By the time you read this, the April 4th general election will almost be history… or it may be actual history. Whatever the outcome, it has been my distinct privilege to serve as mayor of our great city for three terms, and just perhaps, I may be entering my fourth term. The newly elected, or re-elected, mayor and City Council members will be facing an exciting year of change and opportunity.
The paramount opportunity is to continue pursuit and implementation of the 2030 vision statement, developed in 2015 through intense strategic planning sessions with the city manager. This vision places our city on track to be the best it can be through four essential goals: financial soundness and transparency; balanced and affordable economic growth and development; healthy, beautiful and safe neighborhoods; and a vibrant downtown, riverfront, Central Business District and Warehouse District.
Obviously, significant changes have occurred in our community—but they only add urgency and new opportunities to readjust, refine and align our vision and goals with emerging realities. I happen to believe this will be one of the most exciting times in Peoria’s history. Sure, Caterpillar’s decision to move its global headquarters will play a huge role. We are already feeling the impact, especially as we look at the “bank block” (bounded by Main, Washington, Fulton and Adams streets) and grapple with a new plan for that valuable real estate. I believe this particular challenge will result in an exciting, new plan for the block. It will not be like the old Sears block, which sat dormant for many years. I gladly confess to being an eternal optimist when it comes to our 172-year-old city!
This month’s focus on finance neatly coincides with the first of the four goals identified above. I am talking about the city’s biennial budget process—a great innovation that will represent our third time crafting a workable, realistic financial plan that lives within our means and balances the budget. Building on our current $200-million-plus financial platform, the 2018-2019 budgets will tackle some formidable issues. Perhaps the biggest involves the combined sewer overflow issue, which could eventually cost upwards of $230 million. Another item sure to occupy significant discussion and time is the question of the city’s review (every five years) of the franchise agreement with Illinois American Water. Some are already weighing in on the question of city ownership, and I appreciate the analysis and involvement of the CEO Council. Ultimately, this issue will be decided in the public arena of debate, give and take, and full transparency. Whatever the decision, I am confident our process will serve the overall public interest.
Another major item to be reviewed by the City Council in the coming months is the anticipated report from Fire Chief Lauss outlining the allocation of resources within the Peoria Fire Department. Our fire service personnel and equipment are among the finest anywhere, and I am very proud of their record of fire prevention, firefighting, training and deployment. With the city’s growth to the north and west, and recognizing that older neighborhoods consume different degrees of fire services, the City Council, with direct participation from the fire chief and city manager, will determine what resources are best suited for particular-fire related episodes and areas of our city. This will be a healthy, transparent review, with the goal of strengthening our service capabilities and performance for the safety of our citizens.
Anyone who reads this column regularly is well aware of the priority I place on access to quality education. There are good things happening within all of our schools. Of particular note is the Alignment Peoria initiative taking place in Peoria Public Schools, patterned after successful initiatives in Nashville, Rockford and other communities. Under the leadership of Executive Director Katherine Coyle, and guided by Superintendent Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat, a strong governing board and many other community leaders, we are poised for success. I am personally focused on continuing the expansion and success of Peoria Promise, which gives high school kids an incentive to stay in school and graduate with the proficiencies required in our technological age. And it is working: over 2,000 students have participated in the program since 2008, and we’ve raised more than $4 million from private investors—not a penny of taxpayer dollars. As young adults graduate from Illinois Central College through Peoria Promise scholarships, they are staying and working in our community, contributing to economic health and growth, and achieving personal satisfaction in their career choices.
On June 3, 2017, Peoria Promise will hold its third annual “Peoria Zero K Run.” Hosted by our friends at Junction City, this family-oriented event takes place from 1 to 5pm—and no running shoes are required. Not only does it heighten awareness of what Peoria Promise is doing to improve educational opportunities, it helps generate some of the funds needed to sustain and build the program. It’s a unique event, one of just six similar “Promise” events in the entire country. Take a minute and visit peoriazerok.com to learn more and get registered today!
The City Council and mayor have a lot on their plates the next few months as we continue to pursue and “achieve the vision.” But let the record be clear that accomplishing these tasks rests on the dedication and skill of the city’s 690 employees. Thank you to the men and women who accomplish our city’s essential services every day—and don’t forget that they do it on just 12 cents per dollar of your property taxes. Together, we will achieve the vision. iBi