Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Happy New Year

Just some 2007 forward thinking and then I won’t be blogging till early February. Time to enjoy my retirement by doing for one month the things I want to do while I can still do them.

My forward thinking may be mostly rambling but not without a lot of serious research and thought. Here goes:

Peoria has the talent, expertise, leadership and finances to support many of the one billion plus spending projects in process or are on the drawing boards if facts and big egos don’t bankrupt the retirees and lower middle classes finances in the process. To be too optimistic about the disregarding of facts and controlling egos are at times a stretch.

It seems like determing priorities have been a problem forever in this community. Local major media has not been a lot of help to determine the sequence of or how to identify and determine how these priorities are to be sold to the public. Also, the problem of funding these priorities hasn’t received much help from our major source of printed news. If you carefully reread their Editorials you will see a trend to favor almost everything but the editors seldom ask for business plans and financial data or question how these exspenditures they favor will be sensibly funded.

One of my first “Letters to the Editors” published in 1994 pointed out that I believed our priorities were askew. Since then I have had at least 30 letters published in various news media and have created some hundreds of blogs for anyone who wishes to can read. In most of these blogs I play the "devils advocate".

Most of the priorities I have written about concerning this community are sensible and attainable. I wrote that if you have the product people want and price and service it properly, then people will come regardless of being able to save 10 minutes on a new billion dollar highway..

When the “Highway to Chicago” drive became a mania to some in the community I tried to point out that was what it would become; just that; a highway TO Chicago. What I sought was more reasons for people to come to Peoria and if the reasons were there, people would find us; new highway or not.

My #1 priority was our public school systems. It still is. Many Peorians are seeking competition for the union dominated Peoria public school system and are getting it from Christian, Catholic, Lutheran and other schools of choice such as the Edison concept. We want better paying jobs but we must have a ready and willing to work labor force. We must have less belligerent unions and workers with better work ethics and better attitudes.

Peorians believe strongly in their kids getting a good education. Yet educating a child can not be all about how well kids do on tests but on how education, community and school participation and parenting turn out a well rounded product. The ability to read and read well is absolutely essential. However, reading without understanding what one has read will not turn out kids who know how to think. The major goal of public and private schools and teachers, parents, union bosses, capitalist barons, public leaders and all others who profess to lead is not to tell people what to think but teach people how to think.

We need less concern about victimization of some of our populace and more concern about leadership that shows young people what they need and how to succeed in a competitive marketplace.

Peorians need to realize that racism is a two way street and stop acting with feelings of guilt; guilt that should never have been solely placed on past and present generations of people living in the United States

People are concerned about safety although history says this country was never safe. Just read about the early settlers and the Indians they removed from the land the settlers wanted. Parts of the country were never safe for Caucasians, Irish, Italians, Hispanics, Blacks, Chinese, and Jews, to name a few. We fought wars with Mexico to claim a large part of the far west as part of the United States. We fought among ourselves; just 160 short years ago, one of the worst Civil Wars in all of history. Violence ususally is a product of an inadequate education.

People want low taxes, especially property taxes. They want convenient shopping areas. They want affordable housing and green space. They prefer less congestion on our highways although they move to suburbia by droves. People want well maintained roadbeds and roadways. Peorians look to travel from one part of the county to another part on well maintained roads and in safety and convenience.

Peorians do not appreciate someone else’s garbage dumped in any neighborhood. They do not want to live by abandoned or structurally unsafe buildings. They want reasonable parks, recreation and workout areas including a reasonable amount of trails. They want to pay resonable prices to live in safe and clean neighborhoods.

Peorians want to be known as living in the same community as Caterpillar, Bradley and our large and growing medical center. They do not want to go to Barnes or Mayo if we offer the same medical services and expertise locally. They want to shop locally with a variety of selections and the convenience of parking to shop. They want a variety of convenient grocery stores and restaurants. They want to pay reasonable prices for these priviliges.

Peorians want smaller government with less regulation of every step of their lives. Many believe that the best functioning governments do no harm and support a free market. However, they want the government to strongly regulate all types of pollutants from second hand smoke to clean rivers. They want to feel safe whevever they go at reasonable times of the day.

Peorians want accessible libraries but want those asking for more tax money to come up with a business plan and more proof of need to the entire community that supports them with their taxes.

These are my viewpoints as we look back as we enter 2007. We have already completed questionable projects such as a partly taxpayer funded ballpark and RiverPlex. Neither has come close to living up to their projections. After a shooting on RiverPlex property last week, the Journal Star reported that the RiverPlex had 8,000 members. Going back to the original Park board and Administration projections in June, 1999, if they really did have 8,000 members, the operation would be operating at over $800,000.00 profit. Instead. It is still on track to lose well over a million dollars in 2007. As a stockholder in the ballpark, my yearly financial report has shown no return on my investment since I bought my stock in 1994.

