EAST PEORIA — After months of talking about it, the East Peoria City Council on Tuesday passed an operating budget that includes money for police cars, a new city fuel station and a snowplow truck, but not enough money for street repair to get approval from one commissioner.
"I'll be voting 'no' tonight," said Commissioner Dan Decker, the lone vote of opposition on the budget, which that passed 4-1. "I'm not upset, I'm not mad at anybody, but there's not enough money (in the budget) to put into streets."
Decker oversees the city's street maintenance program and has spoken out for years on the need to invest more money on street repair or continue to lose ground in the perpetual struggle of upkeep. The budget included $1.2 million for the repair of several residential streets. Last year the city spent less than $500,000 for street repair.
"I wanted to take a pause and let the next council find more money for our streets," Decker said.
A new council will be seated next month after the April 2 election. Seven candidates, including incumbent Decker, are running for four council seats. Two commissioners, Tim Jeffers and John Kahl, are running for mayor, opening up both of those council seats. Mayor Dave Mingus and Commissioner Gary Densberger are not running for re-election.
Kahl opposed the idea of reopening budget talks to find more money for street repair.
"Live within your means," Kahl said. "(We) take care of the needs we can with the money we have."
Jeffers said the proposed budget sets the street repair plan in motion.
"I'm confident (a new council) can find other funds (for the streets)," he said.
The city elections crept into Tuesday's meeting in ways that were obvious but not entirely clear. Council candidate Norm Sales questioned the council about a rumored intention to reduce the pensions of city retirees, a notion that Densberger dispelled. Densberger said pension issues are subject to collective bargaining and can't be summarily changed by a vote of the council.
That accusation turned into discussion of a letter circulated by mayoral candidate Jeffers that was not fully explained in public. Jeffers in turn raised his disapproval of a council discussion from a previous closed session that was leaked to members of the public for political purpose. Somehow, the issues appear to be linked.
"I think that's wrong," Jeffers said. "I'm frustrated by it and ashamed of it."
The cryptic argument ended with Kahl, the other mayoral candidate, speaking in unexplained generalities to an audience that may or may not have understood what he was talking about.
"Integrity matters," he said. "Integrity matters. Do you homework, people, and vote in two weeks."
Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @scotthilyard on Twitter.