Thursday, March 22, 2007

Is Peoria on the right road? Do the math

I steal this headline from Mike Bailey appearing in his column dated 2/2/02. “In 1950, Peoria consisted of 13 square miles with a population of 112,000. Today it consists of 47 square miles of roads, sidewalks, fire and police protection and a population of – 112,000.

To spur eco development Peoria has seven TIF’s, not one of them paying an extra penny to District #150 PPSchool System since 1978 and not likely to until 2013. Meanwhile, in the last four years Dist. #150 has gushed more than $25 million in red ink. In 1999, the City Council gave $5.5 million in tax breaks to a grocery store on N. Knoxville and three grocers nearby went under. In 1999, the city Council came within an eyelash of granting $35-99 million to a developer to subsidize the Galleria turned Promenade. Shoppes at Grand will open soon without subsidies.

Consider the Civic Center a regional asset; thirty communities, one sugar daddy—Peoria.

About the time Dist. #150 was scrambling for money City Hall was negotiating to rebate an estimated $705,560.00 gift to a privately owned riverfront recreation complex. (Maxim) Meanwhile, a $25 million dollar zoo expansion announced it was halfway to its goal.

While some towns are growing and other are not within the Tri-County, the population is basically flat, at 347,387 people still below its 1980 peak. Our largest employer employed 9,450 hourly workers in 1992. Today, it employees about 4450 hourly workers.

OK, so figures lie and liars figure. You’re free to connect your own dots. But do me a favor. Do the math and then ask yourselves: Is this region really on the right path? If not, is it in all of our self interests to confront some uncomfortable issues? If there is one state none of can afford to be in, it’s the one called denial.”

End of my summation of now Editorial Page Editor Bailey’s commentary in 2002.

Ok, Mike you were right in 2002 and you are right today; except for some major changes which I will list:

The population has still not grown in the past five years and the square miles of development are increasing, costs to maintain and to continue further service are accelerating. Consider that the zoo never got much past half-way in fund raising but despite Bonnie and Tim’s protestations that they would not proceed until 80% of the funds were raised from private donations; the board bridged the gap by borrowing $12.2 million. Construction is underway with a now estimated cost of $32 million dollars. In the meantime the park’s budget grew from $13 million in 1993 to $48,800,000. Expect the budget to be $60 million a year in less than 5 years with rising fees and reduced services and maintenance. ( You can observe the hard working PPD manager catching the 3:45 bus along Prospect on his way home almost every day of the week.)

Things at #150 appear to be making some improvement but where is the money going to come from to fund the salary increases, health benefits and pensions; let alone the estimated $60,000,000.00 for new schools?

In the first four years of its operation; thru 2004, the highly touted Peoria Park District’s Riverplex, lost $7,000,000.00. It was projected to be operating in the black by the end of 2004. This complex in competition with our local health clubs and supported by Peoria taxpayers is 40% used by people who don’t live in Peoria but who are enjoying our largesse at the same membership fees while paying no taxes to support the complex.

Who will fund the operating costs of the new museum if and when it is built (educated guesses are that it will need to have an operating fund of $4,000,000.00 yearly) while attendance at museums nationwide have shown a gradual decline? The new museum at Dubuque saw its attendance fall off by 50,000 visitors in its 2nd year.

I received my Schedule K-1 from the Peoria Chiefs today showing I lost another $1,900.00; my 13th consecutive investment losing year in this “beautiful” money losing ball park. Maybe Ryne is riding in to rescue the investors. Peoria better hope so.

In the meantime some people have noticed the terrible condition of many of our city streets and roadways. See Editorial in Today’s Observer. The damage done by the cities snow “wrecking” crews will run into thousands of dollars to replace sod and curbs. Each repair job takes two $200,000.00 trucks, two drivers and at least three employees each time they replace any part of the destroyed grassy roadsides.

Empty buildings abound and abandoned building still harbor druggies and rats and are not “eye candy”. Just ask the neighbors who feel helpless against the “system”. The County and City claim they do not have enough time, personnel and money to act at other than a slow pace. See Councilman Sandberg’s comments in today’s JS.

But wait, a bright spot. The Peoria Public Library Board is going to ask you for $32,000,000.00 so we can “keep up with the Joneses” and jump in with Bonnie, Tim, Ken, Pete, Bud, Dave and Chuck’s bandwagon. Harrison Homes Library that cost over $400,000.00 to renovate four years ago is slated to be closed. It includes a special built elevator for disabled people yet has nothing upstairs but a meeting room and some storage.. Meeting rooms are a dime a dozen all over Peoria; in every school, catering companies and restaurants, the Palace Skating Rink, churches, the PPD, the County and City, hotels, and almost every social organization like the KC’s and ITOO.. This Library that was so badly needed four years ago houses thousands of books few people read (the library opens at 10 and closes at 5, 5 days a week.) Evening and weekends when working people could use this library, it is closed.

