With Election Day less than two weeks away, Peorians will soon be selecting their first new mayor in 16 years, and the two candidates vying for the office have different thoughts on the biggest issues facing the city.
Rita Ali and Jim Montelongo are current Peoria City Council members looking to follow outgoing Mayor Jim Ardis. Ali received 38% of the vote in last month's five-way primary, while Montelongo placed second with 24%.
Montelongo, who has represented District 4 for the last eight years after one term as an at-large member, has lived in Peoria for more than three decades and is founder and CEO of an engineering services company. A first-term at-large council member, Ali serves as Illinois Central College's vice president of workforce and diversity and has said she will retire from that position if elected in order to work as a full-time mayor.
In recent interviews, WCBU reporter Joe Deacon asked each candidate what issues they will make their top priorities. Here are their responses.
- Our biggest issues: One, we have to get our financial house in order. We have this giant amount of debt, liabilities that we have to take care of, that being our public safety pensions; we have the combined sewer overflow, which is $150 million; we have the Pere Marquette, which is $40 million when all finished. So those are our big financial things that we need to take care of, and we need to do it in a way that we can still deliver on our basic city services.
- And while all these things were going on, a lot of taxes were raised and fees were raised, which made people leave Peoria and businesses (leave). We can look back at our census and what our population is today and that will tell you that. All those (things) I thought were damaging to do and I said that on the council floor: It was a wrong direction to go, because we're going to chase businesses and people out of our community.
- So we need to focus on business growth right now, that's probably the biggest thing. We can no longer create these taxes and fees on our people, and we need to be able to focus on our basic city services. But the most important thing is we need to see our small and medium-sized businesses grow and expand in our community. And I want to make the greatest effort ever made in Peoria to focus on our small and medium-sized businesses.
- Economic Development, jobs, population growth. I mean, we have to grow our population; we've seen a huge exodus of people. With the 2017 restructuring at Caterpillar, we lost thousands of people from the area. We've also seen businesses close; some of those businesses that were connected with Caterpillar, but not all. So, population growth is very important for us because it's really hurting our tax base; to lose population, you lose tax money and then you know, we've seen a lot of cuts of city employees.
- When I worked for the city, many, many years ago, there were over 1,000 city employees full time. Now we're down to 615, and when we cut employees or staff, we cut services and we have cut services. Yet the taxes that are required do not go down. So people are still on the fence; they’re obligated to pay their taxes even with reduced services. So it's very important that we grow our population.
- I want to put Peoria on a pathway to become a smart city, like Columbus, Ohio – the fastest growing city in the Midwest and one of the fastest growing cities in the country. I want to bring our key stakeholders together to collaborate, work together – not in silos, but work together – to put together a new vision for Peoria and a new, comprehensive strategic plan that the people have been a part of creating: our employers, our stakeholders, our just regular day-to-day people having a voice in how Peoria will look down the road.
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