EAST PEORIA — East Peoria Mayor David Mingus likes the Rocky movies. He used them as an analogy for East Peoria.

“One of my favorite parts was when Rocky Balboa returns to the neighborhood gym and went back to basics, focusing on his goal working hard for the challenge for the future. I believe this scenario symbolizes our city today as we attempt to meet the financial challenge in developing a 2017-2018 balanced budget,” Mingus said.

He commended the administrative staff and said they will have a balanced budget, although not without some sacrifices.

“Quality basic services will continue beyond a doubt,” he said.

Over the next two weeks the city staff will be making some difficult decisions, Mingus said.

“Sometimes when more becomes less, we appreciate what we have,” he said.

 

City Administrator

New City Administrator Jeff Eder said 2016 was a year of transition. 

Early retirement was offered to city staff with 20 accepting the offer.

“It’s been a very challenging time for the city but a very good time for the city,” he said.

With new staff coming in, Eder said there is new talent with new ideas on what they can do to make the city better.

There are challenges along the way, and Eder said one of the “tallest orders” is the city’s infrastructure.

In February, the Council approved an increase to the sewer rates for a major overhaul of the city’s wastewater treatment plant, which was

originally installed in the 1930s. This project will cost about $46.5 million and will be done in four phases. 

To improve infrastructure, revenue is needed, and most of the city’s sources are “flat or down.”

“We’re having a very good discussion on options for both looking at cuts within the city to save money so we can put toward infrastructure and looking at revenue sources,” Eder said.

With the state’s current budget impasse, Eder said he worries about the city receiving its payments.

“We have to make sure we have the cash reserves to allow for those fluctuations,” he said.

Staff are looking at ways to make cuts and to raise revenue. Two ideas being discussed are to institute a $10 per month garbage fee or increasing the sales tax.

In spite of the tough challenges, Eder said East Peoria has a very bright future with more upcoming development.

 

Fire Chief

East Peoria Fire Chief Al Servis provided highlights of his department for 2016.

• The department answered 3,639 calls in 2016.

• The department is still the only one south of I-80 that is all Advanced Life Support. 

• The cardiac arrest survival rate is twice the national average. There were three cardiac arrest saves last year.

• There were 1,000 dual response calls over the past year.

“That’s up about 250 over the previous year. That’s a little bit concerning to me. It means we don’t always have staff available at all times but we make it work,” he said.

• Arson investigator Eric Duckworth’s work led to an arson conviction of 12 years in prison. Duckworth was recognized by the state. 

• Command structure changes were made. John Knapp is the new Deputy Chief of the Fire Department. Knapp is available during business hours to take care of the public’s needs, and Servis said it takes some of the burden off of him.

• The department purchased its first refurbished ambulance, saving about $50,000. With the savings, department was able to purchase a new command vehicle.

“We’re trying to do our part to make sure we spend your money wisely,” Servis said.

 

Police Chief

East Peoria Police Chief Dick Ganschow spoke about two main issues: dispatch consolidation and body cameras.

In January 2016, the state announced a mandate that a county only have two dispatch centers. Tazewell County has one in Pekin, Morton, Washington and East Peoria.

“The task at hand is for Morton, East Peoria and Washington to come together to form one dispatch center. ... Dispatch centers ... are a very crucial part of law enforcement. It’s truly where a police officer’s job begins,” Ganschow said.

By consolidating the centers, the state believes there will be a more efficient use of 911 funds, Ganschow said.

There are concerns associated with the consolidation, he added, such as loss of control.

“Our dispatchers would no longer be our employees. They will be employed by an independent agency,” he said.

The dispatch center will not be located in East Peoria because of its limited capacity. Ganschow said the center may be in Morton or at a site yet to be determined.

Ganschow said it is not certain whether the consolidation will save the city money because there are duties the dispatch staff does now they will have to find others to do and the police department will have to pay a yearly fee for use of the new dispatch center.

On a positive note, Ganschow said through working with the Taz-Com dispatch center, he knows that consolidation works.

“It’s going to take all of our effected communities — Morton, Washington and ourselves — to come together and to start working together,” Ganschow said.

A plan for this mandate has to be submitted to the state in October.

