The Peoria City Council has approved an early retirement incentive aimed at reducing the need for layoffs from the city workforce.
The council voted 8 to 2 to approve the program at its Tuesday meeting, with Mayor Jim Ardis abstaining since he is technically eligible for the program.
An estimated 77 city and library employees enrolled in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund pension system will be eligible to apply. Firefighters and police officers are enrolled in different pension systems, and thus not eligible.
The city estimates potential salary and benefit savings of several million dollars, depending on how many eligible employees decide to take part in the program. That could mean fewer filled positions would need to be slashed.
Chuck Grayeb, 2nd District councilman, voted against the program, saying he wanted more information about the impacts on services first.
"The devil is always in the details. It's just not here," Grayeb said. "I think it's totally irresponsible for the policymaking body to sign off on any of this, not knowing what this is going to mean."
At-Large councilwoman Rita Ali also voted no, citing her concerns of disproportionate impacts on minorities as the city aspires to diversify its workforce.
City Manager Patrick Urich said he can't guarantee how the city will restructure around those impacts until the city knows how many people want to take advantage of the voluntary incentive. But Urich said the city has to reduce the budget, or raise revenues, to live within its means under the new reality brought about by COVID-19.
"Our service levels for the city when we're cutting positions are going to suffer," Urich said. "They're going to go down. We're not going to be delivering services at the same level with the same capacity that we have, because we just don't have the resources."
At-large councilman Sid Ruckriegel said he reluctantly backed the plan, citing a need for some kind of momentum forward on addressing the budget deficit.
"We've got to start moving in a direction to make some decisions here. I get asked by a lot of constitutents, what did you actually accomplish in the last city council meeting? And those are constituents from all over the city. Because they're trying to figure out where we're going with this," he said.
The council deferred action on a voluntary separation incentive program for two weeks to explore an amendment also offering that choice to police and fire employees. It would allow city employees with 20 years or more of service to retire with $25,000 paid down on their health insurance premiums.
We’re living in unprecedented times when information changes by the minute. WCBU will continue to be here for you, keeping you up-to-date with the live, local and trusted news you need. Help ensure WCBU can continue with its in-depth and comprehensive COVID-19 coverage as the situation evolves by making a contribution.