PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis spoke with Matt Sheehan during On the Record about the future of Peoria while looking back at his tenure as mayor.
Ardis was at the helm of Peoria government for 16 years. He discussed the highest of highs the City has seen, and the lowest of lows.
“Right before the pandemic, things were going really well in the City. We had a balanced budget for 2020, we put over $1,000,000 in reserves, most facets in the community was clicking on all cylinders,” Ardis said.
Ardis cited the Civic Center’s continuous success alongside booming business for restaurants and hotels for economic stability.
“Unemployment was below 4%, that was really strong,” Ardis added.
Mayor Ardis also looked back on when CAT announced they would build a $1 billion headquarters in Peoria.
“That really stimulated a lot of interest in the downtown area specifically. The housing market stayed strong,” Ardis said.
Ardis said the 2007-2008 Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic would be the City’s “lowest of lows.”
In less than two months, Peoria will have its next mayor. Someone to lead the City into the future. What advice does the outgoing mayor have for them?
“To be able to hit the ground running. To not take a whole lot of time and effort to learn the system and establish relationships, which is why experience is so important. We need to continue to monitor the budget. Things are getting better slowly but we need to keep an eye on revenues versus expenses. The next mayor will have to work with the Municipal League as we have been for the last 15 or so years to really push hard on getting our State legislators to tackle some necessary pension reform in the State,” Ardis said.
The Mayoral primary is tomorrow, exclusively during On the Record Ardis gave his official endorsement.
“Councilman Sid Ruckriegel is by far the most qualified candidate for this position. He’s got the strong business background. He knows what it takes to meet a budget, make a budget work. He’s been a huge employer, had hundreds of employees. He has established relationships in the community and within the council,” Ardis said. “The important part of the Mayor’s relationship with council members to be able to get things done, achieve consensus and move the city forward is very important. Sid Ruckriegel is the only candidate that displays all those qualities.
Ardis said pensions is the biggest challenge Peoria is facing.
“It’s having the biggest impact on our budget. About 10 years ago we were putting about $10 million into our public safety budgets and today it’s over $20 (million). That expansion is only going to accelerate further. Until the State gets a handle on pensions and takes some of the pressure off and give us some relief on that, our budgets are going to place an inordinate amount of pressure on the community and not allow us to not be able to do a lot of the things we need to provide our citizens they expect with the taxes they pay,” Ardis said.
The Peoria mayoral primary is Tuesday, February 23rd.
The On the Record schedule for March is as follows.
Wednesday, March 3: Illinois Gubernatorial Candidate Paul Schimpf.
Tuesday, March 9: IL-18 Congressional candidate Michael Swanson.
More dates and interview announcements to come.