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Tensions Grow As Council Returns to Fire Department Discussions

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Funding for the Peoria fire department continues to be a stumbling block in developing an overall city budget for next year.

City Manager Patrick Urich last night rescinded his original recommendation to decommission a ladder truck. Instead, he suggested Fire Chief Chuck Lauss find other ways to reduce the department budget by nearly a million dollars.

“We would allow the chief the ability to manage the resources within his budget, as would be allocated by the council," Urich said. "This budget that I recommended includes $20.35-million of expenses and resources that would be allocated for the operation of the fire department."

Those changes could involve re-assigning some administrative staff to line-duty. The council reduced the fire department’s deficit by $200,000 by increasing fees for certain calls like false fire alarms.

That means the fire chief still must find ways to save $900,000. A final decision and vote on the overall city budget could come as early as next Tuesday.

Second district councilman Chuck Grayeb doesn’t want any cuts to public safety. He made a motion Tues. to make the cuts in city administration, to which Urich responded, and mayor Jim Ardis followed with a question:

“Find a million dollars in the administration, and make those cuts and bring it back to us for our review," Grayeb said.  

"We have a $7.5-million payroll for those 86 unrepresented employees so that would be a 13% reduction in administration, taking a million dollars away from the $7.5-million of the unrepresented employees that we have, the non-union employees," Urich replied.

"Is there a second on the motion?,” Mayor Ardis said. 

The motion failed for lack of a second, but represented a frustration within city council, as it wrestles with ways to reduce an overall $200 million dollar budget by $8 million. A final vote could come as early as next week.

Portillo's SSA Gets the Green Light

City Council also okayed a special service area and one percent additional sales tax that clears the way for a Portillo’s Restaurant. The vote was 8-2, with Mayor Jim Ardis and Councilman Denis Cyr voting no. The increased sales tax reimburses the developer for some construction costs. Portillo’s will open next spring on Sterling Avenue in front of Westlake Shopping Center.