Peoria Adopts ’21 Budget, Still Divided On Pension Tax Referendum

Nov 11, 2020

A balanced budget and a decrease in the annual property tax levy for 2021 gained unanimous approval from the Peoria City Council on Tuesday night, but continued discussion about placing an advisory referendum on the April ballot to address rising police and fire pension costs remains divisive.

“I don't mind asking the public that much. Well, I do mind because it makes it look as though we've got a plan. And we don't have a plan,” at-large council member John Kelly said during the 45-minute discussion in a nearly four-hour meeting.

The city faces an $8 million increase in pension obligations for 2022, and a state mandate to have pensions 90% funded by 2040. At its Oct. 27 meeting, the council voted 7-4 in favor of asking voters via referendum if they would support a property tax increase to meet those obligations; the vote Tuesday was 6-5.

City Manager Patrick Urich continued the discussion Tuesday by asking for direction from the council on how to pose that non-binding question to residents. He offered three language options: asking for creation of police and fire protection taxes, asking for an increase in property taxes for the pensions, or asking if the city should levy an annual tax to fund police and fire operations.

“I do think that it's imperative that we take this step to get the feedback of our constituents,” said at-large council member Zach Oyler. “And I think the general election ballot is the time to do it, because that's when there will be the greatest amount of constituent turnout.”

But District 2 councilman Chuck Grayeb said asking voters if they want more taxes is a waste of time, instead favoring discussions with state representatives in hopes of passing pension reform.

“I believe this is a failed mission to put this on the ballot, because I believe our citizens expect us to fund public safety without creating special taxing districts to do it,” said Grayeb. “They're going to just laugh at this.”

The deadline to put a referendum on the April 6 ballot is Jan. 19.

The revised 2021 budget features expenditures of $204.56 million and revenue of $208.24 million-- but still represents $36 million in lost revenue over two years resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Urich noted the spending plan includes $10 million in borrowing, and any potential federal stimulus relief would first go toward reducing that borrowed amount before looking at restoring any service cuts.

The property tax levy of $26.5 million also was approved without discussion. Ardis noted a “Truth in Taxation” was not required since there was a decrease in the levy. 

Before the meeting adjourned, District 3 councilman Tim Riggenbach's motion to cancel a special meeting for Nov. 17 --rendered unnecessary by passage of the budget--and the regular meeting on Nov. 24 passed on a  10-1 vote, with Grayeb opposed.  

Township building purchase

Before the start of the city council meeting, a special meeting of 32 township electors, including the council members, was held to consider the purchase of a vacant building at 427 W. Main St.

Township Supervisor Frank Abdnour explained the purchase price of $190,000 would come from the township’s cash reserves and leave a six-month balance, while also discontinuing a $40,000 annual rent – paid to the city--for its current space.

“This will not only be a great asset to the West Main corridor, but to the neighborhood in general, and it will allow the township to better serve its clients both on the relief side and the assessor side,” said Abdnour.

But while some electors from the horseshoe applauded the move, others balked at projected renovation costs of around $390,000, leading to a nearly 90-minute debate. After a motion to defer a vote failed, the purchase was approved with 21 votes in favor.

Other business

Among other actions, the council:

  • Approved an updated Affirmative Action Plan for 2020 to detect and correct barriers to equal opportunity in the city’s hiring practices, with Urich pledging to update the plan again every other year;
  • Deferred amending the city’s unified development code pertaining to short-term rentals;
  • Supported an application for Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program funds toward extending the Rock Island Greenway multi-use path from the existing Riverfront Trail on Spring Street to Park Avenue;
  • Delayed a vote on home rule volume cap allocations for private bonds to the Illinois Assist MCC Program and the Tri-County River Valley Development Authority;
  • Recognized the Born Paint Company for 100 years of business in Peoria;
  • Received and filed the Peoria Mass Transit District’s unaudited 2020 financial statements, and the city’s month-end financial report for September.

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