While I certainly am an advocate of wildlife in park and zoo natural settings, it takes no financial wizard to figure the new zoo will be a major drag on the taxpayers of Peoria. The current zoo loses approximately $400,000.00 a year and after the $32 million expansion, the park projects an increase of only 70,000 visitor a year. Remember these are the same people who projected that the RiverPlex would be profitable. At even $10 per person admission, (Maybe they will charge $10 instead of the $7 first discussed but after the first year, expect attendance to fall off dramaticall) these attendance fees would bring in a maximum of only $700,000.00 new dollars a year which will not leave much for the greatly increased maintenance, larger payroll and benefits and payoff of principal and interest of the approximately $12,000,000.00 dollars borrowed on new bonds to date.

The Civic Center is a big gamble with all the competition in Bloomington, East Peoria, Pekin and especially larger communities across the nation who have now and will have in the future, much more to offer than the Peoria area amenities and climate. Enough said; watch and see results as the project is nearing completion.

The Museum is a long way from being funded and expect the annual maintenance to run over $4 million a year. Funding is not even half raised, earmarks from the feds and state are very uncertain and Caterpillar who can afford it has said they will not proceed unless the publicly funded Museum is under construction.

It was only 4 years ago that representatives of the Peoria Library Board stood before the city council and pleaded for money to buy 7 acres of land out north on Allen Rd. Now plans have changed completely and they are asking for a referendum to be placed on the ballot this year asking the taxpayer for $32 million with no specific location for a new north side branch. This referendum with no more proof of need than presented so far should fail on the gitgo. The community has far greater needs than a plea for more computer and meeting room space. Trashy fiction books which abound at all libraries are a “dime a dozen” in every household and library in Peoria. All local schools have libraries and computers largely paid for by the taxpayer. Plus we live in a highly mobile community. As a consistent(seldom the trashy fiction books unless it is Carl Hiassen) user of Lakeview Library, I still note over 1300 linear feet of unused bookshelves and I have never seen a longer waiting line then at the grocery stores where I shop and PAY FOR WHAT I BUY.

Our politicians in Springfield and Washington, D.C. believe their main job to satisfy those special interests who fund their campaigns and to bring back spending projects to Peoria in the form of grants, earmarks and subsidies such as the museum parking project, now at $800,000.00 and growing, $1.6million for Rt. 29 including land acquisition. Land acquisition?? Compare to Peoria Public School Districts buying $800,000.00 of properties on Prospect, now sitting on the books as an asset with no buyers. Also in the Transportation bill signed by President George Bush includes $2.4 million to for the Eastern bypass and bridge (Ring Road) study and land acquisition. Land acquisition? There has been no new route plan presented to the public so how can the government be buying land for the by-pass? Then we complain that the federal budget is so large the average citizens has no comprehension of how much this country is in debt with little decrease in cutbacks and entitlements on the horizon.

The Journal Star Editorial “Not too late to look at sensible highway to Chicago” (Dated 7/09/06.) brings up the ill-fated “Highway to Chicago” projected project; this proposed highway being called a “road to ruin” and one of the 50 most wasteful road projects in the nation (JS April 28, 1999). No matter that the USDOT has changed their road building philosophy from “mobility and efficiency” to “feel and function” and putting their dollars on maintaining and improving roadbeds such as they did on improving RT. 74 thru Peoria. ( I suggest some dollars be put in by IDOT to bring Knoxville from War Memorial North up to first world standards. Did anyone note that the snow plow drivers dug up more landscape than snow in many places?)

In 2005, Peoria County and City partnered in bringing in a business attraction consultant, a firm with national acclaim and this firm concluded that this community had superior highway access, scored high in higher education access and culture. We scored lower in crime, local property taxes, community appearance and workman compensation costs. The full report is on www.peoriacounty.org

Peorians who care about more tax sharing revenues from private ventures, should hope that the Surface Transportation Board will rule that Peoria is a lucky city to have a railway passageway from downtown all the way out to Pioneer Park and possibly beyond, to move merchandise and people. Trails do not bring much revenue to any community and this railway to trailways would bring next to none. No cost estimate has been professionally made to see if rails and trails can work in the same allotted space. (The Peoria Park district has been paying former Mayor Richard Carver's expenses as he travels back and forth from his East Coast home to consult in favor of convering the railway to trails)

Peorians should hope that there is competition for each board member up for election on the park board and #150 board. The greatest need is that at least one board member be a person who has met a fair sized payroll and operated a successful business. I fear apathy and fear of media character attacks will prevent the running of the type of person best suited to bring common sense back to these boards. These boards have some good representatives. It only takes one or two new members with background experience in common sense and business success and a strong personality (big ego?) to make a big difference. Use as an example; the Peoria County Board.

District #150 has a number of new programs including some expanded Vo-Tech opportunities and other math and reading programs. I will try to make an evaluation of progress this spring. I have always been a proponent of good facilities and teaching equipment but believe when architects are given a free hand to design the ideal new structures, costs often soar out of ability to pay without eventual severe property tax increases. When boards come up with solid financing plans the architects will work within these financial boundaries established by availability of funding. It has long been proven that new buildings and equipment do not have much effect, if any, in turning out a hirable and retainable product.

