As 2006 comes to a close, the city council will be approving the 2007 city budget. Many followers of local government know the city council and I began the budget review process several months early this year with the realization that the 2007 budget was going to be very tight. Although our citizens request increasing city services, those requests have not been met with a strong willingness to contribute more revenues towards balancing those service requests.
Therefore, the council has chosen to hold the line on increasing real estate taxes and adding head-count to public safety. Even though we did not have the resources to hire additional police officers, 12 new officers have been hired this year and will be taking the streets between now and April 2007. The city council did place $500,000 in the 2007 budget for additional cameras in the neighborhoods and $100,000 for increased saturation patrols which have been a very effective tool for the Police Department.
In addition, Fire Station #13 on Richwoods Boulevard will be closed temporarily for remodeling and those firefighters will be moved temporarily to Fire Station #11 on Florence Avenue. This will allow the council time to hold serious discussions with the city manager and fire chief about our future plans for Fire Station #11 when #13 is re-opened next fall. In my opinion, it will be very helpful for those discussions to take place outside of the budget process.
The city’s total budget for 2007 is nearly $160,000,000 (including the library). That amount represents a less than 5 percent increase over 2006. To comply with GASB 45, (Government Accounting Standards Board) the council funded Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB), and becoming one of the first cities our size in the state to do so. We would not have been able to accomplish this without the help of our employees who accepted more responsibility for their benefits. By maintaining a solid General Fund Balance and being financially conservative, our AA rating, from Standard and Poor’s and Aa3 from Moody’s Investors Services, reflect approval of our conservative and business-like decision making.
There will be some extremely difficult decisions for the council in 2007. I expect to have more discussion on the possibility of a water utility fee to replace the garbage fee and spread that liability more equitably. Given that our expenses are forecast to outpace our revenues by $2.5 million per year over the next several years, we have to identify a way to bring more revenues into the city. We are at the point where we cannot continue to squeeze our operations for more efficiency without severely inhibiting our ability to provide basic services. All options will be on the table. Again, I think it will be more productive to hold these conversations outside of the budget process so they can be honestly discussed and considered without a looming budget-approval deadline.
In the spring, the campaign and election of our at-large council members will come. This will be a very important election and one I look forward to discussing in more detail in the coming months.
I ask for God’s blessings to you and your families. I hope the holidays allow time for rest and relaxation and my wish is that your holidays are peaceful and safe. Let us count our many blessings to live in a wonderful, giving community and may we all commit to making Peoria an even stronger community in 2007. IBI