Peoria Council Votes To Cut Fire, Police Positions To Fill Budget Hole

PEORIA, IL — The Peoria City Council voted 8-3 Tuesday to approve eliminating 22 firefighter and 16 police positions as part of a move to close a $6 million budget hole.

Additionally, reductions were made in the city’s community development department. Voting no on the cuts were Beth Jensen, Chuck Grayeb and Jim Montelongo.

The cuts don’t mean 22 firefighters will be laid off, said 1st District Councilwoman Denise Moore. Rather, she said, vacancies that were currently open would not be filled within the departments. The actual number could vary depending on how many employees elect to take advantage of retirement incentives for those with 20 years of service or more.

For weeks, council members have been struggling with ways to close the shortfall in the 2019 budget that has to be approved by the end of December.

The personnel cuts would result in a $3 million savings. Additional revenue sources will need to be approved in the next few weeks.

Second District Councilman Grayeb questioned the impact of proposed cuts to the Fire Department.

“We’re playing Russian roulette with the lives of people in this community,” he said.

While not taking any direct action on implementing new revenue streams for the city, council members approved the first reading of a public safety pension fee by a 9-2 vote with Jensen and Zach Oyler voting no. That fee, if formally approved, would impose a $50 fee on every parcel of land in Peoria with a structure. Parcels over 5,000 square feet would pay $300 annually. The money from the fee would not go into the general fund but go directly toward paying off pension payments for the city’s fire and police employees.

Council members veered off the budget discussion, ranging across a wide variety of issues including Combined Sewer Overflow revenues, state funding and TIF funds. Members struggled to come up with a way to cut the budget without raising property taxes.

A motion by Jensen involved a number of cuts, including reducing by half the budget of the Greater Peoria Convention and Visitors Bureau. That measure was defeated by a 9-2 margin with Jensen and Grayeb voting in support.

Grayeb suggested a property tax increase instead of cutting public safety, but failed to get a second from other council members.

The issue of $500,000 improvements to Roosevelt School in South Peoria, funds that would come through the city using TIF funds, was also discussed.

Councilwoman Beth Akeson called for the council to take up the matter of TIF funding in the near future.

In other news, the council approved two projects in the city’s Warehouse district.

The single largest residential project proposed for the area to date, a $21 million redevelopment of Builder’s Warehouse, 812 Washington St., along with a 60-space parking lot, was approved by an 11-0 vote.

Also approved on Tuesday was another project offered by Larry Winkler. Winkler Lofts was one of the first residential projects completed in the Warehouse District. He has now proposed a $4 million project with 25 units and 6,000 square feet of commercial space at 725 Washington St.

“The project needs an anchor tenant with the 6,000 square feet. The clock starts running, and has six months to find that tenant, and then the redevelopment agreement starts,” said Cesar Suarez, the senior development specialist for the city.

Moore, the 1st District Councilwoman, lauded Builder’s Warehouse for the 20 years it has operated in the 1st District and said that she has heard that the owners plan to relocate elsewhere in the community, “hopefully in the 1st District.”

Moore also said that parking needs in the Warehouse District require a “long-term solution.”

From The Peoria Journal Star

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