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Peoria City Council holds township tax levy steady; restores 1 fire engine into service

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The Peoria City Council has approved a motion, on a 7-3 vote, to maintain the 2020 township tax levy — going against a township official's recommendation for an increase.

Township Supervisor LaTrina Leary said the tax levy increase of $57,000 is to offset the current estimated rate of depletion from reserves. Leary said because of the ongoing pandemic and the loss of continual COVID-19 relief for citizen, more people are turning to the township for help.

“After reviewing our budget, one thing that we noticed is from the pandemic, which we’re still currently going through, what we realized is that the need and the necessity as far as our general assistance program (goes) is still there,” Leary told council members Tuesday night. “It has not relieved at all. We are still getting about the same amount of people reaching out to us that are needing help… Right now with the needs that are needed our reserves are going to not be enough, so we need to maintain a six-month reserve. It is to get ahead of the game rather than fall behind.”

Town Assessor Max Schlafley said about $500,000 was spent on the purchase of the new township building last year. By the end of their fiscal calendar next March, Schlafley believes an additional $400,000 will be removed from reserves to cover community needs this upcoming winter.

Many of the council members were concerned with the proposed tax levy increase.

“I think we need to take a pause. It is just a little troubling that our first instinct is to always raise taxes, but I would suggest councilman Allen’s suggestion, perhaps we mentally set aside some additional relief funds if that should be needed. That is exactly what it is there for is COVID-19 relief,” said Third District council member Timothy Riggenbach.

For some of council members, the decision to purchase a new facility for Peoria Township last year was a bad idea in hindsight.

“The township trustees voted to buy a building and remodel a building during a pandemic and use reserves,” said at-large council member Zachary Oyler. “At no point during that discussion was raising property taxes on citizens in the township to continue to have six months’ worth of reserves in the bank. I as a township trustee can’t stomach the idea of raising property taxes on our township citizens to keep six months in the bank when many of them do not have a half of a year in the bank — whether it’s pennies or dollars or hundreds.”

City council members are also township board trustees.

Second District council member Chuck Grayeb, who is the liaison between township officials and city council, said the need for the new facility was great.

“Our trustees do not give ourselves enough credit for the brilliant, and it was absolutely brilliant, move that was undertaken by (township) supervisor Frank Abdnour could not remain under a parking deck downtown on Adams Street and not pay almost $40,000 a year in rent,” Grayeb said. “Big difference between continuing to bleed the taxpayers for rent and actually buying a dedicated facility that is visible to the least among us financially who need help.”

Here is a refresher of approximate tax rates and levies from 2017 to the proposed 2021 levy provided during council discussion.

Year Tax Rate Tax Levy

2017 .1493 $2,343,873

2018 .1195 $1,831,893

2019 .1191 $1,786,330

2020 .0878 $1,286,818

2021 (proposed) .0918 $1,344,725

“What we are proposing is to increase the levy 4 1/2% because we know we are going to have to get to a certain back up to keep our 50% reserves and to get our levy back up probably in the next coming years,” Schlafley said to council members and Mayor Rita Ali. “It’s probably not going to be immediate. I was thinking, ‘Man, we’re going to have to get our budget back up to our 2019 levy.’ Our accountant felt we could increase incrementally without doing it all in one year. Probably take several years to do it. Three to four percent and still be able to provide the services and not drastically reduce our reserves down.”

Ali, First District council member Denise Jackson and Grayeb voted against the substitute motion maintaining the 2020 tax levy.

Short-term rentals approved

Three short-term rentals passed with little comment as the council seemed to accept a consensus of monitoring STRs if any violations arise. Currently, that seems to be checking in on rentals that had law enforcement called on STR tenants to see if any ordinances were broken.

The locations are:

  • 408 N. Cooper Street (District 2)
  • 110 East Briarwood Court (District 3)
  • 1314 N Sheridan Road (District 2)

Biennial budget updates

City Manager Patrick Urich gave an update on a variety of reports relating to the biennial budget.

Urich said Peoria meets the SAFER Grant requirement hiring activity section of the grant, but not recruitment and retention, as that portion is only for volunteer fire departments. Until the grant application window opens in the spring, Urich said the new fire department budget will include $500,000 to cover overtime costs.

Urich said eight requests were made on the congressional delegation to see the status of road and demolition projects. Two road projects involving Adams/Jefferson and Pioneer Parkway are tagged for approval. A million dollars for the demolition of Harrison School and $450,000 for the combined sewer overflow improvements. These items are currently in two separate appropriation bills that Congress is debating.

The council’s request to include the remaining available American Rescue Plan funds in the 2022 budget received some details on where the money could go. The $3,058,403, based on staff recommendations, include funding the demolition for both Harrison and McKinley schools for $2 million. If Congress approves funding for the demolition of Harrison, Urich said the council can use $1 million to fund another project.

The remaining $1,58,403 can go toward the Allen road reconstruction project from War Memorial Drive up to Northmoor. Urich said this move can free up $1 million for the Wisconsin Avenue project.

Council restores fire apparatus

In the most passionate debate of the night, council members were divided on Grayeb’s motion to restore one of the Fire Department’s engines starting November 1, 2021 — just five days away. Four council members, including Kelly, Oyler, Riggenbach, and Ruckriegel ,were against the motion. The council members' criticisms included that the motion pertained to next year’s budget discussions, therefore it's unable to be greenlit so quickly. Corporation Counsel Chrissie Kapustka said the council could move forward with the vote as it was under the city manager’s personnel authority.

“I would stand by what I said as far as if the city manager is discussing with you a personnel proposal that is already budgeted and already within both statutory and code authority to implement,” Kapustka said to Oyler. “I’m not even sure we need the vote of city council in order to implement.’

“I will say if it’s already budgeted, the city manager’s authority both within the city code and within the statute is very clear that he sets the number of personnel to work in each department — he determines the overall head count of the city.”

Oyler said he will seek legal counsel because the item was not on the official agenda, and if it's a financial issue, then it’s a part of next year’s budget and should require a super majority vote.

The council approved the motion 6-4, restoring an engine that was cut last year because of the pandemic.

Mayor Ali started the meeting with the sad news that Fifth District council member Denis Cyr lost his wife, Jeanie Cyr, due to an illness last week. Ali also shared her sympathies with former Township Supervisor Frank Abdnour, who lost his wife, Donna Vonachen Abdnour, due to illness two days ago.