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Urich details Peoria’s requests ahead of legislative breakfast

Peoria City Manager Patrick Urich
Joe Deacon
Peoria City Manager Patrick Urich.

A change in public safety pension funding requirements, the ability to use automated traffic speed control systems, and funding for a host of capital improvement projects.

Those are among the major items on Peoria’s wish list of requests for local state legislators at this year’s annual Legislative Breakfast scheduled for Friday. Due to anticipated inclement weather, the meeting will be held virtually.

From a policy and budgetary standpoint, the pension issue may be most critical. Under current state law, municipalities are required to have their police and fire pensions funded at 90% by the end of 2040.

“We're currently at about 55% funding in both of those funds. So as we look at that, there's going to have to be some significant contributions made over the next 15 years, 16 years to get us to the point where we can be 90% funded,” said Peoria City Manager Patrick Urich.

“That's going to necessitate that the city does one of two things, or a combination thereof: We're going to have to either increase taxes to put more resources towards that, or cut services because we're going to need to put those dollars towards pensions.”

Urich said they hope to persuade the lawmakers to get that timeline pushed back.

“What we're asking the General Assembly to do is to extend the amortization period out an additional 10 years, to basically lower the curve to help us to ease that burden so that we don't have to make some drastic decisions that could affect not only public safety, but the services the city delivers or affect the public's pocketbook,” he said.

Urich said another legislative change city leaders hope to see enacted would make amendments to the criminal justice reform law commonly known as the SAFE-T Act, particularly with the pretrial release provisions that took effect in September.

“What we would really like to see is that some of the more egregious and more high-level felonies require mandatory detention in jail,” Urich said. “We also would look at that some of the felonies like fleeing and eluding the police, or possession of a stolen motor vehicle would be at a higher level of felony that would require mandatory detention.

“I think that that would help — we've had a rash of car thefts over the last year, and oftentimes it's been by younger and younger kids that are doing this work. So we just want to make sure that we're providing the appropriate level of punishment for some of these felonies when they occur.”

Another of the city’s funding request seeks continued funding in the amount of $3 million for evidence-based violence prevention programs.

“The violence prevention funding has been very beneficial to us, for us to be able to utilize and to assist the city in our efforts at trying to reduce violent crime,” Urich said. “The city police department cannot do it on its own; we need to have the community involved in that as well. So I think that's very important for us to try and get that kind of funding to help us to move and work with our nonprofit community to help the community to become safer.”

Both the city and Peoria County want the state to give them the authority to operate automated traffic law enforcement systems. Currently, Illinois only allows such enforcement in Chicago and its surrounding counties.

“We don't think that's appropriate. We think that Peoria County should be included, just as the rest of the state of Illinois should be included in that, to have the ability to utilize that,” Urich said. “We've had a significant challenge in hiring police officers, and when we don't have police officers on the street, the first area that we cut is our traffic division, because we need them responding to crime that occurs in the community.

“Outside of complaints that we get for public safety issues, traffic is at the top of the list, and how people drive in the community is really, I think, a reflection of the fact that we don't have a lot of traffic enforcement on the streets right now. Using technology to be able to try and address safety in different ways — whether that's through speed cameras or whether that's through red light cameras – is something that we feel would be appropriate for the city to have that authority to be able to do that, and we think it would make the motoring public safer in this community.”

Road work and capital projects

A number of road improvements are included among the funding requests on the city’s legislative agenda. Through the state’s Rebuild Illinois program, more than $106 million has been authorized for 50 projects, but the dollars have yet to be appropriated. Those include $25 million for Main Street, and $3 million each for Pioneer Parkway and MacArthur Highway — as well as $15 million already approved for redeveloping the Peoria Riverfront.

Beyond that, the city also is seeking $40 million to upgrade the existing length of Pioneer Parkway and to extend it to Illinois 91. Urich said that would facilitate business growth in the Medina Plains industrial park.

“For over 25 years, the extension of Pioneer Parkway has been listed as one of the regional road projects that the community wanted to move forward with,” Urich said. “We have had funding to do some of the initial redesign of the of the Pioneer-Allen Road intersection. But the extension of the road out to Route 91, crossing Route 6, would really create a very important east-west corridor in that part of the city.

“This is an area where we've created the Medina Plains Business Park TIF, and we've seen — with the Kering Eyewear/Maui Jim expansion and with some other developments that are going to be coming forward — that there is some interest in in commercial activity, both industrial and commercial, in that that part of the city. So by extending Pioneer Parkway, this would help us to open up the business park for more traffic and more access.”

Other new road work requests call for $15 million for Allen Road between Northmoor and Willow Knolls, and $10 million to reconstruct Laramie Avenue for residential and commercial development. Also on the wish list is $10 million to help relocate the State Street Post Office.

“I think that as we look at the passenger rail efforts, we've looked at that as a potential location for a station,” Urich said. “The post office has told us that if there's an opportunity to relocate the post office, they will work with us as long as we're able to meet their needs with a new facility. This would provide us that opportunity to look at that as a potential station location or future development. The Warehouse District has been a resounding success, and as we look at additional areas to grow, that's certainly one potential location as well.”

Considering the growth in the Warehouse District, Urich said local officials also are asking for up to $12 million to build a 400-space parking deck to complement a 300-space surface lot being built behind the 800-1000 block of Washington Street.

“The nice thing about the demand for parking in the Warehouse District is that it keeps going up, and that means that there's a lot of development that's happening in that area,” Urich said. “We have developers that are looking at putting in 180 apartments, and another one putting in 99 apartments, that need some place for people to park.”

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.