Peoria, IL, October 18th, 2019- 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 worked hard to present a balanced budget.
• No property tax increases, sales tax increases, new parcel fees, or other head taxes.
• No cuts to the police department.
• Grants have been awarded to City to finance the desperately needed new EMS dispatch center
• Continued support for Convention and Visitors Bureau, Economic Development Council and IHSA basketball tournaments which generate economic activity and help support our local businesses.
• 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.
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, they are dangerous, 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.
• 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 nursing homes. Nursing homes have staff available to assist and this impacts response times to fires as well as firemen worker comp claim exposure. We need our firemen available to fight fires and not subsidize nursing homes.
• $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?
• Lawsuit from Fire Department: What is the status of the $4MM judgement against the City brought by Local 50? Is this reflected in the budget?
Things We Don’t Like:
• No comprehensive Fire Department plan and millions of dollars in capital spending for the department without having a long range vision that implements recommendations from the independent Fitch and Associates study funded by the City. The recent Fitch Study builds a case for reducing the number of stations in operation yet the budget calls for two new fire stations. The business community would support construction and financing of new stations if it improved the efficiency and reduced annual costs of the Fire Department.
• Since a long term Fire Department plan has not been established, the budget calls for replacement of vehicles in the Fire Department fleet costing taxpayers $1.44MM yet we might ultimately reduce the amount of fire engines in service.
• Decreasing Fire Department Funding was the most popular public safety recommendation in the City Budget Challenge yet the department budget is increased by nearly $650,000 in 2020 and nearly $1.4MM in 2021.
• Police and Fire department pension investment returns were abysmal in 2019 with a combined investment loss of $37.6MM and the citizens are on hook to cover these losses. Our police and fire departments should look to consolidate with other police and fire funds so they can be better managed. When these funds underperform, it is ultimately the citizens of Peoria that pay.
• Funds being generated by the stormwater fee that are not going directly to stormwater costs. 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 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.