Getting the Job Done

by Mayor Jim Ardis, City of Peoria

December presents a unique opportunity. This is the month in which we bring to closure a year’s worth of work, and at the same time, prepare for the launch of a new year. In the “business” of city government, much of what we do in terms of services—such as public safety and public works—continues from one year to the next. However, there were notable accomplishments that deserve highlighting because they lay a foundation for growth and progress in 2013. And besides the “services” side of Peoria government, the City Council and I have an obligation to look at the bigger picture—events impacting our community that are somewhat beyond our jurisdiction, but so critical to our future. By “events,” I mean the educational, cultural, social and economic dimensions of our community that comprise what we refer to as “quality of life.”

Peoria’s quality of life took giant steps forward in 2012, and 2013 is poised to be even more dramatic. From a strictly “services” side of city government, 2012 demonstrated that we can get our job done and live within our means. The City Council approved our 2012 spending plan of $183 million in November of 2011. While the plan called for the reduction of 50 positions, it did so in a sensible and compassionate manner. Of critical importance for 2012 and subsequent years, the budget permitted us to live within our means and at the same time launch needed new services.

Consider, for example, that a new program of residential garbage pickup, implemented throughout the first half of this year, has resulted in more efficient, cleaner, more timely and “greener” garbage service. In partnership with PDC, Peoria now has a residential refuse collection program that directly contributes to our public health, beautification and environmental goals. Directing a fee to pay for this service also allows us to utilize previous financial resources and focus them on our road system. We will be putting $17 million into our roads in the next five years because of this move.

On the economic development and infrastructure front, 2012 was amazing. On May 1st, actual work began on the new Marriott/Pére Marquette hotel complex that completely renews the Pére into a four-star, first-class 284-room convention hotel. And when completed in the spring of 2013, it will pave the way for the construction of the second phase—a 116-room Marriott Courtyard. Connected by an overhead walkway to the Peoria Civic Center, the hotel complex begins a dramatic new era in Peoria’s bid to be the affordable hospitality center of Illinois and beyond.

Earlier in 2012, we were successful in obtaining $10 million in federal support for the infrastructure rebuilding and redesign of the street network in the Warehouse District. Just to the south of downtown, this area will soon become “the place to be” in terms of entertainment, new residential accommodations, casual dining and other retail and commercial establishments. With Caterpillar’s recent announcement that it plans to build its “new” world headquarters in Peoria, our downtown will not look the same in a few short years. It’s truly exciting.

On the subject of infrastructure, I should also mention that the city’s first roundabout opened in October at the intersections of Pennsylvania, Glen Oak and Wayne Streets. Smoother, safer and more efficient traffic flow is already evident and supports the continuing development of the OSF Saint Francis Medical Center campus. Other roundabouts are planned, and in fact, one is now under construction at North Allen and West Hickory Grove roads.

In my August column, I introduced readers to the “Don’t Shoot” anti-gun violence program. This joint effort of many law enforcement agencies is bringing about greater education among the impacted individuals, neighborhoods and the general public. The Peoria Police Department is realigning patrol and neighborhood enforcement services to bring greater focus on problem areas and individuals. Nothing impacts “quality of life” more than education. Before a quick look at 2013, I simply want to remind readers that Peoria Promise is the gateway to educational success and productive lives for hundreds of Peoria’s kids. On October 13th, the organization held its most successful gala yet, with over 550 attendees. I want to again thank Caterpillar Group President Ed Rapp for his encouraging words and tremendous support as the gala’s honorary chairman.

The year ahead promises to be as exciting and challenging as the one now ending. The City Council has certainly started us off on the right foot with its approval in October of the 2013 budget. Our financial plan of $189 million will permit the city to continue to live within its means and at the same time, plan, build, improve and grow. In addition to implementing many of the projects I cited above, we expect greater focus on the downtown with recommendations from the newly created Downtown Advisory Commission. We plan a multiyear effort to beautify our Southern Gateway, and there will also be exciting developments around the Shoppes at Grand Prairie. Our City Administration, through Patrick Urich’s leadership, will continue to align staffing and services with our resources and expectations.

In closing, I want to thank iBi for this opportunity to once again share my passion for and perspective on my obligations as mayor of our truly great city. Happy holidays and an outstanding new year. iBi