PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD/WYZZ) — As Peoria city council budget discussions continue, council members are looking at details regarding the $321 million budget.

The topics of discussion for council members at Tuesday’s meeting included proposed public works projects and how they fit into the budget. However, the issue that took up a large portion of the meeting was that of rescue squads for the Peoria Fire Department.

Budget reductions in recent years have impacted the city’s fire department, according to Chief Shawn Sollberger. With the decommissioning of Rescue 1 and Rescue 2 squads in 2018, those responsibilities have been repurposed.

The rescue squad is responsible for saving people and firefighters in the harrowing situations the department responds to. They are the ones that use the jaws of life in car accidents, for instance.

2nd district council member Charles Grayeb took issue with what he believed to be inaction from some members of city administration when it comes to funding the city’s fire department.

“The hardest department to fund, and it should be one of the simplest, is the fire department. This has been going on for years, it’s like they’re public enemy number one,” he said.

To offset the lack of a rescue squad, all Peoria firetrucks have life-saving equipment inside. The rescue squad is currently a jump crew that is ready when called upon.

In 2023, that squad has been called upon around 600 times. That number “startled” Grayeb when he heard it.

Sollberger challenged the city council to determine what the city’s expectations are for the department.

“If we want to continue to live in this space, we’ve been living here for five years. So, I challenge everyone, it’s not just my responsibility, it’s all of our responsibilities to clearly define what our expectations are for our fire department,” he said.

It will cost $1.2 million to reinstate the rescue squad.

However, 5th district council member Denis Cyr pushed back a bit on the proposal. He believes the city is in a good financial position, and funding rescue squads and other projects could cause problems further down the road.

“We’re in good times right now and we have to protect our cash,” Cyr said.

Cyr was the only council member who voted no. His reasoning stemmed from wanting to fully staff the rescue squad rather than making firefighters work overtime. He cited mental health issues like PTSD as a potential ramification.

The other approved changes to the budget are sidewalk and road improvements, plus funding to improve Moffat Cemetary. The next city council meeting is scheduled for Nov. 14. The 2024-25 biennial budget is set to be adopted at that meeting.