Meanwhile, 162 acres of farmland bought by Bradley University for $13,000.00 an acre sits idle four miles north of the Shoppes while Bradley attempts a $100,000,000.00 fund raising drive. Bradley took out a $2.1 million dollar mortgage to buy this property with the hope that the Peoria Park district and Dunlap School District would acquire the land from Bradley.. Both deals have apparently fallen thru. In the meantime, the Peoria Park District is 12 years of more behind East Peoria in building softball fields that meet National Tournament Standards. Their skateboard board if you can find it is a travesty and potential accident prone and potential drug dealing location. It is located on the far east end of Becker Park in a draw next to a wooded area. The last time I looked the recreational facilities had no restroom facilities. Also there is no public vehicle access to the softball and skateboard area.

The Park District has made plans to temporarily relocate from the Pavilion to the old IDOT Building on Knoxville to make room for the yet unfunded Playhouse. You need to ask those sponsoring these activities where this money if coming from. I think I know.

Rumor on the street is that the Peoria Park District Plans to buy the 12 indoor tennis courts from the River city Racquet Club at the same time a private firm is trying to raise money to build a new tennis facility in the vicinity of the Shoppes. One board member says that is not true.

Many Peorians are hoping all these dreams come true. Many taxpayers are highly concerned that they will come true and drive property owners to live in less costly communities, especially the growing number of retirees, where they can come back to Peoria and pay the users fee without being burdened by the excessive property taxes I forsee.

The Greater Peoria Airport Authority planned expansions should include funding from all counties around Peoria whose citizenry use this facility and not just stick the residents of Peoria County with the costs.

TRANSPORT is off to a slightly shaky start with apparently unforseen rising costs of renovating the massive warehouse donated by Caterpillar. The Renaissance Center is in early stages but taxpayers can only hope it has more success then One Technology Plaza. Industrial development of the Southside along the River has been a subject for many years and like TRANSPORT has a lot of optimism but is a long way from fruition. Locks and Dams and river cleanups are in jeopardy with the cutting back of federal projects that do not prove an immediate cost saving benefit.

I predict more closing of restaurants and retail stores and relocation of several businesses such as last year's out right closure of Cohen Furniture and Siegrist Furniture. I would be surprised if Bergner’s is still in Sheridan Village at the end of the year and I predict several small retailers and some resturants will close up shop in 2007 because all indications induce a surplus of both and a lack of competent service oriented clerks and good help in general. Where you able to find sales clerks who knew the merchandise and it's selling points? Some overworked and probably underpaid clerks were doing their best to handle the traffic. But I fear salesmanship is becoming a lost art for many businesses.

Look for more transparency in public bodies. Supossedly unauthorized erasure of Executive Committee Tapes should be a felony. Anyone with a few months experience knows that tapes of private executive sessions are not erased without full board approval and the recommendations of the attorney representing the public body.

I project that 2007 will be a combative year among competing egos for the spending of non-revenue producing projects but not much will change to put Peoria on a solid financial basis. If the boom of 2006 repeats itself and the economy remains strong wealthy people will be more apt to contribute money for essential projects. It will help also if Caterpillar regains its $10 a share stock drop last quarter.

Now vacant properties will need to be occupied by tax paying private business.

Look for PDC to have a at least a good chance of getting approval from the IEPA to continue exactly what they are doing with little change in procedure and that PDC also has a good chance of the IEPA or the Pollution Control Board overturning the "No" vote on the PDC Expansion Application.

My final prediction or observation that it is going to be tough sledding for all the fund raising drives underway in Peoria. Even in the best of economic conditions this community has an awful lot of expensive planning and building underway.

Not least is the growing sprawl of the City of Peoria without a real growth in overall population. This means more services cost to the taxpayers and a steady rise in assessed valuation taxes fueled by continued construction of new houses in the cities suburbia.

Since I will not be blogging again till February, those of you who didn’t pick me up when I started blogging 30 month ago might enjoy following my themes in my easily found archives; archives extensively researched and sprinkled with common sense.

My widely constructive criticism of the Bradley Basketball program may have had a hand in turning the Bradley program around last year.as the first to call attention the mysterious erasing of the Park Board Executive Tapes, my synopsis of the Peoria City Election commission may shed some light to why Jeannette M was terminated and my blog revealing the potential conflict of interest between Tim Cassidy, President of a tax collecting body and representing Weaver Ridge in a futile attempt to get their property taxes sizeably reduced as highlights of my sporadic blogging endeavor. My numerous blogs on the public school system which I support must have some drastic changes in the way they operate if they area going to escape governmental takeover.

My 12 article dissertation on the controversial Landfill Application included some of my best informative blogging to date.

In the meantime feel free to comment and make your views known for the entire world to see if they wish. I would hope some of you would give me additional information and help correct my boo-boos and please present the facts and sources when you disagree with me so I can do the proper research and correct my mis-information.

Demand more transparency on all public taxpayer funded bodies and support my friends at Rally Peoria financially, no matter how small the amount, They are working for you and bearing the cost burden almost alone.

Have a safe and prosperous New Year and thanks for reading me.