Lakeview Library installed self check out machines 3 years ago that are only functional part of the time. Lakeview library has over 1000 linear feet of empty book shelf space yet says it must have room to expand. Libraries across the country have fewer readers. Borders is closing over 40 book stores in their system because of the competition from a minimum of 30 relatively new internet informational systems.

A few years ago a former Library Board talked about closing the Downtown Library, closing McClure Library and begged the City Council to give them money to buy seven acres of land out on Allen road. In a short time with no population growth library proponents claim they need $32 million dollars of property tax payer’s money for renovation and expansion.

Now they don’t know where they are going to put a new branch, just trust them and give them $33 million dollars. Dunlap is doubling their library size and Peoria Heights Library is under utilized. Peoria library cards are accepted anywhere in the Tri-County area.

It is interesting to go back to my first blog where I stated that Peoria appeared to be a city in denial. If Peoria had gotten Rt. 55 instead of Bloomington, if they had gotten the money to build a new highway to Chicago, if they had only gotten a ring road, if they had only gotten the gambling boat, if they had only gotten Eastside, if they only had softball fields to hold National tournaments instead of East Peoria, if Caterpillar still employed 30,000 workers, if the distilleries and beer makers hadn’t closed down, if the constant battling with the unions hadn’t scared most manufacturing out of town, if Cilco hadn’t been sold, if we had bought the water company, if we didn’t have all this crime and poverty, ect. All that stood between the old money and the movers and shakers for Peoria to be a city equal to Cincinnati were all these if’s.

My daddy used to say “if frogs had wings, they wouldn’t be bouncing around on their asses.” He told me to stop saying “if”.

To sum up, Bailey was right 5 years ago and many taxpayers in this community are not going to be happy campers as property taxes continue to escalate at a greatly increased rate. Don’t hold your breath on a lot of new growth in the City of Peoria or the County for that matter .We don’t have the skilled workers to fill the higher paying jobs these companies would bring into the area. District #150 still counsels and teaches like all kids are going to college to be white collar workers. Illegal are coming across our borders to the south just to take any job, period, while our welfare system for able bodied locals keeps many of them out of the educational and workforce fields.

Our roadways are in about as bad a shape as I can ever remember. Look at the condition of Knoxville Ave. to War Memorial; that’s city, then look at Rt. 40 from War Memorial north past Pioneer Parkway; that the state. Pick up our local paper and note our “warm welcome to visitors” headlines; murders, rapes, harassments, school problems, poverty problems, claims of racial discrimination and white collar thefts. Bad perceptions, right or wrong, of a community do count more than enhancements like trails and zoos.

So do too many if’s.

Some time back I wrote “Wake Up, Peoria. Now I fear it may be getting too late to wake up. I’ll keep doing what I can. One of 18 members of the County Board, to protect the citizens from major harm when a recession does hit and it will; history always repeats itself.


dewayne said...

My daddy used to say “if frogs had wings, they wouldn’t be bouncing around on their asses.” He told me to stop saying “if”.

That's classic. :)

Anonymous said...

You hit the nail on the head again, but as usual, those so busy posturing on the City Council ignore reality. Yes, they are so busy posturing that few read and remember hsitory except Mr. Sandburg. The RecPlex is one of the worst examples of unnecessary government waste by the bloated Peoria Park District.
The headlines will continue as long as the gangbangers and thugs continue to run rampant in Peoria.

Joyce said...

Very enlightening post Merle. I think I never could have learned more about how Peoria is so misgoverned. Very informative (I would have included the loss of the gaming boat to EP and the #150 Prospect Rd. boondoggle).

It seems a lot of folks who administer and govern have an extravagant shopping mania with daddy's card. Reminds me of a concert tour for MS that produced several millions of dollars. The charity was set up and an administrator hired. A couple of months later the administrator came back and said she needed more money. After an audit was done it was found out she had spent all the moneies on the swankiest of NY offices and loaded it with the most chic furnishings. Nothing was left to spend on the charity work for MS. Is that all it's about these days is spend, spend, spend?

Merle Widmer said...

Thanks Joyce and all. Your comments help correct my errors and add the things I have overlooked and left out.