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Ali emphasizes Peoria's 5-year plan in State of the City speech

Peoria Mayor Rita Ali stands at the podium as she delivers her annual State of the City address Thursday night at Haven on the Farm.
Joe Deacon
/
WCBU
Peoria Mayor Rita Ali delivers her annual State of the City address Thursday night at Haven on the Farm.

Highlighting aspects of the key priorities in Peoria’s five-year strategic plan, Mayor Rita Ali touted better things to come in her State of the City address Thursday night.

“What you can expect to see in the days ahead are people enjoying a higher quality of life in Peoria,” Ali said during the annual presentation hosted by the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce. “This translates to happier people. Peoria has always been my happy place.”

However, whether Ali intends to still be in office for the plan’s implementation is uncertain. The first-term mayor told reporters she has come to a decision on running for re-election, but she’s not yet ready to make it public.

“I haven’t announced yet,” she said. “I’ve made up my mind; you’ll know soon.”

Ali said the full strategic plan is complete and will be presented at the next city council meeting. She said the plan contains lofty but measurable goals.

“Reducing crime by a certain percent, increasing events in downtown, improving the hotel occupancy rates — those are very specific, and so we have to be very intentional in terms of how we go about achieving those results,” said Ali.

With community safety representing one of the strategic plan’s six priority areas, Ali said efforts to reduce violent crime are having positive results. She pointed to year-to-date crime statistics showing a 14% decline in shooting incidents, a 23% drop in shooting victims, and a 44% reduction in murders.

But the mayor admitted the number of youthful offenders committing the violent crimes is “very frustrating.”

“It's happening nationwide, post-COVID,” said Ali. “So we have to continue to work with our partners, work with the schools, work with the community organizations, and again, work with these youth directly to address these issues and give them some positive opportunities, like employment, internships, those opportunities help to keep them off the streets.”

City manager Patrick Urich acknowledged Peoria has hurdles to overcome in achieving the strategic plan’s ambitious targets.

“It's how you balance resources with the goals and desires of the council, and that's going to be a big challenge, obviously,” said Urich. “We have some headwinds with pension costs that are growing, and we have the challenge of a potential $4 million hole with the grocery tax that we're facing in the future. So, those are things that we're going to have to deal with.

“We started this as a plan that was going to be community-informed, council-led, and then staff-driven. That's really what we're trying to do with this is, the staff is going to take this now and try and achieve all those metrics that the mayor talked about.”

Ali said taking a conservative approach in the budgeting process has put Peoria in a strong financial position, with a two-year balanced spending plan that didn’t require property tax increases or debt issuance.

“Our budget of $324 million for 2024 and $287 million for 2025 reflects significant investments in public infrastructure and economic development initiatives,” she told the audience at Haven on the Farm, adding that city revenues grew $36 million from 2021 to 2023, an increase of 13%.

Among the other strategic plan focus areas, Ali pointed to numerous efforts to boost the city’s quality of life. She highlighted progress in community development, property rehabilitation and addressing poverty.

“Over this next year, we plan to increase Peoria’s labor force by 3% annually, reduce the number of persons experiencing homelessness by 10%, and work with our partners to improve the overall health and wellness of Peoria residents,” she said.

The mayor said increased residential development in downtown Peoria is crucial to restoring the area’s vibrancy.

“We are fully committed to revitalizing Peoria’s downtown as a great place to live, work, and play,” she said. “The time to do this is now, and the demand for residential housing downtown and the Warehouse District remains strong.”

The other key priorities in the strategic plan focus on encouraging business growth and prosperity; upgrading infrastructure with improved roads, sidewalks, lighting and more; and strengthening a commitment to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“There's a lot of good things that are going on in Peoria,” she said. “We're making a lot of significant investments in a number of different areas, (and) with these investments, it's going to get better and better. So, I'm very optimistic about the future of Peoria.”

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.