The City of Peoria could be making personnel cuts to its police and fire departments for the first time in years. Other areas will take cuts too and the city is considering new fees as it faces a $6 to $7-million deficit next year.
The city council has preliminarily approved three new revenue sources for 2019. City Manager Patrick Urich says the increase in funding doesn’t cover the growth in pension costs for retired police and firefighters.
“The cost of public safety pension growth is growing faster than anything else you have in this budget. If you don’t pay for that either through taxes or other revenue streams, this budget hole keeps getting bigger. What we’ve done is we’ve cut other departments over the years in order to keep public safety at the levels that they’re at. You can’t do that anymore,” says Urich.
Fire and police budgets will see the biggest decreases. The fire department will lose 22 positions and Fire Station 8 will close. The result will be the lowest staffing in three decades.
Chief Ed Olehy says the reduction in fire capability likely will mean insurance premium hikes.
“We believe that the ISO rating in the city will go down. We don’t know how much that will be affected yet, but if the ISO rating goes down, the insurance rate for businesses and homeowners will go up,” says Olehy.
Firefighters responded to 6500 calls in 1988, covering a city that was 40 square miles. Last year, the department responded to three times that many calls over 50 square miles.
The police department will also be doing more with less, losing 16 positions in the preliminary 2019 budget. But none of those will be from the patrol division.
Other department heads also told the Peoria City Council Monday night how severe the impact will be if proposed cuts to the city budget are approved.
There would be five fewer positions in the community development department. Director Ross Black says that will bring slower approval of permits and residents might see environmental changes in their neighborhoods.
“The violation height for grass would be increased to 15 inches instead of 10 inches and that code enforcement would no longer enforce the regulation related to unlicensed vehicles or inoperable vehicles that are not just junk on private property,” says Black.
The three new proposed sources of income are a $50 public safety pension fee on all structures less than 5000 square feet, a 2-percent package liquor tax and increased fees for certain fire services.
The council is expected to approve a new budget in December.