The city of Peoria isn't much closer to closing the $50 million hole in the 2020 budget caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The council voted Tuesday to restructure $10 million in debt and explore offering early retirement or voluntary separation incentives. But the main issues of laying off dozens of city employees and hiking property taxes to pay for more borrowing are still on the table.
The current plan drafted by City Manager Patrick Urich would trim $10 million in operating expenses by cutting 94 city jobs. That's 14 percent of the city workforce. It includes 20 percent of city hall staff, 15 percent of public works, 17 percent of the fire department, and 12 percent of the police department. Some of those jobs are existing vacancies, but 57 employees would be laid off. $26 million dollars in capital improvements are also up for elimination.
"We anticipate that when we make $10 million in operating cuts in this magnitude and the number of position cuts that we're talking about, that we are going to see a variety of service level reductions that will come forward from this," said Urich. "It's going to take time for us to try to improve. And we need to make this very clear: we will be providing less service than we have today."
The plan would also authorize $20 million in short-term borrowing. The city would raise property taxes by an average $33 for an owner of a $100,000 home to pay back the borrowed money.
There appears to be little council appetite for the options on the table.
"I will not accept any measure that includes tax increases against our citizens in a time where they are hurting just as bad, or in many cases, much, much worse than we are hurting," said At-large Councilman John Kelly.
"We know that we can't afford to cut a few dozen police officers or three firehouses. We know that that is insane. Period. Period. We know that it does not comport with keeping our citizens safe, and that is our first responsibility," said Second District Councilman Chuck Grayeb.
But Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis said it's unrealistic not to make tough choices in this situation.
"You can't say I'm not raising taxes, I'm not bringing in any new revenue, and also, I'm not going to make any cuts, because you can't get there from here. I'm sorry, I'll cut it short. But the truth hurts," he said.
Several councilmembers again mentioned the possibility of another federal stimulus package which could benefit smaller cities like Peoria. The previous stimulus only directly assisted cities with populations of 500,000 people or more. But Ardis told councilmembers they can't wait for a federal stimulus to fix the problems.
"We can't just keep kicking this can down the road, trying to figure out if Washington, D.C. is going to give us any money or not," he said. "We better hope they do, because if not, we're toast."
Hours set, live music OK'ed for some reopening outdoor establishments
The Peoria City Council also approved hours of operation for restaurants and bars to open outdoor serving starting this Friday under the next phase of the governor's reopening plan.
On weekdays, neighborhood bars and restaurants could stay open until 10 p.m. Commercial-area food and drink businesses could remain open until 11, and downtown and riverfront establishments could stay open until midnight. All three types could stay open an hour later on weekends.
First District Councilwoman Denise Moore said it's a good compromise for to allow downtown and riverfront businesses to reopen while keeping people safe.
"To back everybody up to 1 o'clock is definitely not business as usual. It will allow them to recoup some of the funds they are losing through the closure," Moore said.
The council also voted to allow venues already licensed to provide live music outside to do under the new order. The health department advised against that.
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