Ganschow also spoke about police body cameras, which he said is really “changing the landscape for police officers.”

In January 2016, the state passed the Law Enforcement Officer Body Worn Camera Act.

Ganschow said it is likely that body cams will become mandatory for all officers.

The Peoria Police Department asked the East Peoria Police Department to partner with them in a grant for body cameras. 

“This represents the best opportunity for East Peoria to outfit our police department with body cameras in an affordable, fiscally responsible way to put us out in front of this issue,” Ganschow said.

The main cost associated with the body cameras is not the unit itself, but the computer storage required for the footage. That footage will not always show every angle, but adds another aspect of transparency for the public and another aspect of video and audio evidence.

“Many times, they are going to show our jobs are gritty, dangerous, and at times, just downright ugly, but hopefully, they will ultimately show the truth and that’s what we all want.”

The Department will learn in July if they are approved for the grant.

 

Public Works

Dennis Barren Jr., water and wastewater superintendent, who has only been with the department for two months, filled in for Director Steve Ferguson. 

The two main duties of Public Works is to deal with infrastructure and public services.

Barren said he brings seven years of experience from Illinois American Water.

“The city’s water processes are very stable and we’re working ahead of the wastewater treatment plant that’s coming,” he said.

Public Works will focus on the waste water treatment plant to last for the next 75 years.

“That’s the whole goal is to make sure that we have the infrastructure to continue to do what we do every single day. We want to bring businesses to town. We want businesses to stay in town. We want residents to be here and we want residents to be happy,” Barren said.

Because the infrastructure is located underground, Public Works is also working on identifying components using GIS and GPS to map water valves and more to make their jobs more efficient, Barren said.

In addition to water and waste water, Public Works also includes streets and solid waste.

 

Planning and Development

Ty Livingston, director of planning, zoning and code enforcement reiterated that with several new employees now working for the city, there will be positive change.

Regarding information technology, Livingston said in some instances the city is pulling itself out of the dark ages. His department is currently working on a way in which permits will be submitted online.

With inspection and maintenance as part of the department, Livingston said they have an HVAC technician on staff. They will be working on changing lighting at the riverfront area to LED for more efficiency. This will lead to a 70 percent cost reduction.

In the area of planning and development, Livingston said, “A city is only as strong as its housing variety.”

Centennial Apartments was completed late last year. A rezoning case is coming up for a duplex development along Summit Drive, and across from Quail Meadow Golf Course, there is interest for multi-family development.

 Downtown at the Four Corners area, city staff is looking to improve pedestrian traffic, among other improvements. 

Nearby at the Levee District, the Civic Park is going through an evolution, which is being spearheaded by the East Peoria Foundation, with $1 million being raised to date. The first phase will focus on reading gardens near the Fondulac District Library.

Other commercial development to come includes a major Kroger expansion, the former City Hall site and a new tenant to come to a portion of where the former ShopKo was located, Livingston said.

“Our lesson from the Levee District years ago is that even when the economy didn’t look its brightest we were well poised and well positioned to come out of it even if we continue to plan and continue to work with those development partners. ... I think that’s something we’re going to continue to do,” Livingston said.

 

Tourism

 Doug McCarty, director of EastSide Centre Tourism & Special Events, said a big part of his job is to bring people to town to generate extra tax revenue.

McCarty touched on events coming in 2017. 

In the Levee District, Easter Seals will be back for their fourth year for a race. The American Cancer Society will be hosting a new event in the Levee District in April. The Tracy Trot fundraiser will also be back this year.

At EastSide, McCarty said there is a full schedule. IHSA and IESA are the major partners. They bring 16 to 17 state championships to the area.

“I think it’s important to understand when we bring events here, it’s a lot of the people like you guys, the businesses that the experience the teams have here  when they’re not playing, is what makes them come back,” McCarty said.

A new event EastSide has secured is the North American Fast Pitch Association State Tournament. McCarty said the organization has a north and south component. The north side has about 50 teams which will be down for a weekend. 

Non-related sports events at EastSide includes the Easter Seal’s I Can Bike and the Center for Prevention of Abuse Duck Race.

The year finishes with the annual Festival of Lights. This year there may be some tweaks with the parade route, McCarty said.