State of the City 2008

One of the mayor’s obligations each year is to present the business community with the State of the City address. The annual event, held this year on January 30th, provides an opportunity to reflect on the year past and forecast the year ahead. PSA-Dewberry was the sponsor of this year’s State of the City address, and I appreciate their support of the Chamber in hosting the event. Hopefully many of you were able to attend. This month’s column is a summary of the things I discussed. To see a full transcript of the speech, visit the City of Peoria website, www.ci.peoria.il.us.

I want to recognize my fellow council members, who work extremely hard throughout the year. I would also like to recognize members of our staff, who put in long hours and do fine work to make Peoria an outstanding place to live. The importance of education in our community is the key theme for this year’s address, and I would like to acknowledge all of the teachers and academic administrators in the community who are dedicated to teaching our children. Theirs is a special calling, and we should all be thankful for the jobs they do. Many times, our children spend more time with their teachers than they do with us. What an awesome responsibility they have!

This is a very exciting time for our schools in Peoria. Many of our schools are over 100 years old, and it’s finally looking like we’re going to build much-needed new schools. I can’t think of anything that would be more welcome in any neighborhood in the city than a new school. The stability a school brings to a neighborhood can’t be replaced with a store or other commercial building. Dr. Gorenz and the School Board have worked very hard to identify the location for the new school in the Harrison area, as well as others at the current Glen Oak School and Lincoln School sites. The City Council is excited about the opportunity to put extra focus on those neighborhoods to help attract strong, middle-class working families back into those neighborhoods.

As I’ve told you all before, the most electrifying concept to come along in generations is the Peoria Promise. The fall class of 2008 will be the inaugural class in this program, which we hope will draw people back into the city to establish residences. In return, they will have the opportunity for their kids who attend District 150 schools to attend Illinois Central College for two years at no charge.

Peoria Promise will give many kids hope which they may never have had…a real opportunity to attend ICC and hopefully move on and achieve a four-year degree. As Peoria Promise grows and we are able to raise more dollars, we hope to offer the scholarship to anyone living in the city of Peoria, not just District 150. The Peoria Promise Board of Directors and Advisory Board have been working diligently for the last year-and-a-half to be sure everything’s in order for the class of ‘08. Robin Ballard and her staff at ICC have been wonderful to work with. I would also like to mention how important our Education Liaison position has been to establishing new communication links with other schools, educators and politicians throughout the area. Our Liaison, Dr. Bill Collier, should be congratulated for all of his hard work.

There is considerable discussion in the community regarding our growth strategies. Our growth strategies are working—and they’re paying for themselves too. A special census was recently completed, and the results were better than expected. The city added 1,453 dwelling units and an additional 3,256 citizens in select areas of the city. Combined with the total from our last special census in 2004, the city has added 3,653 additional dwelling units and 8,455 citizens since the 2000 census. That’s great news! These two special census projects are generating just over $4 million dollars between 2005 and 2010 just from state-shared revenue funding. In the growth cells alone, the equalized assessed value (EAV) has increased since 1996, from approximately $5 million to over $155 million 10 years later, generating about $3.2 million to the city annually.

Dr. Bob Scott of Bradley University researched our growth cell strategy and confirmed its success. The growth cells have increased the city’s share of regional growth to ensure it remains financially viable. The cells have reduced sprawl and helped preserve prime agricultural property. They have promoted planned and integrated land use patterns in areas within and adjoining the city, and given us the ability to attract and direct growth through the planned location of infrastructure.

The growth of our medical community downtown through OSF and MMCI expansions, as well as new projects at the U of I College of Medicine campus, are very encouraging. We are also excited about plans for a potential collaboration between the College of Medicine and Bradley. I am committed to working toward establishing additional secondary educational opportunities for our region by partnering with area colleges and universities.

Our focus on crime reduction is having a strong impact. Violent crimes were down seven percent, and property crimes were down 18 percent last year from the year before. We made significant strides against crime in the second half of 2007. Homicides dropped 60 percent (from 10 to four), violent crimes dropped 10 percent and property crimes dropped 20 percent, versus the same period (July-December) of 2006. 

And the outlook for 2008? Although the national economy is stalling, things in Peoria are still bucking that trend. Thanks to Caterpillar, the medical community and other local businesses, Peoria is vibrant. Where would we be without CAT and our other outstanding employers? We’re going to work towards resolution of the rail/trail issue and hopefully make positive steps toward connecting the trail with the existing sections, giving our citizens the linear park they deserve. At my request, Dr. Amir Al-Khafaji from Bradley is forming a group to examine racial relationships in our community and how we can enhance them. The faith-based community has stepped forward in a big way over the last couple years, and we will be working very hard to keep them involved in improving our city too.

I’ll close by asking you, “What are you doing to make Peoria a better city?” Stop waiting for another invitation. Get involved. Take a few minutes to read the entire transcript of the State of the City on our website. Thanks again to our outstanding business community for making their investments in Peoria. Here’s to a strong 2008. IBI

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