Peoria Council holds meeting to review budget, CEO Council contract

PEORIA, Ill – Facing a $6 million budget shortfall, Peoria leaders are looking for options to fill the hole.

Tuesday, City Manager Patrick Urich presented a number of avenues to city leaders in order to balance its budget. Urich offered the option of a public safety pension fee, remembering public safety pension is pushing the city deeper in debt.

City leaders say they want to review all options other than cutting workforce.

Several options were thrown by council members including a vehicle sticker fee, business registration fee, and property tax increases. None of the options brought up are set in stone, Urich plans to explore all avenues and report back to council. Many believe there’s plenty of fat in the budget to cut before adding more fees on Peorians shoulders.

Councilman Sid Ruckriegel wants leaders to consider cutting their own benefits before cutting workforce. Council members are offered healthcare, retirement and a mileage stipend as part of their position. Ruckriegel says leaders are offered these benefits but there’s no way to determine if they’re meeting the requirements to get them.

Council members are required to work 1000 hours per year to receive retirement benefits. Additionally, leaders have no hourly requirement to qualify for health insurance. City employees however must work 30 hours per work to qualify for the same benefit.

Ruckriegel says there’s no way to verify if those hours are worked by council members.

“We are the policy makers and also the people who really are in charge of making sure that policies are enforced,” said Ruckrigel. “I think there’s a special light on us to make sure that we do things with the most transparent of options.”

The discussion then swiftly changed from benefits to a controversial contract on the table. The CEO Council is offering the city money to figure out what it would take to purchase the city’s water system from Illinois American Water.

The offer on the table is at least $400,000 for appraisal assistance. Two issues still loom, leaders are curious if the city acquired the water system could the city use the profits to pay other bills. Many think they can only use profit from the system for water-related issues. Additionally, if the city explored this option they still would not have an exact price tag until city leaders committed to a purchase.

“Once we are running the water company we’d have to dedicate a team to work it,” said Councilwoman Beth Akeson. “That would be in addition to what we’re already paying for.”

Council has until Nov. 1 to accept or decline this contract. Leaders also plan to have a solidified budget by the end of October. A vote is scheduled late this month.