As a current candidate for City Council, what do you consider to be the three biggest issues facing the City of Peoria that you will address upon re-election?
In the story of Aladdin, the genie granted him three wishes. Aladdin had to consider, very seriously, what would be most valuable to him. He found that it wasn’t obvious. He realized that intermediate wishes would create a situation that would bring about his most important desire. When I was asked to write about the three biggest issues facing the City of Peoria, immediately our police and fire pensions came to mind, as well as economic and population growth. But upon reflection, these problems are downstream issues that upstream solutions might very well take care of.
These issues are about money. The pension funds require public money and the economic and population growth produce public money. So, what are my three policy “wishes” that I feel would accomplish these downstream goals?
My three short-term policy “wishes” that I feel would solve our “downstream” issues plus provide for long term prosperity are:
- Achievement of a unique and attractive climate for investment
- Help for our challenged neighborhoods
- Funding Public Works
To understand my first “wish,” achieving a unique and attractive climate for investment, requires an individual look at the terms “unique” and “attractive”.
Unique policies would make our city stand out and be more well-known than other cities. Such innovations will make investors take more notice of Peoria than if we offered the same incentives that all of our competitor cities employ. I’d like to initiate things such as the elimination of building permit fees, a much more positive and trusting inspections system for new construction (instead of a system that assumes that the folks involved are all shirkers), and getting rid of landlord fees – which only raise landlord costs resulting in less building maintenance. These, and others, would make our city unique in the eyes of investors, perhaps enough to entice them to take a second look.
Such innovations would not just be offered to out-of-town investors, but to folks already living and invested here as well. As a matter of fact, I believe there is more growth potential from our current businesses and local entrepreneurs than from outsiders. On the campaign trail, I’ve often said that we have over 8,000 businesses in Peoria, and that if we could make their life just a little bit easier, the economic and employment effect would probably be greater than that of a big, new outside investor coming to town. And we’d be making life better for the folks who are already here, paying taxes and participating in the community. I have no problem at all with outside investors, but it is the folks in Peoria that are my first priority.
As far as becoming more attractive to investors, it’s important to point out that Peoria’s rules and regulations are about the same as other, even local, communities have. So, what’s the difference? Well, sometimes it’s attitude. If there is a problem with a proposal, can our people develop a workaround? Sure, it’s easier to say, “This violates section 2739 of regulation A-63-10,” but perhaps we can get to the goal line another way. Cities that are growing are very good at finding a way. If we are known to be “driven” to find a more creative way, good things can happen.
And in addition, it’s well known that Peoria uses economic development tools that many larger and smaller cities use. While anecdotes can always be found that show that a given program is productive, many of the tools we use have a spotty or downright negative track record both in other cities and right here in Peoria. Most of these concentrate power into city halls, rather than into the community at large. But with a growth-oriented set of programs, it is the community that steps up and produces growth. We should forgo programs that have a poor track record, even when we are told “This time it will be different,” and move toward programs that empower investors.
My second “wish” is to find ways to Help our challenged neighborhoods.
In my opinion, public policy is at fault for the deterioration of America’s inner cities. It’s also my opinion that the fault does not lie with racial discrimination, age of housing, aging infrastructure, poor schools, interstate highway placement, or any of the other boogiemen that are the popular culprits. Policies that break down the family structure of poor people, policies that assume that poor people are not smart enough or ambitious enough to take care of themselves, policies that, in effect, assume that people of color are inferior, requiring the economy and institutions to reduce dependence on merit and instead advance skin color as a determinant for favorable treatment, these policies bear down on poor people and take away the American dream. The result is dependence on these so called “compassionate” policies and in the end resentment against those who are independent of those policies.
How can we turn this around? Well, first, we have no power to reduce the tremendous forces of the federal and state governments, the primary drivers of these destructive policies. So, we should do what we can to create local public policies that push poor people in the opposite direction. Things like down payment assistance, rehab assistance, fighting against new multi-family subsidized housing projects, and rallying the homeowners in these neighborhoods will mitigate the effects of the tide of disincentives coming from our superior governments. I have been fighting for these things since I’ve been on the Council, and I’ll continue to do so. Let’s do what we can to change the economics of these areas.
My third “wish” is to increase funding for Public Works, the folks who build and maintain our streets, and generally take care of the physical assets of our city.
We are way behind in this responsibility to our citizens. How far behind? Recently, our Public Works Director told me that if the Council could find a way to give his department $300 million tomorrow, he could spend it all and still be behind. For comparison, the City of Peoria’s 2023 budget, for all departments and programs, is about $265 million.
A city that takes care if itself is much more attractive for investment. It’s easy to put off, “for just a year or so” Public Works projects. The result, not surprisingly, is that the project’s costs rise, because there is another year’s deterioration added to the previous year’s. Furthermore, we tend to find all sorts of politically popular items that “need” funding, so who do we take it from? The conversation goes something like this:
Fire? Pretty strong support on the Council.
City Hall? Small budget and chronically undermanned.
Public Works? Oh yeah! Look at all that money they have! If we take just a little this year (and every year thereafter) it won’t make much difference to them.”
Very sad. And Public Works is third in expense behind police and fire. I have tried very hard to restore funds to Public Works, and have had some success. But we’re still short of the mark.
So, if we decide to grant ourselves these three wishes –
1. Achievement of a unique and attractive climate for investment
2. Help for our challenged neighborhoods
3. Funding Public Works
What will happen? New- and re-development will occur. Our assessed value will rise. Our population will rise. Crime will diminish. Growth will occur. And our public revenue will increase every year, without tax rate increases. Higher real estate tax revenues, higher sales tax revenues, generating room in our city budget for meeting our pension obligations – and then some.
Actually, we don’t need a genie. We can do this ourselves.
I welcome your thoughts. My cell number is 309-712-7374