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Slight Peoria Council Majority Favors 'Frontloading' COVID-19 Relief Spending

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Peoria City Council members disagreed Tuesday night with city staff recommendations on the timeline to spend $37 million in American Rescue Plan grant funding.

City Manager Patrick Urich said spending over four years provides the flexibility to respond to city issues that could arise within the grant spending deadline.

Many council members said the city already is facing a multitude of issues. Six council members raised their hands in an informal poll by Mayor Rita Ali suggesting the money be front loaded into the city’s final plan.

Before council discussions, Urich presented the proposed plan laying out $3.1 million for infrastructure, including street lighting and housing rehabilitation. The recommendation also has $2.5 million for neighborhood improvement and $2.4 million for economic development focusing on small businesses.

The plan also sets aside $1 million for social health and violence reduction initiatives — the latter causing council confusion on what that might entail.

The city presentation showed a little over $9 million a year allocated to city projects meeting grant guidelines. One of those guidelines is using funds for equitable change, which qualified census tracts can help accomplish.

Peoria has 16 separate qualified census tracts that target areas that are disproportionately impacted, according to metrics collected by the federal government.

“What we were looking at is, of the $18 million that we’ve recommended here for spending, 75% of that funding would be spent within these qualified census tracts,” Urich told council members.

The grant states the funds cannot be used to offset net tax revenue — extraordinary payments to pension funds, for example, or be used as a rainy day fund or paying legal and debt settlements.

Yet, one exclusion from the proposed plan had many council members perplexed: there is no spending set aside for staff operations.

At-Large council member Beth Jensen said public service occupations need to be restored, noting it’s the public’s second priority within the open-ended responses.

“Restoring operations was ranked five in the regular survey, but if you look at the open-ended responses it’s really the second-highest thing was restoring operations and public safety,” Jensen said. “I think this proposal ignores that.”

There were 804 open-ended responses in the city survey on the use of federal money in the American Rescue Plan. Some of the numbers were counted more than once and not all completed a full response, according to Urich. There was a total of 884 responses in the general survey.

Urich sayid using a finite fund to pay operational costs could be troubling. His reasoning is because funds will not have a safety net and once dollars are spent, they are not coming back. Instead, Urich recommends discussing operation hiring within the regular budget as revenue is going up.

But Jensen is wary of such a proposal as Peoria’s revenue report is still being compiled. Jensen mentioned discussions from the past where reports of revenue going up actually ended with less than desirable totals, which disrupts city planning.

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