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Peoria Defender

Peoria City Council Meeting: A Comprehensive Overview From Dec 12, 2023

On December 12, 2023, the Peoria City Council and Town Board convened for their final joint meeting of the year, a significant event broadcast as usual on cable channel 22 and WCBU radio and live-streamed online. This meeting, attended by the mayor and all Council Members, served as a platform for discussing and deciding on crucial matters impacting Peoria’s residents and businesses.

Some key topics included changes in short-term rental policy and zoning and the disbursement of American Rescue Plan grant money. We aim to provide a comprehensive summary and analysis of the meeting’s main points, outcomes, and the ensuing discussions. Keep reading to learn more about the City’s operations, policies, and projects and how you can contribute to making Peoria a better place.

The meeting started with a roll call and pledge of allegiance followed by approval of the recorded minutes from the previous meeting to ensure nothing was misrepresented or misquoted. Then, a monthly expenditures request for Peoria Township.

Consent Agenda Items

The consent agenda items are for routine matters enacted by one motion and roll call vote. They typically do not require discussion or debate and are usually approved unanimously. The consent agenda items save time and streamline the meeting process.

“I'm not sure why every single agenda item needs to apply to every single District when we're making a decision… I think some of these are questions that could be clarified by asking them before we come in here to the meeting rather than having to put them off until after.” -Zachary Oyler

The consent agenda consisted of 9 items, 8 approved unanimously by the Council without much discussion or debate.

These items included:

  • A used vehicle from Uftring Auto Group was purchased for the police department for $29,700. This vehicle will replace an older one damaged in a crash and be used for undercover operations.

  • The award of a construction contract to JC Dillon Inc. for the drainage repair contract in the amount not to exceed $4 million. This contract will cover various drainage improvements throughout the City, such as culvert replacements, ditch grading, and erosion control.

  • The award of contracts to JC Dillon Inc. for the storm sewer cleaning and inspection project, totaling $322,740. These projects will involve cleaning and inspecting about 40 miles of storm sewers in districts 2, 3, & 4.

  • The award of a contract to JC Dillon Inc. for the storm sewer lining and repairs project, in the total amount of $610,820. The agreement consists of lining and repairing about 5 miles of storm sewers across the City.

  • The adoption of two ordinances levying special service area real estate taxes for the Knoxville Junction and the Westlake special service areas, in the amounts of $148,600 and $100,000, respectively. These taxes will be collected from the property owners within these areas and used to maintain and improve the roads, sidewalks, landscaping, and lighting.

  • Matthew Smith and Blake Egleston were appointed to the East Village Growth Cell Committee with the Council's concurrence. These two individuals will join the committee overseeing the development and revitalization of the East Village area, one of the City’s historic and cultural districts.

  • The approval of the cancellation of the regular city council meeting on December 26, 2023, due to the holiday season.

  • The approval of the 2024 Peoria City Council regular meeting schedule, setting the dates and times of the council meetings for the following year.

These reflect some of the ongoing and planned initiatives and activities of the City and its departments and some of the administrative and procedural matters necessary for the city government's smooth functioning. Some of these items, such as the storm sewer projects and the special service area taxes, can directly impact the quality of life and the property values of the residents in the areas.

Others, such as the appointment of the committee members and the meeting schedule, are routine tasks but may have a more indirect or long-term effect on the City’s vision and direction. Maintaining accessibility and access for the community is vital for scheduling.

Council Member Denise Jackson motioned to remove item number 23-399

There was concern from Jackson regarding the storm sewer inspection and cleaning only in Districts 2, 3, & 4. The City Manager noted that District 1 has mostly a combined sewer system, of which the City is in years 2-3 of working on overflow improvements, which took place almost exclusively in District 1.

Council Member John Kelly added, “Just for clarity's sake, this is just for storm sewers, and it's only in the newer parts of the City that we have storm sewers and sanitary sewers. In the older parts of the City, we have combined sewers… so it's always going to look as though District 1 isn't getting its share.” 

Council Member Zachary Oyler expressed frustration with the delay, including, I'm not sure why every single agenda item needs to apply to every single District when we're making a decision… I think some of these are questions that could be clarified by asking them before we come in here to the meeting rather than having to put them off until after.” 

