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Council candidates rank ‘top two’ issues facing Peoria

It’s no secret, Peoria has seen it’s fair share of hurdles over the past few weeks, months and years.

Council members, public departments and city leaders have also put in countless hours to address them, be it balancing the budget, furloughs, economic development, infrastructure; the list continues.

The manner in which those groups have answered various issues or enacted solutions have also seen their share of push back and acceptance. Now, the candidates seeking at-large seats on the council are seizing opportunities to pick apart some of the aforementioned and pitch their solutions.

Councilwoman Beth Jensen and Rita Ali stopped by the 25 News studios to share the two issues they’d rank most pressing in the River City, accompanied by how they would address them.

Council woman Jensen ranked balancing Peoria’s budget as her top priority. She explained the city needs to comb through their spending “line by line”, adding “we need as a whole council to decide, ‘should the city be funding this and if so, how much?”

Jensen also outlined how the city should be ranking their spending in terms of what’s absolutely necessary and what stands to be reduced. “During the last round of budget discussions, I came up with 1.7 million dollars in reductions for contributions that we make mainly to outside organizations and some cuts in salaries.” she shared.

Another initiative Jensen shared began under her leadership four years ago, were ‘meaningful public meetings’ which she describes as early opportunities for the community to share their thoughts on pressing matters before budget discussions progress significantly.

Jensen’s second area of priority, population retention. The answer she says to that is through offering more economic opportunities for the unemployed. The city does this through their Greencore program which graduates small classes of unemployed individuals with soft skills and various skilled training for jobs, but Jensen’s plan is to expand it significantly.

Dr. Ali and Jensen shared that in common. She explained her vision to create a city that makes people want to live here rather than just getting by, citing property taxes as part of the reason for the latter. “Property taxes in peoria are some of the highest in the state, and Illinois has some of the highest in the country.”

Ali acknowledged the frustrations the some in the city share; wondering why their taxes don’t cover many of the city’s lingering bills.

Her solution to keeping people in Peoria, ties into her second priority: job opportunities and job readiness. Dr. Ali says the issue isn’t necessarily a lack of jobs in the area, but that people don’t have the necessary skills to fulfill the positions.

“We need to build our economic base. We need to draw more small, medium, and even large companies to the area.” Ali added firmly.

But her plan didn’t end there. She highlighted her efforts to bring Amtrak to the River City, a long standing request from residents. Currently, to take a train outside of Peoria, you have to travel to Bloomington/Normal.

Ali says she would would tirelessly to include this in building the economic base; adding this would allow people not only to get jobs out of the area, but bring a steady stream of money into the city just by connecting Peoria to outside businesses, and residents and vice versa.

Both candidates offered a variety of suggestions to make Peoria more attractive and economically efficient. If you’d like to reach out to them to hear more, you can do so by visiting their Facebook Pages: Beth Jensen, City of Peoria At Large City Council Member and Rita Ali for At-Large Council Peoria

Lauren Melendez

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