Building for Long-Term Success

by Mayor Jim Ardis, City of Peoria

Last October, iBi focused on the theme “globalization,” and my article followed suit. I emphasized the city’s responsibility to provide the local foundation of governance and public services that enable our private-sector partners to succeed in global competition. Such success brings economic and social benefits to the community that foster growth, good jobs, educational achievement and general civic stability.

I believe the overall quality of our community is in substantial measure a product of the quality of leadership of our private and public enterprises that build for long-term success. And so it was that in February of this year, Caterpillar announced its breathtaking plans for a new headquarters campus in downtown Peoria. Continuing economic and political uncertainty around the globe has slowed the momentum towards achieving the new campus, but company leadership has reaffirmed that it will happen.

If you take the long-term perspective—say, 50 years—you will see that our community has gone through similar periods of adjustment to global conditions, most beyond our control, and has always emerged stronger, more competitive and better positioned to prosper. Those charged with leadership—whether in City Hall or corporate headquarters—are held accountable by our respective constituents to do what is necessary for long-term success. Caterpillar is making painful but essential decisions to keep building for future business growth. Likewise, those of us who are in positions of local public trust must make challenging decisions to live within our means and aim towards future strength as a livable and enviable community.

Presently, the City of Peoria is constructing its financial blueprint for the next two years. This is serious business as we grapple with less-than-glowing revenue growth and continuing pressure from rising expenses. We’ve got a lot on our plates as we look at infrastructure needs exceeding $300 million as they relate to waste and stormwater control issues and road improvements. These two examples are complicated by the fact that they are connected both financially and legally, with federal mandates and delays in state revenue sharing. The entire city budget projection for 2016 is about $181 million. Clearly, we must look at reasonable, affordable options for raising the revenue side of the equation as we continue to operate a lean city administrative operation.

The City Council is looking at several options presented by the administration, which include increasing the city sales tax by 0.25 percent, raising the motor fuel tax by three cents per gallon and adjustments in other fees. But even if these options are approved, the actual increase to our revenue stream (about $3 million) barely keeps our heads above water. The strong argument for both increases is that they will be dedicated to specific, needed improvements: roads and essential infrastructure. And of course, there is always speculation about whether the council will look toward increasing the property tax. By the time you read this, the council will probably have approved a 2016-2017 budget plan. Whether or not the property tax—which hasn’t been increased in over 20 years, and we’re proud of that stability—is included in the mix of new revenues is anybody’s guess at the time of this writing.

My point is that we must provide leadership now to keep our municipal corporation strong and productive in the long term. We face the same challenges, albeit on a much smaller scale, that our friends at 100 NE Adams and elsewhere in Peoria face. I do not for one moment diminish the stressful human factor in all of this, but keep in mind that building for a more competitive and productive future is all about the human factor and its long-term security and stability.

As 2016 approaches, the City Council will experience changes in its composition. Councilman Weaver is now State Senator Weaver, and the council is presently dealing with that vacancy. Councilman Spain has announced his candidacy for state representative, and we will likely have a vacancy in his at-large position at the end of next year.

For the city to keep pace with the expectations of our corporate partners and citizenry, it is crucial that those seeking council seats possess the courage to make the tough decisions that invariably accompany spending and development issues. They should look to the needs of the overall community while helping our district council members solve neighborhood challenges and needs. They should have an economic development focus tempered with sensitivity for the diverse cultures that make up our community. They should have a track record of constructive business and civic engagement. And they should be ready for hours of homework and many more hours of phone calls and personal conversations with constituents!

As we build toward our future and overcome the present challenges, we need sustained and enlightened leadership that keeps its eyes on long-term success. Peoria has faced tough challenges in the past, and has emerged stronger in every instance. I am confident we will do so yet again.

Let me take a moment to wish you and your families a peaceful, safe and relaxing holiday season. We have so much to be thankful for in our great community. I humbly ask God’s blessings on everyone as well as hopes for a strong 2016 and beyond. iBi