Metro Zone

The west side Walmart is the biggest sales tax generator in the Metro Zone that remains an issue in both Bloomington and Normal.  

NORMAL — Months after the Bloomington City Council voted to exit the Metro Zone revenue-sharing agreement with Normal, the town continues to consider legal action against the city.

“It’s still an option,” Mayor Chris Koos said this week.

Koos did not elaborate on what that action could be. He has denied Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner's claim that Koos said in 2014, "We will sue you" if the city opted to end the 30-year-old deal to share revenue generated by commercial and industrial properties on the Twin Cities' west side.

Renner, meanwhile, insists the deal is dead since the council voted 7-2 on Feb. 27 to end the deal, effective Dec. 31, 2016. He's now pushing for a joint meeting between city councils to discuss economic development strategies and other joint initiatives that do not include the Metro Zone.

The city factored into its budget for this fiscal year the $1.2 million in revenue it will save from ending the Metro Zone agreement. Normal City Manager Mark Peterson said the town continues to research how to deal with that lost revenue.

In a letter to Renner dated May 4, Koos requested the city return to the negotiating table on the Metro Zone because the April 4 election had passed, but Renner replied in a letter dated May 22 that city officials did not want to discuss the zone, but does support regular meetings to discuss collaboration ideas.

“We are looking possibly sometime in the summer to have our first joint meeting in a long time,” Renner said this week.

A joint meeting date has not been set, but when he spoke with Normal City Council Member Kathleen Lorenz last week, Renner said they tossed around holding it in July, which has a fifth Monday when neither council is scheduled to meet in regular session.

Renner said that timeline hasn't been confirmed with Koos or Peterson.

“It would depend on the topic. Obviously it’s not going to be Metro Zone," Koos said of the town participating in a joint meeting. "If something were to reignite the discussion on shared sales tax or a joint fire station, that could do it, but I don’t see anything on the near horizon.”

In a June 2016 verbal straw poll of the council, five of the city's nine aldermen voiced opposition to proceeding with any further discussion of that idea.

“This is a new council, so we could see whether or not they are interested in thinking about the idea again,” said Renner, referring to the April 4 election of two new council members.

“Clearly, economic development would be one of those important questions. We also want to talk about 911 response times," said Renner. "Hopefully, we can work out something that would make us safer and save us money.

“But any discussion of Metro Zone is moot from our perspective," he added. "We voted 'no.' Metro Zone is gone."

Since 1986, the Metro Zone agreement called on the cities to equally share expenses and revenues in the zone that stretched from Wal-Mart on Market Street in Bloomington to the Crossroads Center and what is now the Rivian Automotive plant in Normal.

Bloomington officials argued the agreement favored Normal by $1.2 million per year in recent years, and by a total of $7 million over its history.

Normal officials contend both cities need to vote to terminate the deal, and suggested a suspension of the agreement for 2017 while renegotiating a new agreement.

Bloomington officials said they can back out legally, however, because the agreement had no expiration date.

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