Investing in Physical and Human Infrastructure

by Mayor Jim Ardis, City of Peoria

Infrastructure is usually thought of as something physical, like roads, bridges, sidewalks, waste/stormwater facilities, public transportation, public buildings and civic venues. We certainly have our share of “infrastructure inventory” and accompanying issues. In the long term, for example, resolving our stormwater management obligations in an environmentally responsible manner will likely exceed $225 million. When you factor in Peoria’s 50-plus square miles of land, 47,000 households and a population over 117,000, you get a sense of the 24/7/365 demands placed on our infrastructure.

But there is another dimension to infrastructure that is far more important. That is our human infrastructure: families, students, retirees, visitors, employees… the people who, day in and day out, make the city a living, breathing entity. After all, physical infrastructure is really just a means to an end—and that end is a safe, nurturing, exciting, multi-dimensional and rewarding quality of life for those who call Peoria home.

All of the above is front and center on my desk at City Hall as I am again privileged to serve as mayor and as a member of our city council. We elected officials face a somewhat daunting task: providing the ongoing municipal governance that replenishes and refreshes both our physical and human infrastructure. Our community is going through monumental changes, including corporate decisions that are beyond our control, yet impact the economic base we depend on to fund reliable, responsive and affordable city services. These changes place even more importance on what we can accomplish—whether alone, or in collaboration with other public entities and private partners—to maximize and nourish our human infrastructure… so we can turn our current challenges into positive opportunities for diversification and growth.

Of immediate concern will be a thorough review and update to our two-year spending plan, otherwise known as the budget. Initial estimates provided by the city manager indicate that revenues will fall short of original projections for 2017. Some tough decisions will have to be made, a process that began to unfold as soon as the new council members took the oath of office on May 2nd. We will be exploring, discussing and debating many options in the months ahead as to what the city—and our taxpayers—can expect… and afford. As this process moves forward, I can promise it will be done with utmost transparency, a well-reasoned review of the options, and decisions made in the public’s best interest.

As the city meets head-on the tough realities of a changing economy and its significant ripple effects on the public and private sectors, I am confident we will rise to the occasion. And the reasons for my confidence have to do with our human infrastructure. Peoria is blessed with world-class educational assets. Our health services are wide-ranging and outstanding. We have significant research and development resources totaling over one billion dollars per year. Peoria also has an incredible volunteer spirit, as thousands of our friends, neighbors and co-workers volunteer their time, energy and talent to the nonprofit sector, to academic advisory groups, to cultural and civic organizations, and to economic development groups.

One of my top priorities has consistently been to enhance our educational resources and encourage opportunities for our kids to receive as much schooling and training as they can. With that in mind, I want to commend Dunlap School District 323 for their outstanding performance and recent recognition as being tops in the state. (And as a reminder, more than 80 percent of the kids in Dunlap schools have City of Peoria addresses.)

I am also proud that Peoria Public Schools is embracing the Alignment Peoria process to include the talents of so many of our fellow citizens in helping the district reach new heights. I am going to say it flat out: the success of Dunlap helps raise the expectations and opportunities for all of our school systems, public and private alike. We are not competing with one another. We are building an educational culture that will settle for nothing less than the best in graduation rates and scholastic achievement, as well as fostering lasting principles of respect, civility, open-mindedness and civic involvement.

Finally, although you won’t see it in my official job description, I continue to do all I can to support the growth and success of Peoria Promise. This partnership between ICC and our local schools is producing remarkable results in helping young people attend college, obtain certifications and land rewarding careers—often in our own local communities. In the final analysis, is there any investment we can make in our human infrastructure that is better than good, solid education and career choices for our kids?

I look forward to the months ahead in working with the city council and our many advisory groups and volunteers to make the best decisions possible for our physical and human infrastructure. While buildings and tangible assets come and go, what we do as a caring people will be everlasting. iBi