PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Peoria City Council will use the Early Retirement Incentive (ERI) to eliminate more city positions. At the last meeting, city council voted to cut 45 city positions. Twenty-eight vacant positions and 17 filled positions will be eliminated by Aug. 1. City leaders said those cuts will reduce expenses, but it will not be enough to close the budget deficit of approximately $46.5 million.
Tuesday, the council voted to approve the ERI in a 7-2 vote. The opposing votes came from Councilwoman Rita Ali and Councilman Chuck Grayeb. Mayor Jim Ardis abstained from the vote. Under this plan, the employee will buy out of the next five years of their contract, which is 4.5% of their salary. However, the employee will receive five years of service credit. Service credit directly affects an employee’s pension, with more service credit their pension will be larger.
Councilman Chuck Grayeb said voting for this plan now is irresponsible. Grayeb said he needs more information about service delivery for his constituents.
Councilwoman Rita Ali agreed with Grayeb. Ali referred back to the last vote at the last meeting. She stated the first string of cuts already eliminated 18 employees, 40% of which she said were minorities. Ali suggested against laying off more minorities. She posed the question, “How serious are we about diversity?”
“We have the opportunity to make change in the area that we’re hurting the most. We have a proposal on the table to exclude that very body?” Ali said.
Councilman Zach Oyler asked council members opposed to the plan to put their proposals on the floor, adding that they need to make decisions immediately.
The second option to eliminate jobs is called the Voluntary Separation Incentive (VSI). Council voted unanimously to defer discussing this option. Under the VSI plan, eligible employees can volunteer to leave their positions for increased health premiums. Only police officers and firefighters are eligible for the VSI.
Also Tuesday night, the council voted unanimously to receive and file recommendations for restructuring the 2020-2021 budget.
In addition to budgetary matters, council approved a new program for incoming police officers.
The Community Development Department is partnering with the Peoria Police Department to introduce the “Community First” Pilot Program. The traditional hiring process at the Peoria Police Department includes a gap of time after testing is completed and before a conditional offer of employment is made, but before enrolling in the Police Academy. This year’s incoming group of police officers will spend that period training on issues centered around neighborhood and community development. City leaders said they are committed to ensuring that all employees receive guidance that allows them to best serve the community.
Also Tuesday, city council approved a proposal to submit two projects to the Rebuild Illinois Grant Program offered by the State of Illinois, Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. The first project will be to convert Fulton Plaza to a two-way street. City leaders said adding a two-way traffic flow in that area will create a safer downtown for cyclists, pedestrians and drivers. The second project would extend New Street in the Warehouse District. That includes parking facilities.
Also, council voted on a first reading to upgrade street lights. They will consider paying $2,066,963 to replace current street lamps with longer lasting LED lamps. It is designed to reduce city maintenance costs and lower energy costs to utility companies.
Lastly, council is considering changing the city code to make short-term rentals legal in Peoria. The city proposed allowing short-term rentals in all residential zones, institutional zones, commercial zones and industrial zones. Individuals must have a hotel/motel license to legally operate a short-term rental. City leaders said AirBnB was not interested in co-oping with Peoria last year, possibly because the market is not large enough. However, city leader said there are other platforms that offer short-term rental service.