus putting money into school soccer fields; and whether to lower property taxes by axing economic development projects.
Koos noted economic development projects sometimes generate their own incentives and that some initiatives hinge on external funding, such as sharing the cost with the city of Bloomington or securing federal or state grant money.
The event, with questions submitted by the public and screened by co-sponsor WGLT, began with a discussion of the Metro Zone, a tax-sharing agreement between Bloomington and Normal that has driven a wedge between the cities.
The Bloomington City Council voted Monday to end the agreement, which calls for the cities to share the costs and proceeds of development on the west side, because it has come to favor Normal. The town lashed out this week, insisting the city can't unilaterally back out and asking to negotiate a new deal.
"Where's the conversation on what we do? ... The city of Bloomington did not return calls or respond to emails on that issue," said Koos. "We are still open for the conversation, (but) the Bloomington City Council has indicated over the past four months they are not willing to have that conversation."
Tiritilli said the town should back down and try to avoid splitting pots of money with the city in general. Koos has proposed sharing sales tax revenue across both cities based on population.
"This just reminds me of an early period in college life when you were poring over the phone bill with your roommates trying to determine whose share was whose," he said. "The original purpose of the agreement was to pay for infrastructure that did not exist back in the '80s. That infrastructure is now there. ... We can put this agreement to bed."
The two also disagreed about the town's discussions of building an underpass or overpass to connect Uptown Station to the proposed Uptown South district south of the railroad tracks.
"Part of our phase one study going forward is, do you do an underpass, do you do an overpass or do you do nothing?" Koos said. "We currently favor an underpass because when we went through public comment on it ... that tended to be their preference."
"I would favor the 'leave it as it is' option," Tiritilli responded. "We already have a crossing (at the intersections at either end of the platform). It is functional. It is (Americans With Disabilities Act) compliant."
The McLean County League of Women Voters co-sponsored the event at Illinois State Univiersity's University Galleries.