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Peoria City Council takes on short-term rentals, redistricting, and budget in packed three-hour meeting

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ROBERT LAWON
/
WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

In a three-hour packed meeting, city council members addressed redistricting, short-term rentals, and the city’s budget.

Redistricting and Council Structure are Two Separate Issues

The deadline for approving the 2020 Census redistricting maps is August 2022 and during last night’s meeting, October 12, council members heard sobering statements that time and money to alter the council structure and the council maps may not be on their side.

Corporation Counsel Chrissie Kapustka gave a summary of the gains and losses each district will need to adapt - 3,938 resident increase to District 1; 1,555 resident increase to District 2; 1,113 resident increase to District 3; 1,329 resident decrease in District 4; and a 5,568 resident decrease in District 5.

For reference on changing the city council structure, the city staff looked at ten similarly-sized cities and found only two had at-large members on the council. One city had two members and the other had three. District members ranged from five to 14 seats, the latter being Rockford.

The current structure of five district members and five at-large members was developed after a 1987 voting rights case. Before, the number of at-large seats was set at three, not including the mayor sitting on the council. The hybrid model of the council is currently locked under a consent decree, which is between the Voting Rights Act case plaintiffs and the city.

Right now, at-large members are voted in by cumulative voting and district seats remain plurality voting. For Peoria cumulative elections, residents can put all five votes behind one at-large candidate or spread across all five. The mayor of Peoria is also voted in by cumulative voting.

Attorney Phil Lenzini, who was a part of the city litigation back in 1987, says any changes to the council seats or form of voting would need approval from surviving plaintiffs, representatives of plaintiffs, and federal court.

Mayor Rita Ali pointed out only one plaintiff is still alive, Joyce Banks.

Lenzini says the simplest proposal would be to change the at-large seats to district seats, effectively making a ten district-seated council. Lenzini mentioned the idea was closer to the original proposal plaintiffs Joyce Banks and others offered three decades ago.

Any other way, according to Lenzini, would probably cost the city between four and five hundred thousand dollars to pay for mathematicians, political scientists, and other experts to help amend the consent decree.

“I’ll put a plug in for my representation to the school district right now. We really need the city voting precinct boundaries, your building blocks, done yesterday,” Lenzini said to councilmembers. “That time is running out… because their [school and park board candidates] petitions... can start circulating December 14th.”

Mayor Ali says she wants to finish the budget before addressing map redistricting, which Mayor Ali remarked could be done by the end of March. The structure of the redistricting committee could appear to be a committee of the whole to allow the mayor and at-large council members to attend proceedings.

Attorney Phil Lenzini works for Kavanagh, Scully, Sudow, White & Frederick P.C. in Peoria.

Council Amends Short-Term Rentals

Council members voted 7-3 to pass new regulations on short-term rentals or STRs. The measures include a 3%, .25 mile radius cap on STRs in neighborhoods and a max of six unrelated persons residing in short-term rentals.

Councilmembers Chuck Grayeb, Denise Jackson, and Beth Jensen voted against the ordinance.

At-large Councilmember Zachary Oyler says the council has been discussing STRs over the past year and any further regulations should’ve been discussed already.

“Here we are again talking about needing to come up with some restrictions and kick this ball down the road some more,” Councilmember Oyler said. “While today I get a phone call from a

resident of the second district who owns one of these properties and has now been fined for it… We are fining them before we even figure out what we want in this ordinance ourselves.”

Councilmember Grayeb said he didn’t see these numbers until a few days ago from city staff and didn’t feel comfortable voting on the ordinance without seeing the larger picture.

“I certainly cannot support this threshold until we can see this [Map of STRs in Peoria] visually,” Councilmember Grayeb said. “I do appreciate the fact that my fellow council[members] have been willing to work with this, on this, to this point...I’m not trying to frustrate this believe me I’d like to get this thing behind us. I want to be sure it’s done right. And, that’s why I’m saying it’d be instructive just to see these on a map. See how it affects the whole city. Not just district two because this is going to be more than a district two issue - trust me it will be.”

At-large Councilmember Jensen mentioned she spoke with short-term rental property owners, rental property owners, and businesses that manage STRs. She shared two ideas from them on potential public-private regulations that she shared with Director of Community Development Joseph Dulin.

“Two things they suggested to me that we should look into, that Director Dulin said he would and he asked me to mention them here...a lot of cities in the area that do allow [STRs] they have the company like Airbnb actually collect the city fees and taxes through Airbnb directly to the host,” Councilmember Jensen said. “So they get paid upfront when the host pays the fees to Airbnb or whoever the company is that they work with.”

Councilmember Jensen thought the move would save administrative costs upfront and ensure payment to the city right away.

“The second item is a lot of cities, to my understanding that allow [STRs]...they only allow licenses for people to rent out their property as [STRs] if they are approved by companies like Airbnb and other similar companies,” Councilmember Jensen said. “That way Airbnb and whoever the other providers are - are doing some of the leg work.”

Two short-term rentals located on W. Columbia Terrace and N. Elmwood Avenue were approved 10-1, At-large Councilmember Jensen voted against the approvals.

The short-term rental located on N. Sheridan Road was deferred after Councilmember Grayeb wanted to hear more information on the number of bedrooms located within the structure.

2022-2023 Biennial City Budget Hearing Next Week

City Manager Patrick Urich said the city budget is $34 million larger than last year’s budget and he expects to see a $10.8 million surplus.

American Rescue Plan funds will also be attached to the budget discussion at next week’s special session on Tuesday, October 19 at 6 p.m.

Updated: October 13, 2021 at 3:08 PM CDT
The council vote on short-term rentals was 7-3, not 8-3.