5/19/2017: Walking up Fulton St. Tuesday night, I noticed neat row of fancy rentable bicycles in front of city hall. These bikes were one of more interesting proclamations at the beginning of the Peoria City Council meeting. The Enjoy Peoria Cycle new bike sharing program was highlighted and it sounds impressive. Mobile app access to this activity is easy and a great idea. Please check it out.
McFarland A. Bragg II, who currently serves as the President/CEO of Peoria Citizens Committee for Economic Opportunity, Inc, was honored during the recognition of National Community Service Month. He has served PCCEO in some capacity for 40 years, taking on his current position in 1993. Mr. Bragg advocated for citizens to reach out to their State a Federal representatives and push for the retention of current community programs on budget chopping blocks.
The 120th anniversary of St. Mark’s School was also celebrated. Its pastor praised the institution’s embracing of the immigrant community and commented that it is the most diverse parish in the diocese.
The night moved along quickly, without At-Large Councilman Eric Turner, and 4th District Rep Jim Montelongo joining electronically.
Newly elected Peoria Township Supervisor, Frank Abdnour was briefly quizzed during the “Communications” portion of the meeting. At-Large Rep Beth Jensen noted some issues with the “general fund expenses” and more time was given to Abdnour to gather information.
Interestingly, in his comments, the Supervisor mentioned that the township is looking to raise General Assistance payouts and is exploring a “water bill relief program” for residents. More interestingly, 2nd District Rep Chuck Grayeb mentioned that the Township board is planning to increase its “levy." To this writer’s knowledge, that means a tax hike.
Consent Agenda: $280,000 was appropriated for the construction of two new homes on Berhends Ave, from the IL Attorney General‘s National Foreclosure Settlement Funds. These homes are a continuation of a program that began last year on the East Bluff. At-Large Rep Beth Akeson expressed worry that these homes might be over-priced for the neighborhood and put new owners in financial bind. The properties will sell for and be appraised between $80,000-$90,000.
Second District Rep Tim Riggenbach assured the Council that the homes are part of a concentration of similarly priced homes in the area and blend in well with the neighborhood. The two previous properties sold within 30 days and are a great assert to his District.
This program has not yet expanded to Peoria’s 1st District. First District Rep Denise Moore questioned city staff on the minority makeup.
Agenda item 17-149 devoted $68,000 to a Community Risk Assessment and Strategic Plan for the Peoria Fire Department
The City’s long held “growth cell strategy” was hotly contested next. At-Large Rep Akeson took the City to task with a blistering critique of continued expenditures on the construction of a new road between Pioneer Parkway and Townline Road.
Akeson contended this project is “foolish”. Sometimes referred as “the road to nowhere,” this project has been in the works since the beginning of the century and would support no current business or resident, as it lies in open corn fields.
Akeson demanded that existing crumbling roads, i.e. Lake, Willow Knolls and Glen, be serviced instead of chasing future unknown money in the edge of the city. She grilled City staff on the large number of currently vacant commercial buildings to emphasize her point.
She labeled “embracing urban sprawl” as “crazy” and “totally foolish”. Peoria’s heritage neighborhoods are the heart of our community and have countless issues that need addressing before city expansion.
Second District Rep Grayeb pounded his desk with an impassioned push back, while 5th District Councilman Denis Cyr (who represents the District in dispute) sat silent. Grayeb contended that the Federal funds currently offered to this project, might not exist in the future, so the City needs to use it or lose it.
The project is 80% federally funded, with local taxes paying the rest. Five minutes later however, under questioning from At-Large Rep Beth Jensen, the City Manager admitted that the source of funds for the vast remainder of this nearly $80,000,000 project is yet unknown. He cited several possible Federal and State revenue streams that might be directed to this project.
Additionally, Mayor Jim Ardis aggressively voiced support for city expansion, calling it a “smart investment.” He added “city growth and expansion does not equal urban sprawl.” The measure passed, with Akeson voting the only “No.”
Peoria’s growth cell policy is thought outdated and wasteful by many. Jensen moved for more public input on this issue.
New Business: Denise Moore announced the closure of the grocery store Sav-a-Lot on Western Ave. Moore said competition from convenience stores led to lost sales. She blamed residents for not shopping there, then said she had sealed the deal to bring in Sav-a-Lot without any incentive or help from the city.
Grayeb then asked city staff to look into the Peoria’s discrimination ordinances, to better address racism by liquor stores in his district. The request is in response to recent calls to boycott Main Street Liquors. The boycott was accompanied by recent public demonstrations in front of the store. Store staff have been accused of hate speech and discrimination against the black community.
Citizens Address Council: Two residents echoed Akeson’s criticism of Peoria’s growth cell strategy. They pointed out the neglect of Peoria’s heritage neighborhoods, in the aspects of crime, vacant buildings and economic development. Quotes like “we can’t tie growth to the past” and pleas to “fix our dying city” were heartfelt and genuine.
Once again the Council adjourned to their non-FOIAable Executive Session. The contents of this meeting cannot publicly be known until the council releases the minutes.
– David Berry, Peoria City Council Observer
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