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Peoria Heights trustees look for solutions to fund services, avoid budget shortfall

Peoria Heights Village Hall by Tower Park
Collin Schopp
Peoria Heights Village Hall by Tower Park

The Village of Peoria Heights is navigating a new effort to fund their fire department amid a potential budget shortfall.

According to a Facebook post from the village, the year’s budget initially posed a nearly $800,000 deficit. Over the course of meetings and strategy sessions, the board worked that number down. At a special meeting Tuesday, Trustee Brandon Wisenburg claimed the remaining deficit in the latest draft is $174,000.

There have been multiple board member suggestions for a solution, including removing a village subsidy on garbage collection fees, raising the village’s sales tax, looking at cuts in the police department and smaller piecemeal fixes like skipping some Christmas decorations or reducing volunteer firefighter stipends.

“They are concept only,” Mayor Michael Phelan said. “Until these additional fees are added on, they haven’t been.”

Some major budget expenses for the village include water system improvements, lead line replacements and $2.5 million in police department spending. A major increase is a line item for $1.45 million for the fire department, compared to $400,000 last year.

“You’re saying ‘it’s going to triple,’ well, of course it’s going to triple,” said former Volunteer Fire Chief Norm Reichert during public comment at Tuesday’s special meeting.

The tripling of the fire budget is a result of a lengthy and contentious discussion about the department’s future last summer. A proposed plan to contract with the City of Peoria for some emergency services generated hours of public comment at village meetings. Ultimately, a contract was voted on, reversed and replaced with a plan to hire additional full time staff for the mostly volunteer department.

Phelan says the proposed sales tax increase will be an action item for discussion during the board’s regular meeting next Tuesday, Mar. 19.

The 2024-25 fiscal year begins on May 1, and the board will need to approve a budget. But, Phelan says the budget can be amended “until the last hour.”

Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.