Mayor Kahl: East Peoria In ‘Good Financial Position’ After COVID-19
Mayor John Kahl said East Peoria managed to weather the financial impact from COVID-19 last year by acting quickly to cut expenses and delay planned purchases.
“We took some steps that protected us and actually turned out to be very wise decisions,” Kahl said Friday in his State of the City address at the Par-A-Dice Hotel and Casino.
“The goal is to move East Peoria forward, and I'm telling you, we made tough decisions; we weathered the storm,” he said. “There is not one decision, I don't think, that I would make differently today.”
Kahl said the March 2020 timing of the statewide shutdown for the pandemic hit hard.
“We were implementing a five-year capital plan for the first time in the city's history, and we had to defer that,” he said. “We had to cancel some purchases that were already on order that affected mainly the police department. But we implemented a hiring freeze (and) we implemented a non-essential spending freeze immediately.”
He said the belt-tightening of 15% in operating expenses for the entire 2020-21 fiscal year enabled the city to minimize revenue losses initially projected at $5.3 million.
“Thankfully, with some of the decisions we made, we ended up with just under a $4 million reduction,” he said. “Now I'll tell you, why we're still in good financial position today is because we budgeted for that; it was a balanced budget. We lived within the means.”
The mayor noted East Peoria took some flak at the beginning of May last year when it chose to eschew Gov. JB Pritzker’s stay-at-home order and reopen on its own.
“And I have no regrets with that decision. We protected a lot of businesses and a lot of livelihoods,” he said. “We asked people to remain respectful and we remained respectful, despite what some may think.”
In his presentation to the East Peoria Chamber of Commerce, Kahl showed the city’s budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year revenue at $55.1 million and expenses at $83.4 million.
“We're not quite pre-COVID levels; that's a difference of about $2 million on both sides of the equation,” he said. “But I would like to point out, as I did last year, the city is undergoing a $68 million wastewater treatment plant upgrade, and that loan is tied into the expenses.”
That upgrade project is entering its final phase at a cost of $25.5 million toward the low-interest loan from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Kahl said the city council felt it was important to move forward with the project during the pandemic, despite some residents' concerns.
“This is a project that they (IEPA) have been asking every municipality to do, to upgrade their systems. So we felt it was important to continue with the project, despite the criticism," said Kahl, noting loan forgiveness is in the works that will give money back to the city. “It was overdue, and had we stopped, who knew—I mean, we don't have a crystal ball—when (we could) pick it up and complete the project?”
Also included in the spending for 2021-22 is $4.1 million for the second year of the five-year, $17.1 million capital improvement plan. Kahl added that $1.9 million has been secured from the state to build a new fire station.