2nd District Council Member Chuck Grayeb defended: “I want Council Member Jackson to have complete peace of mind.”

While ensuring that there would be no disruption by the delay until next month on the decision, which the City Manager confirmed, the discussion ended with a decision to defer to get clarification regarding sewer work in the portions of District 1 without combined sewer.

Only Oyler and Kelly voted against the deferral.

Regular Business Items

The regular business items are expected to require discussion, debate, or public input before approval. They are usually more complex or controversial than the consent agenda items and may have different opinions or perspectives among the Council Members or the public.

City Council Approves Housing Rehab Agreement for South Village TIF Area

The Peoria City Council approved an agreement with the Peoria Citizens Committee for Economic Opportunity (PCCEO) to match $150,000 in South Village TIF funds to rehabilitate owner-occupied homes in the South Village TIF area. This agreement is part of a larger project that leverages a Federal Home Loan Bank grant that the PCCEO and Busey Bank applied for, which will help older homeowners who need assistance improving their homes.

The Community Development Director presented the agreement and explained that the PCCEO is a valuable partner for the City. They have been looking for other funding opportunities to help homeowners in specific parts of the City. He said that the South Village TIF area was chosen because the City has provided matching TIF funds for similar projects and would allow the City to use other programs, such as the IDER program, to help homeowners in other parts of the first district.

Council Member Riggenbach, representing the third district, commended the City and the PCCEO for collaborating on this project. He said he was happy to see the TIF funds used for housing rehab. He said this is an excellent example of how the City can use its resources to help its residents and improve its neighborhoods and urged for similar across the City.

Council Member Jackson, representing the first district, expressed her gratitude for assisting her district and said she has had conversations with the Community Development Director about this project. She said that there are a lot of older homeowners in the South Village TIF area who don’t have the full resources to make these kinds of improvements and that this project will make a difference in their lives.

Council Member Kelly added a comment of informal request for future consideration into tax abatement programs from the City for rehabbed properties in distressed neighborhoods similar to what’s currently in place for new homes in those same areas.

Council Member Jackson moved to approve the agreement, and Council Member Kelly seconded it. The motion passed unanimously, with no discussion or opposition from the other Council Members. The deal is expected to benefit about ten homeowners in the South Village TIF area. It will contribute to the City’s goals of enhancing its housing stock and revitalizing its core neighborhoods.

Tax Increment Financing (TIF): A public financing method that uses future tax revenue increases from a designated area to fund development projects expected to create jobs, increase property values, and stimulate economic growth.

City Council Approves TIF Agreement with Titan Fitness

Titan Fitness Building Rendering

The Council approved an ordinance regarding a redevelopment agreement with Titan Fitness LLC, a 24-hour access gym that plans to build a new facility in the Medina Plains TIF District. The agreement will reimburse the developer about 80% of the TIF-eligible costs, which amount to about $3.57 million. The City expects to receive about $1.7 million in tax increments from the project, of which 22.5% will go to the school district.

Tiran Fitness Plot Map

The City Manager said this is the second redevelopment agreement in the Medina Plains TIF District, following the one with the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau earlier this year. He said he was excited to bring this forward, as it shows the success of the TIF program in attracting new businesses and investments to the area.

Council Member Cyr, representing the fifth district where the project is located, praised the City Manager and the Council for their work on the TIF program and moved to adopt the ordinance. Council Member Oyler seconded the motion, and it passed unanimously.

Upon project completion, 50% of the TIF increment available for distribution will be distributed to the redeveloper annually for the present statutorily extended life of the TIF until 2047 and expected $892,054.26 of development costs.

City Council Issues ordinance to opt out of the Paid Leave for All Workers Act

The Paid Leave for All Workers Act (PLAWA) becomes effective January 1, 2024. The PLAWA mandates that employers, including municipalities (but not Park Districts or School Districts), provide all employees, including both full-time and part-time, up to 40 hours of paid leave over 12 months, and will affect the authority of local municipalities over their employees.

