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Busy Peoria City Council session touches on public health, pensions, and a new thrift store for Peoria's South Side

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Robert Lawton
/
Wikimedia Commons

A busy night for the Peoria City Council included public health partnerships, pension discussion, and the greenlighting of a new community thrift store in the 61605 ZIP code.

Executive Director Reverend Craig Williams of South Side Mission told council members a groundbreaking for the new community thrift store will happen in a matter of months, though he said the new building, located at 2919 W. Garden, will be more than just a store.

“It will also allow us to have a warehouse … to hire and encourage individuals in the community to volunteer; helps our youth to get work ready. It is more than just a thrift store in 61605. It will house all our opportunities for us to receive donations, and it will also be a drive-thru warehouse. We are just utilizing space we already had and trying to bring something to our community to reaffirm dignity, to allow people to work in the community, especially our youth,” Rev. Williams said before the council unanimously approved the rezoning ordinance.

1st District Councilwoman Denise Jackson is excited for the new development in her district.

“I can’t remember, in my memory, that we’ve seen this much redevelopment take place,” Jackson said. “I’m excited to the point that I believe once both the project is completed it’ll be the beginning of hopefully spurring more economic redevelopment in that area as we look to try to bring infrastructure improvements to Laramie and other areas around that neighborhood.”

The council previously discussed at length the forming a partnership between the city and the county in matching monetary efforts to address health disparities, with the city using American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.

City Manager Patrick Urich says the city is using $1.3 million of ARPA funds over the next two years, along with the same amount matched by the county, nearing three million dollars total.

Mayor Rita Ali told council there were still additional ARPA funds awaiting placement after council members became confused on what exactly they funded in the past budget.

“We’re partners with them (City/County Health Department), and we’re working with them on this effort,” Urich said to At-Large Councilwoman Beth Jensen after she raised concerns the council would lose oversight. “The city staff and the county staff have been working very closely trying to figure out how best to align all of this funding that we have, which is unprecedented, in order to provide the best outcomes for our community."

"Right now the health department is also working on violence prevention initiatives, because violence is a public health issue. This is simply trying to establish the mechanism and the fund so we can start to work through this.”

Urich noted the Joint Commission on Racial Justice and Equity (RJE), which council approved in May 2021, by saying the Public Health Equity Fund is similarly designed to discover and address the issues. Urich says the council doesn’t have to approve what the board of health suggests.

At-large Councilman John Kelly heard funding addressing social determinants and was confused as to why the City/County Health Department would be handling the money.

“I don’t disagree with anything you really said … we’re eating up my time here, I’m just saying they (health department) don’t have the expertise. We have the expertise,” Kelly said to Urich. “I don’t know if this transfer is a very good idea.”

Urich states the agreement is allowing the city to leverage county dollars to help those in the qualified-census tracts.

“I just want to encourage everyone to trust the mechanisms and structure that we put in place,” Ali said. “Because a lot of those structures have expertise that we don’t necessarily have around the council, especially around the area of health.”

Ali said she understands council members' concern with lack of information on exact project details, but said this mechanism of the health equity fund will garner these very details.

At-large councilman Sid Ruckriegel says the discussion brought memories of earlier RJE conversations and is excited about further county partnerships.

“We also have to realize not everything that can be done is going to be done around this council,” Ruckriegel said. “We have to have partners in this city and this allows for those partners to be able to pull all of those assets and tools.”

Unfortunately, one issue that requires outside action is the pension system.

Finance Director Kyle Cratty gave a 20-minute presentation on the state of Illinois’ pension structure and Peoria doesn’t have much wiggle room. Cratty said ideas being discussed, but not acted on, include delaying the payment plan to 2050 instead of 2040. Any change to the state’s benefits demands a constitutional amendment, two-thirds of the General Assembly.

“An item of note, if you look at our overall tax levy that you approve annually in November right now for the year 2021…the levy itself $18.9 million of that levy goes towards pension obligations. We have $3.2 million that goes towards roads, which is included in our existing infrastructure and our debt and then we have zero dollars that goes towards our general fund to support operations from our tax levy,” Cratty said. “So all of our tax levy is going towards pensions and roads currently.”

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