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Kahl anticipates big year for ‘transformative’ East Peoria

East Peoria Mayor John Kahl delivers his annual State of the City presentation Friday morning at the Par-A-Dice Hotel and Casino.
Joe Deacon
East Peoria Mayor John Kahl delivers his annual State of the City presentation Friday morning at the Par-A-Dice Hotel and Casino.

Describing East Peoria as a “transformative” community, Mayor John Kahl envisions a bright year ahead for the city.

“I grew up here. I look at East Peoria today compared to what it was 50-some years ago when I was a kid, and it's just amazing how the city doesn't sit back,” Kahl said Friday morning in his annual State of the City presentation at the Par-A-Dice Hotel and Casino. “That's visionary leadership that goes back decades.”

In his address, Kahl outlined East Peoria’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year, projecting $71 million in revenue and plans for $28.5 million in capital improvements, with about $20 million coming from the city’s general fund.

“East Peoria is in a good, strong financial position, how we govern, how we budget, and how we spend – and I say smart spending because you need to realize who we work for, which is the people,” Kahl said. “There's an expectation that we're going to meet the needs of the community.”

Ahead of the upcoming budget talks, Kahl says the proposed spending plan is balanced – although expenses show a $14.5 million gap. He says that difference comes from a strategic financial move to facilitate construction of the $60 million 501 Blutowne mixed-use project next to City Hall.

“We decided to provide a loan to the developer to get that project up and running, and they're going to pay us back with interest – and that's going to fund the construction of the new police station. So it's a win at the end, and we'll have that $60 million development,” he said, noting that it also resulted in S&P Global upgrading East Peoria’s bond rating from A to A+ last fall.

Among the planned capital improvements are a host of road projects that Kahl sees as critical to maintaining the city's well-being, including an overhaul of the entire length of Springfield Road.

“That will be a complete mill and overlay with brand new curbs, all the way from Main Street all the way up to corporate limits,” Kahl said. “With that, you don't just put a new pavement on (when) spending that kind of money. We'll have water and sewer main replacement, along that stretch as well.”

Kahl estimated the Springfield resurfacing would cost about $6.8 million, with another $2.5 million for the water and sewer replacement. He said they hope to have the entire project completed this fall.

Other street projects include work on the Camp and Riverside intersection, resurfacing East Washington Street, permanent traffic signals on Cole Street, and a $700,000 upgrade to the Veterans Drive bridge. Kahl said the city council also approved allocating $1.1 million in motor fuel tax funds for residential street maintenance.

“When you look at how costly it is to reconstruct a street or improve a street in today's world, you look at those numbers and what happens a lot of time with elected officials, they look at that dollar amount. They're like, ‘oh, we'll put that on the back burner.’ The longer you kick stuff down the road, the more costly it's going to be on the back end,” Kahl said.

One big project East Peoria is undertaking over the next year is updating its Comprehensive Plan. Kahl said that process is already underway, after a steering committee had a kickoff meeting earlier this week.

Kahl listed 10 main categories of the comprehensive plan as opportunities for growth, including economic development, public service, housing, utilities, transportation and future land use.

“This is our first one in 11 years, and we’re hoping to have it in place by maybe January of next year. But with that, community engagement is going to be a big component,” he said. “You really need to have one, especially from a funding mechanism. When you go to seek funds, whether it's state or federal, they want to know, ‘Well, where's your plan? Was this part of your plan?’ So it’s a huge thing.”

Regarding a new police station planned for Camp Street, Kahl said the two-story building will have more than 40,000 square feet, making it nearly six times the size of the current facility.

“When you look at where we were when that facility was built, it probably served its purpose at that time with the amount of officers we had. The department's grown; the city's grown. They've outgrown that space by 20 years or better,” Kahl said.

“In today's world with all the requirements – from training to the administrative side of things, body cameras, record keeping, evidence – there's so many new things that have come out with regulations that they have to abide by, we knew we had to do something.”

With an estimated a cost of $20.5 million, Kahl said they hope to break ground on the new station in the fall and have it opened by February 2026.

Kahl said the biggest challenge he sees for East Peoria comes from what he referred to as “unfunded mandates” imposed by state government.

“It's almost as though every time we turn around, they're trying to inch away local control somewhat. I view that as a negative,” he said. “Things that cost us money that sound like a great idea in Springfield, but everything's a great idea when you don't have to pay for it.

“We laid out all the improvements and the things that we want to do to make our community better – there's a cost to that. So we want to focus on, ‘hey, these are our revenues, these are our needs, we want to meet the needs. Let us do our job and you do yours.’”

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.