NORMAL – Normal’s Town Council signed off Monday on plans to give tax breaks to a Gibson City ethanol plant – with hopes it pays off for McLean County corn growers.

Council members voted unanimously to extend a narrow strip of McLean County’s enterprise zone east to the One Earth Energy plant in Ford County. If also approved in the coming weeks by the Bloomington City Council and McLean County Board, it would be the first time the enterprise zone has been extended beyond county lines.

One Earth Energy says it’s the only ethanol plant in Illinois to operate outside of an enterprise zone, putting it at a competitive disadvantage in an industry that pivots daily on market conditions. By being added to McLean County’s enterprise zone, it would be exempted from paying at least $350,000 each year in Illinois natural gas tax.

Normal officials pitched the enterprise zone extension as good for McLean County farmers. One Earth Energy says it buys about 10 million bushels of corn each year from suppliers in McLean County, mainly from grain elevators.

“Clearly, it is of great benefit to the McLean County agricultural community, which of course is a significant business sector in McLean County,” said Normal City Manager Mark Peterson.

Ford County and Gibson City cannot legally establish their own enterprise zone right now.

McLean County has used up about half of its 13-square-mile enterprise zone, which expires in 2015 unless the Illinois General Assembly acts.

Buying public art

Meanwhile, Normal’s Town Council also voted Monday to spend $136,000 to buy public art for the new Uptown Station, opening this summer.

McLean County Arts Center Director Doug Johnson headed a panel that took applications from local artists. They chose more than 80 pieces of art from 52 artists, including wall sculptures, paintings, and photographs in color and black and white.

“It was a real effort to make sure the work selected was representative of the community, and not just a limited group of artists that we’ve seen many times,” Johnson told council members Monday.

Peterson said the $136,000 will buy enough art to fill some of the most publicly visible areas of Uptown Station, but not the entire four-story building. The price tag means only about 0.5 percent of the total construction costs will be spent on public art, Peterson said.

“We could easily probably spend another $150,000 and maybe not fill the building with public art to the extent we’d like it,” Peterson said. “Half a percent to 1 percent is generally considered a typical guideline for public buildings and public art.”

Councilman Adam Nielsen was the lone “no” vote. He called the artist-selection process a “missed opportunity” to get a broader cross-section of the public excited about the Uptown Station’s art offerings.

Comcast rates

Council members also approved a new maximum rate for basic Comcast cable service, from $17.74 to $20.28 per month. (That is the maximum rate that can be legally charged; Comcast currently charges $16.07 for basic service, below that cap.) Various new charges for equipment and installation will also increase under the plan approved Monday.

source: wjbc


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