The dawning of 2016 marks my 17th year in City of Peoria elected office. I consider it a privilege and honor to be trusted with the leadership of our City Council and the continuing obligation to work toward a stronger, safer and even more dynamic community. My goal has always been—and will continue to be—good city government. And by “good,” I mean adhering to the core values of responsibility, professionalism, accountability and transparency.
These values underpinned our approach to developing the 2016 and 2017 city budgets. There was unprecedented public input as we outlined the challenges we face in infrastructure, public safety, economic development, neighborhood stability, and relationships with other units of local government and our public school system. Increases in the property tax, sales tax and motor fuel tax will bring an additional $5.2 million in 2016, to be dedicated to road and infrastructure improvements. Overall, we will be able to allocate $9.4 million in 2016 and $9.7 million in 2017 toward the maintenance and construction of our roadways.
While on the subject of infrastructure, I would like to commend the work of our Public Works department. Last June, we had historic flooding of the Illinois River, which threatened the commercial, recreational and residential life in the immediate flooded area; Public Works crews worked around the clock to protect property and secure vital transportation links. Then on December 28th, vicious wind, rain and ice storms wreaked havoc on much of the community, and Public Works crews were faced not only with river flooding, but unprecedented debris removal and damage mitigation. Together with the work of Ameren to restore power, police and fire personnel to protect the public’s safety, and emergency response personnel, the community was able to remain on its feet.
The $185.3-million budget plan for 2016 will further add to our public safety competencies as performed by the Peoria fire and police departments. With heavy emphasis on training and manpower development, increased presence in our many diverse neighborhoods, and openness to public input, our police and fire personnel will continue to secure and advance our quality of life. The two-year budget blueprint is the product of a top-notch city staff, more than nine months of community input and spirited discussion on the City Council floor. Our responsibility as council and mayor is to continue to provide policy perspective and advice as the year unfolds.
The City Council went through a significant change with the appointment of Sid Ruckriegel to fill the vacant chair of at-large member Chuck Weaver, who was appointed to the Illinois Senate. And with the announced candidacy of Councilman Ryan Spain for the Illinois House, we will be adding yet another new member in the future.
As I reflect on my 16-plus years on the City Council, one dominant, recurring financial and infrastructure issue involves the resolution of our combined sewer overflow problem. The price tag for correcting the discharge of untreated water into the river is in the hundreds of millions of dollars. While city staff is working on innovative ways to mitigate the problem, the eventual cost will be staggering. Our obligation as a council is to continue to fully discuss and share the dimensions of the issue with the public—and explore creative ways to meet the engineering and financial challenges. I am proud of the 100-percent green solution that our engineers and consultants presented to the U.S. EPA. Expect to hear a lot more about this issue and related water management as 2016 proceeds.
As most of you know, I firmly believe it is the responsibility of this office to pay attention and work to improve all facets of community life. Education remains my number-one priority in terms of working with other organizations, such as District 150, to heighten the attractiveness of Peoria for economic development and new residential growth. We remain firmly committed to Peoria Promise, which enables hundreds of public high school graduates to attend ICC. Peoria Promise is privately funded and the process of ongoing fundraising deserves your support and participation.
Finally, Peoria is blessed and fortunate to be the headquarters of Caterpillar. Last year, Caterpillar made the commitment to stay in Peoria and dramatically enhance its downtown presence. As 2015 unfolded, the company had to make the painful decision to adjust workforce in line with global market demand for Cat machinery. There is absolutely no question in my mind that Caterpillar will not only remain the global leader in heavy machinery, but continue to be a critical player in the overall economic and social health of Peoria and the surrounding area—and the City will do whatever it can to be a supportive and dependable partner. It is a privilege to serve as Peoria’s mayor, and I remain dedicated to doing the very best job possible. iBi