Corporation Council Patrick Hayes said the Act allows municipalities to adopt an ordinance that addresses similar issues in the Act so that the City’s practices, policies, collective bargaining agreements, ordinances, and regulations can continue without disruption from the state act. He said this Act aimed at municipalities not addressing these issues, but the City of Peoria has a comprehensive benefits program and provides PTO to its employees.

Most City employees are given leave far above what the Act requires. Part-time employees accrue paid leave on a prorated basis based on the regularly scheduled hours. Seasonal and temporary employees, however, do not accrue paid leave. It would have cost the City an estimated $17,000 annually to provide leave to those employees under the new Act.

He said the city council needs to adopt the ordinance before January 1, or it will be too late. He said this was a point of emphasis at the recent Illinois Municipal League board meeting, and the mayor confirmed that and thanked him for raising the issue before the new year. Council Member Allen moved to approve the ordinance, and Council Member Oyler seconded it. The motion passed unanimously.

Unfinished Business

The following topics on the agenda were unfinished business. Items that were continued or deferred from a prior meeting.

Is A New Blackband Distillery coming to 2400 SW Washington?

The first item was approval for Blackband Distillery to preemptively include their development planned for 2400 SW Washington St into the proposed “Distillery TIF” bounded by S.W. Washington Street, Sanger Street, the Illinois River, and MacArthur Highway as a Potential Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District in part of a strategy to expand commercial and light industrial employers within the Peoria community anticipated to be approved early 2024.

There was some discussion about the TIF and its terms, but it was explained that those decisions will still be completely up to the Council during the TIF creation process. This Inducement Resolution does not approve or guarantee the TIF, only inclusion if the Council later creates it.

Multiple Council Members thanked Blackband for contributing to Peoria, and the resolution was adopted unanimously.

Peoria’s Short-term Rentals

The second item is an ordinance amending the Code of the City of Peoria about short-term rentals. This resulted in a lengthy debate on a hot-button topic that continued to the next meeting in January.

The changes in short-term rental policy and zoning were discussed in the context of the City’s efforts to regulate and manage the growing number of short-term rental properties in the area. Currently, the City Council has to approve all special use permits for the allowance of a short-term rental where the homeowner is not in the house.

“This is a trap. Don't fall for it” - Chuck Grayeb

The City is attempting to regulate and monitor the growing phenomenon of short-term rentals, such as Airbnb and VRBO.

The ordinance would establish a strict licensing and registration system for short-term rental operators and a set of rules and standards for operating and maintaining short-term rental properties. The ordinance would also impose a hotel-motel tax on short-term rental transactions, generating additional revenue for the City.

The Council Members discussed the pros and cons of different approaches to zoning and licensing short-term rentals and how to balance the interests of the property owners, the renters, and the neighbors. Reasons for support and objection ranged across the members.

Council Member Grayeb felt it was an attempt to remove council interaction and oversight, stating, “This is a trap. Don't fall for it, Council, or you'll be hearing about it from the people who live in the neighborhoods who will no longer have the ability to talk to you, their elected representative” and fear-mongering that “We're going down a dangerous path and we have seen variants of short-term rentals bedeviling not only legal staff but proud neighborhoods... I think we're going to have a situation where it looks as if we're tightening up if we reduce the fraction, but you're not going to have the oversight anymore, and your constituents will hold you to account.”

While Council Member Oyler feels the concern was a distraction and that “It seems very disingenuous to present... a very mixed message amongst this group when we think that this is one of the biggest issues that we have, yet we have out-of-state landlords running rampant in our neighborhoods, but we're not dealing with that.” While also expressing interest in the restrictions only if it removed the city council’s direct involvement and oversight. Mayor Rita Ali even questioned if changes are necessary or if the current system is working as it should.

There have only been two reported locations with incidents in the City for short-term rentals.

One of the owners refuses to abide by the City’s process, meaning only 1 of the approved rentals has had a reported issue from a weekend party thrown by guests. The owner paid the City a $600 fine for the occurrence.

Some members questioned if more limits and higher fines were warranted for everyone because of one short-term rental owner who refused to cease operation despite the City getting a default fine of $13,500.00.

The discussion also touched upon the impact of short-term rentals on the local housing market, the tourism industry, and the residents' quality of life.

