Peoria city council discusses how to spend remaining COVID-19 relief funds, uses residents’ input

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — The Peoria City Council is one step closer to deciding how to spend the city’s remaining $36.7 million in Local Fiscal Recovery Funds.

The council held a special policy meeting Tuesday night to go over recommendations on how to spend the funds prepared by the city manager, Patrick Urich, and the city’s finance director.

Urich said Tuesday’s input from council members would also provide him with direction to formulate a recommended budget for the 2022-2023 year.

Back in July, the city also sent out a survey for residents to give their input on how to spend the COVID-19 relief funds. Urich said 884 people filled out the survey, choosing what they felt were priorities, and the results were used in his presentation to the city council.

The top three priorities were infrastructure, neighborhood revitalization, and business support.

Using the residents’ input, one recommendation made to the council was to divide the funds up and spend them over the next four years, which would be $9.1 million to spend on pandemic relief per year.

The recommended spending would go towards infrastructure, neighborhoods, economic development, health equity (matched by Peoria County), violence reduction, and program marketing/finance administration.

Urich said there’s only a recommendation for the first two years of spending so they can use the following years to decide if they want to go a different route.

“This is a unique opportunity for us to use these dollars in a completely different way,” Urich said. “We can start to look at this, and we can gauge our effectiveness of how we’ve been able to implement over the first year and then survey the community and say ‘are there changes you’d like to see us make?’ so we can look at making those adjustments as we go from year two, to year three, to year four.”

Each council member weighed in on the recommendation, some calling it a good start, but ultimately differing on what should be prioritized.

Andre Allen, Fourth District Councilman, Zach Oyler, At-large councilmember, and Denis Cyr, Fifth District Councilman, suggested allocating some of the money for infrastructure projects in the 4th and 5th districts.

Denise Jackson, First District Councilwoman, mentioned using some of the money to demolish Harrison and McKinley Schools on the city’s Southside.

Sid Ruckriegel, At-large Council member, suggested setting some money aside for public health services that they made need in the future. John Kelly, At-large Council member, mentioned using the money for projects and services that were lost due to the pandemic instead of trying to take on new ventures.

Kiran Velpula, At-large Council member, advocated using funding for workforce development.

Beth Jensen, At-large Councilwoman, and Chuck Grayeb, Second District Councilman, suggested using the funds to restore public safety services that were cut.

Urich mentioned the city’s revenues have grown over the past year and said there may be opportunities to use funding from the city’s capital and operating budget for some of the council’s suggestions.

One of the biggest disagreements amongst council members with the recommendation was the four-year timeframe to spend the money.

“Some council members had concerns about level-spending, feeling that there’s a greater need right now so we should spend more now,” Dr. Rita Ali, Peoria’s mayor, said. “Perhaps that we should frontload the funding.”

In the end, Ali said the city manager and his staff did a great job with the proposal and asked him to come back with two scenarios for the fiscal recovery funds: one with level spending and one with frontloading.

“I think with the direction the council gave saying come up with two alternatives gives me the direction to be able to work with staff to come up with some recommendations,” Urich said.

Currently, there’s no timeframe on when those recommendations will be brought back to the council. But Urich said he’ll present the council with a recommended budget for consideration at the first meeting in October.

Back in June, the city council voted to use $10 million of the fiscal recovery funds to eliminate the need to issue working cash bonds in 2021 and to curtail furloughs for affected non-union employees.

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