It has been said that each time former U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen returned to Tazewell County from Washington, D.C., he would comment on how good it felt to be home. For those of us that call Tazewell home, we also know that feeling. Our county has a rich history and an integral part to play in the region, both economically and politically. I would like to speak specifically about Tazewell County government and where we are headed as we move forward.

Tazewell is facing many of the same challenges that most local governments and households are. In addition to a slowing economy, we also face the challenge of being a “tax-capped” county, and are therefore limited in our revenue options. We do have several advantages, thanks to current elected officials, the board and the foresight of previous boards. We maintain one of the lowest tax rates in the State of Illinois. This means that for homes of equal value, the property tax burden will be significantly less in our county. Additionally, because of years of conservative budgeting, we have a strong carryover to get us through difficult times. We are currently taking a proactive approach to budgeting and identifying potential areas of savings as we move forward. As an aside, after many years of chronically late tax bills, we are now one of the first counties in Illinois to mail our bills, allowing taxing districts to avoid borrowing and increased interest costs.

Tazewell also has a regional focus in many areas that benefit the entire region as a whole. For several years, we have been the largest public investor in the Economic Development Council. We understand that every dollar a business invests in the region helps everyone else. We are proud of our leadership role and have benefited greatly from our business-friendly environment. We are also active partners in the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission, the Peoria Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Heartland Water Resources Council, to name just a few.

There are areas where we know that we need to be stronger, and we are currently working to improve those. The first is in the area of information technology. Web-based tools are a must in this era, and we have been entirely too slow to use this resource. One goal for 2009 is a fully functional and user-friendly web site that will save county residents time and money. Another priority this year is improving our human resources capabilities. Tazewell currently has more than 300 outstanding employees, and it is imperative that they are treated fairly.

Nearly 130,000 residents call Tazewell County home. We are proud to be a part of this region, with some of the finest schools and quality of life in the state. We look forward to working together as part of a larger team in moving the entire area towards a better future. iBi