Policy Session

The meeting was closed out with a policy session on violence prevention funding. The policy session was an opportunity for the council members to discuss and provide guidance to the city manager on how to allocate the remaining $700,000 of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds for violence prevention, as well as the newly received $500,000 from the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS) for youth-focused violence prevention.

Peoria Rescue Plan

The disbursement of American Rescue Plan grant money was another important topic of discussion at the meeting. The city manager presented a slide deck with some background information and policy questions for the Council to consider, such as:

  • What are the focus areas for the violence prevention funding?

  • Who is eligible to apply for the funding?

  • What is the process for selecting and awarding the grants?

  • What other changes may the Council want to make to the process?

“Substance abuse is frequently correlated with violence... many of my fellow Council members might agree that it's mental health or the substance abuse that is creating more and more violence in the city” – Kiran Velpula

The council members had a lively and lengthy discussion on these questions, expressing their views and concerns and asking the city manager and staff questions. Some of the main points that emerged from the debate were:

  • The council members agreed that the focus areas for the violence prevention funding should include thriving neighborhoods, empowered youth and young adults, restoration and resilience, and intervention and violence reduction. However, some council members suggested adding or emphasizing other aspects, such as mental health, trauma-informed care, restorative justice, and community engagement.

  • The council members had different opinions on whether government agencies should be eligible to apply for the funding, given that they may have received other funding sources from the federal or state government. Some council members argued that government agencies should be excluded or prioritized lower than nonprofit organizations. In contrast, others argued that government agencies should be included or evaluated based on their performance and impact.

  • The council members generally supported using the CDBG Public Services Commission to review and rank the grant applications and make recommendations to the Council. However, some council members suggested having more input or oversight from the committee or the district council members and more transparency and accountability from the grant recipients.

  • The council members also discussed other changes that they may want to make to the process, such as setting a minimum or maximum amount for each grant, requiring matching funds or in-kind contributions from the applicants, ensuring geographic and demographic diversity among the applicants and the beneficiaries, and establishing clear and measurable outcomes and indicators for the grant programs.

  • The council members discussed the plans for Police use of IDHS grant money on lighting projects in hot spots. Adding lighting to alleys, more streetlights, and porch lights to increase visibility and safety.

“A lot of these shootings, all this violence has happened in broad daylight. It is about the people. It is about the services; it is about intervention. Yes, lighting and environmental [factors] are important but we can light it up but these things are happening in the daytime as well” – Dr Bernice Gordon-Young

The policy session ended with the city manager stating that he would take the Council’s feedback and bring back a revised proposal at the next meeting in January.

  • Change Peoria applauds the committee for having this meaningful conversation and urges them to continue prioritizing violence prevention as a vital issue for the City.

  • Change Peoria also encourages the residents and community organizations to stay informed and engaged on this issue and to voice their opinions and needs to the Council and the city staff.

  • Change Peoria believes violence prevention is a matter of public safety, social justice, and human dignity. It also requires a comprehensive and collaborative approach involving all community stakeholders and sectors.

What's Next?

These items reflect some of the new and emerging opportunities and challenges that the City and its residents face and some of the strategic and proactive responses and solutions that the City and its partners are pursuing.

Some of these items, such as the agreement with PCCEO and the redevelopment agreement with Titan Fitness LLC, will result in tangible and visible improvements and developments in the City’s physical and economic landscape.

Others, such as the ordinance regarding the Paid Leave Act and the policy session on violence prevention funding, will have more intangible and complex impacts on the City’s social and human capital.

The joint City Council and Town Board meeting on December 12, 2023, was a productive and informative session that covered a wide range of topics relevant to the City and its residents. It also highlighted the achievements, challenges, and opportunities that the City faces.

These meetings are crucial platforms for public involvement, providing opportunities for voicing opinions, concerns, or suggestions on various issues. We encourage everyone to attend future meetings in person or online and stay engaged and informed about the City and the town.

Together, we can make Peoria a better place for everyone.

For more information on Change Peoria, including our mission and vision, please visit our website or follow us @ChangePeoria on social media.

If you’d like to write articles like this or opinion pieces on decisions, join our volunteer team and start writing for the Peoria Defender.

Together, we can make a difference and create a more equitable and prosperous Peoria.


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