The Normal Town Council narrowly voted Monday night to add a pair of Rivian electric vehicles to the town’s fleet — but not before spending an hour debating the matter.
“As the only location of where these cars are built, to have an example of their truck and the SUV is something that I think would represent the town well,” said council member Karyn Smith, who was among supporters of the 4-3 decision.
Council members Kathleen Lorenz, Scott Preston and Stan Nord voted against buying the R1T pickup truck, and R1S sport utility vehicle.
Also at the meeting in Uptown Station, the council approved the purchase of some water treatment equipment and chemicals, and an updated playground set for East Detention Park.
Rivian vehicles to join town fleet
Although purchasing the two Rivian vehicles represents almost nothing in the town’s $161 million annual budget — it’s less than one-tenth of 1% — the council spent nearly an hour of the 75-minute meeting debating whether to approve the purchase.
The Rivian truck is expected to be added to Normal’s fleet this fall, while the SUV is expected some time next year. Both are baseline models, with no extras, said Mayor Chris Koos.
Spending less than $200,000 on the pair of Rivian vehicles is a small goodwill gesture in comparison to the electric automaker’s robust impact on the local economy, said council member Kevin McCarthy, who voted “yes.”
The automaker set up in Normal, and began production a year ago. Since then, it’s been gaining momentum.
“I think everyone’s pretty aware of the national and international attention they’re getting — what they’ve done in terms of significant, tremendous local economic impact,” he said, adding the overall financial footprint has to be nearing $1 billion.
Council member Chemberly Harris said because Normal has long called itself an “EV town,” it makes sense electric vehicles would be part of the fleet. With Rivian’s investment in Normal, she said it wouldn’t sit right with her to look to electric automakers outside of town.
Among the trio opposing the purchase, Nord outright opposed the purchase, calling it a case of want vs. need.
Lorenz and Preston said while they support Rivian, they had concerns about the town’s proposal not providing enough transparency. Lorenz said she didn’t like the way the issue “had been teed up,” noting staff didn’t even put a spending cap on the proposal.
About $150,000 already has been budgeted in the town’s equipment fund. Monday’s vote authorizes the purchase when the vehicles are ready.
When the plant was home to Mitsubishi Motors, the town fleet included about 40 cars produced there, said Normal City Manager Pam Reece.
Having a Rivian truck and SUV available would allow town employees to carpool on business trips, mitigating gas usage and mileage reimbursement, noted Smith. She said the town also can track how efficient electric vehicles are by maintaining the vehicles.
About $1M to improve water treatment
The council also OK’d spending about $1 million on water-related matters.
The council approved annual contracts for most water treatment chemicals. In all, the town expects to spend about $850,000 on the chemicals, reflecting a 20% increase from the previous year.
The town rejected bids for chlorine, and didn’t get any bids for carbon dioxide. But the estimated increase factors in expected costs for those additional chemicals.
Separately, the council approved a $137,000 contract with Utility Service Co. to replace mixers on three of its four elevated storage tanks. The fourth is newer, and hasn’t faced the same problems, said Normal Public Works Director John Burkhart. The formal bidding requirement was waived.
In other business, the council approved spending about $54,000 on a GameTime sensory dome, and surface upgrade for East Detention Park.
The accessibility-focused playground should be ready for next summer. The park is on Park Drag Lane, off Linden Street. The formal bidding process was waived.