Successes, Changes and Opportunities

by Mayor Jim Ardis, City of Peoria

With another holiday season upon us, it is a very special time of year. We give thanks for our many blessings, celebrate the promise of our various faiths and prepare for the dawn of a new year. With that in mind, I’d like to offer a few thoughts on the successes, changes and opportunities we are experiencing as a community.

It seems only a short time ago that I delivered my 11th State of the City Address in February. Among the points I discussed were Caterpillar’s commitment to Peoria, the city’s balanced two-year budget with strengthened funding for infrastructure, “green solutions” to deal with our combined sewer overflow issue, partnerships with public schools in Peoria and Dunlap, economic development projects throughout the city, and public safety initiatives within our police and fire departments and with other governmental agencies. All of these items continue to focus on constantly improving our quality of life: making our city the best it can be.

Caterpillar, of course, is a dominant economic factor in Peoria and our neighboring communities. I want to express my sincere appreciation to Chairman and CEO Doug Oberhelman and his leadership team for their commitment to Peoria, and their ongoing communication to keep us informed of the company’s challenges and plans for future success. They have had to make many difficult decisions to adjust to the realities of the global economic malaise. The company has to live within its means and shareholder expectations, just like the city must live within a balanced budget and meet its citizens’ expectations for quality, reliable, affordable public services. Certainly, incoming CEO Jim Umpleby will have our continued trust, cooperation and appreciation for the company—and the men and women who make it a truly great enterprise.

While mentioning Caterpillar, I would be remiss if I didn’t express my personal sadness for the recent passing of retired Chairman and CEO Glen Barton. Together with his wife Polly, the Bartons have made lasting contributions to Peoria’s quality of life in so many ways. It is said there are three dimensions to an individual’s involvement in philanthropic initiatives: their time, talent and treasure. The Bartons gave all three with enthusiasm, selflessness and grace, and we are forever grateful for their generosity and leadership.

As I noted above, the adoption of a two-year city budget was a milestone in the transparent, responsible and accountable management of city finances. The process is open and flexible, as can be witnessed by the City Council’s decision in early November to scale back some capital improvement projects. But even living within our current means—and projected revenues in a challenging economy—we were able to accomplish major road infrastructure improvements, particularly on University Street, Sheridan Road and Southwest Adams Street.

And to borrow an old phrase, the “elephant in the room” is the looming expenses associated with the city’s combined sewer overflow (CSO) issue—an unfunded government mandate that will carry a price tag of $200 million or more over many years. While it has been a topic for more than three decades, I am encouraged with the administration’s approach based on green solutions that will ultimately benefit many physical assets, such as environmentally supportive landscaping and related construction. Peoria may be the first community in the country to develop a 100-percent green solution to address CSO, and we should be proud of that.

Throughout my three terms as mayor, I have placed the highest priority on quality education. Peoria Promise continues to grow, meeting the needs of increasing numbers of qualifying students from public schools (and soon, private schools, too). The city’s partnership with Peoria Public Schools in neighborhood infrastructure, public safety, sensible solutions to revenue challenges, and new initiatives to further engage the community (such as the “Alignment Peoria” project) continue to produce results, including higher graduation and scholastic rates, less truancy, greater public and student safety, and students who meet employer’s needs in today’s fast-paced, technological era.

Peoria’s economic development continues to be a strong positive factor in our pursuit for a better quality of life. There is significant momentum downtown and in the Warehouse District, with 10 projects underway or completed, ranging from the work to reopen the Four Points Sheraton to nearly 130 new residential units coming online by the year’s end. There is also progress on Peoria’s riverfront, as the development rights to Riverfront Village have been acquired, and planning continues for further improvements to suit the public’s desire for wholesome riverfront activities.

Further north on Knoxville, Junction City continues to expand and offer a variety of venues for shopping, eating, health-related activities and more. The attractive expansion of RLI’s corporate headquarters is a welcome development to a vibrant shopping and business complex near Mt. Hawley Airport. And despite sluggish national and statewide economic growth, 2017 will bring additional developments related to the Louisville Slugger Complex.

Peoria’s fire and police departments are a great credit to the community, with excellent leadership, professional staffing and continual community outreach as its hallmarks. The Fire Department created a cadet program this year to offer opportunities for young men and women to experience the nuts and bolts of fire prevention and firefighting, and explore career paths within the department. I’m also encouraged by the community response to the addition of a fourth residential police officer, reinforcing them as neighbors with a real, ongoing physical presence, and building trust and respect for law enforcement throughout the city.

It is my privilege to serve as mayor—especially in a year like this, with its many successes, changes and opportunities. I thank iBi for the opportunity to share my thoughts, and I note that this month’s issue focuses on “Women of Influence.” In closing, I will mention two that are important to me: my wife and my mother. Have a safe, joyous and blessed holiday season. iBi

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