Paving the Road Ahead

Andrew Rand, Peoria County Board

Since the 2008 recession, the County of Peoria and many other local units of government in the region have repeatedly had to make difficult budget decisions as a result of declining revenues, cuts in state funding and organizational inefficiencies. During this period, Peoria County reduced its FTE (full-time equivalent) employee count by 14.6 percent as one of several means to cut costs and mitigate continued revenue shortfalls.

Historically, the County has looked internally to trim expenses, rather than externally to boost revenues by increasing taxes and/or fees. For the sixth consecutive year, Peoria County has continued to maintain its real estate tax rate of 80.5 cents per $100 assessed valuation, compared to the 2006 rate of 84.9 cents.

Reducing expenses—in large part by rightsizing the organization through voluntary separation and attrition—has allowed us to achieve a balanced budget without adversely affecting the high-quality public services our residents have come to expect. Maintaining traditional service expectations, however, is becoming increasingly difficult in one particularly significant core function—not because of reduced staffing, but because of antiquated funding formulas. The nation's current funding structure for infrastructure projects is insufficient to address the rapidly deteriorating condition of our roadways.

Many factors have contributed to the poor condition of county roads, including increased load limits and the use of road salt during harsh winters. On the other hand, also contributing to the infrastructure funding issue are stagnant motor fuel tax (MFT) rates that have not been increased for more than 20 years. The State of Illinois last increased its motor fuel tax rate in 1990; the federal government in 1993. Considering roadway maintenance costs for Illinois counties increased by almost 150 percent between 2000 and 2012, our $3 million highway budget does not stretch as far as it once did—and it is inadequate for future projects. While MFT revenue has not declined, it has simply failed to keep pace with the high cost of roadway construction, maintenance and repair.

Peoria County maintains 315 miles of roads, with 97 percent either sealcoat or asphalt surface, three percent concrete, and 13.1 miles located within the City of Peoria. We partner with Bradley University annually to track the condition of our pavement, using a Pavement Condition Index (PCI) to rate each road from an impassable zero to an impeccable 100. Currently, the weighted average condition for county roads is 58.8—with Glen Avenue between Sheridan and Knoxville (Peoria County's portion) an eight, and Airport Road, which was newly reconstructed in 2008, an 87. If the County continues to maintain its $3 million budget for infrastructure improvements, as well as our traditional service level for maintenance and rehabilitation, this average PCI rating will fall to 49.2 in the next five years.

Peoria County does not shy from difficult decisions, and how to fund much-needed infrastructure improvements of our roadways is one that lies ahead in 2016. During the coming months, the County Board will be seeking input from our taxpaying constituents, because the solution this time may have to rest with external partners, rather than internal ones. To achieve a realistic balance of public funding and public service levels, our residents' tolerance for increased taxes must be weighed against that for deteriorating roadways. And who better to help us gauge that tolerance than you? iBi

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