Peoria area business leaders respond to City Manager’s budget proposal

Active Life

PEORIA, Ill. — A balanced budget, and no tax increases.

That’s what Peoria City Manager Patrick Urich has laid out over the next year.

A group of business leaders in the Peoria area have given their thoughts on the new budget.

“Overall, Biz PAC was pleased to see parts of the budget, but we really wanted to see that the city has a strategy for moving forward particularly with the fire department,” said Biz PAC Board Member Roberta English.

“We want Peoria to grow. We want businesses to come here and invest here. That’s all Biz PAC is doing. We represent business. We help people who are pro-business elected. We want to see Peoria do great and grow,” English added.

English says the fire department should not respond to falls at assisted living facilities.

They believe it passed liability onto firefighters and is a misuse of funds.

“Many times the fire department is called out to an assisted living facility to help with a fall, or to lift someone. We just think the assisted living facilities should pay a fee. We should look at that. Because this is costing the city. They have 24-hour staff, they should have staff available to do those lifts and that should not fall on the fire department. Because that’s taking time away from them responding to fires,” English said.

Another thing Biz PAC wants to see go into the budget is $1,000,000 in both 2020 and 2021 to go toward demolishing abandoned structures.

Kendra Sipes, President of the Peoria Area Association of Realtors, says this could help property values of many Peoria area homes.

“Getting rid of some of these worn-down properties that are not just taking down surrounding property values, but they’re hazardous being vacant. I think it could be a good investment to kind of show what the opportunities in those areas could present,” Sipes said.

Biz PAC released the following statements responding to the City Manager’s proposed budget.

The Business Political Action Committee of Central Illinois (BizPAC), an all-volunteer organization made up of Peoria area business and non-profit executives, has completed a thorough review of the proposed 2020 and 2021 City of Peoria budget. 

In order to assist our member organizations as well as elected officials seeking input from the business community, the BizPAC has produced a summary of its key findings. 

The BizPAC is committed to working with businesses, stakeholders, and elected officials to produce a budget that instills confidence in the business community which will produce good jobs and growth for the Peoria area.  The City’s goal is to vote on a final budget by November 12th

Things We Like:

·The City Manager and his team have impressed by presenting a balanced budget that has the ability to drive some important outcomes for the city. 

·No property tax increases, sales tax increases, new parcel fees, or other head taxes.

·Grants have been awarded to City to finance the desperately needed new EMS dispatch center.  We view this as one of the most important efforts to improving our overall public safety and we applaud the effort.

·Continued support for Convention and Visitors Bureau, Economic Development Council and IHSA basketball tournaments which generate economic activity and help support our local businesses.

·Taking a tough stance by increasing the garbage bill by $3/month to repay the General Fund.

·Energy efficiency improvements to City lights which have no upfront costs and will reduce our long-term energy costs as well as labor costs for bulb replacements.

·Traffic signal preemption system investments which can reduce response times by 20% as well as reduce crashes at intersections.  We should consider increasing these investments.

·No cuts to the police force.

Things We Would Like to See Improved:

·We would like $1MM per year in 2020 and 2021 dedicated towards demolition and clearance of abandoned structures.  These structures are eyesores and public safety hazards, they lower land values, and they impede economic development.  The City plans to spend $1MM per year in 2022-2025 on demolition and we should move those costs up since the abandoned structures are a problem today and funds aren’t going to be more available in two years since our pension costs are going to be significantly higher in two years.

·City set a goal of $2MM per year going to replenish our very low rainy day funds but we have only $1.4MM set aside in 2020 plus last year ended up coming in over $520,000 short of the $2MM budgeted so we are not achieving our goal and we are well below best practices in terms of reserves for cities our size.  We will be in very bad shape if the economy were to slow down!

·Fire Department should no longer respond to falls at assisted living facilities.  These facilities have trained staff available to provide aid and assistance.  By choosing to pass the liability on to our firefighters, these facilities are impacting public safety and increasing the risk of severe injury to our firefighters. This is a blatant misuse of public safety services and should be discouraged.

· $450,000 allocated to Gateway Building improvements.  This building costs the taxpayers every year and we need a better plan to increase its revenues and cut costs.  The City should consider leasing the building out or bringing in a private management company to run its operations. 

Things We Would Like More Info On:

·Foreclosure Fee: In order to cover the costs of maintaining foreclosed properties, the City is proposing implementing a foreclosure fee on banks that are not adequately keeping up properties in foreclosure.  Do we have information on how this might impact banks’ willingness to loan on properties within the City?  We want to make sure there won’t be negative repercussions to borrowers and curious if anyone at the City has discussed this with lenders?

·Fire Fighters Union Lawsuit: What is the status of the $4MM judgment against the City brought by Local 50? Is this reflected in the budget?

·More information on Garbage Collection.  What effects would changing our recycling program have on the overall budget?  What would be the reasons for/against breaking our landfill contract?

·Accounts Receivable:  What’s the total outstanding accounts receivable for unpaid fines/bills/fees?  What is the City doing to receive payment? What modernization of payment options is being looked at to increase payment frequency?

Things We Don’t Like:

·Lack of a comprehensive Fire Department plan to direct capital spending that efficiently allocates fire department resources and personnel for long-term sustainability while preserving public safety.  The findings from the independent Fitch and Associates study, in conjunction with past studies and recommendations, layout ideas for capital expenditures and efficient deployment of assets and stations. We would support increased capital expenditures that realize a comprehensive fire department plan; however, until the planning occurs, we cannot support the $1.4MM for new fleet and $5MM for 2 new fire stations.

·Budgeted Fire Department funding increased by nearly $650,000 in 2020 and nearly $1.4MM in 2021 despite the public overwhelmingly voicing their opinion against such a move.  71% of the feedback received expressed a desire to either cut $1MM in PFD funding (37%) or maintain public safety spending at 2019 levels (34%).

·Stormwater utility dollars should be used to cover new employees and costs associated with the CSO.  It should not be used to cover existing public works employees or to improve roadways.  There was discussion that the CSO could be used to fund employee pensions and this was not how the stormwater fee was sold to our citizens!

·In 2023, $1 in every $9 the city receives in taxes will be going directly to pensions.  We cannot wait on Springfield to fix this problem.  We need to proactively cut our expenses so that we can keep up with future public safety pension obligations as these pensions represent a promise we made to the men and women that have protected our community. 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.