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Peoria ballot question to raise taxes for public safety pensions faces stiff opposition

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PEORIA (WEEK) -- The City of Peoria is looking for solutions for an unfunded state mandate to pay pensions for police and firefighters.

The mandate isn't new. But city data shows the money the city will have to pay is supposed to increase by nearly $500 million over the next 20 years.

"There's no magic beans here," Peoria City Manager Patrick Urich said. "There's no magic money tree for the city to go to."

That's why the city is trying to find a way to offset those forecasted increases. The current strategy is to leave it to the voters.

The City Council voted to add a non-binding question on next week's election ballots.

And while the City Council has the power to raise these taxes without voter approval, the Council is still seeking the public's input.

Zach Oyler is one of the Council members who voted to get the question on the ballot. But that doesn't mean he wants it to succeed.

Oyler says the Council has already tried offsetting the budget shortfalls with taxes. He hopes the question is shot down so the city starts looking for different ways to solve the problem.

"The problem has to be fixed somewhere and the solutions aren't being provided," Oyler said. "No that's not the solution to keep coming back to taxpayers and it's time to go figure out how to fix the structural problem."

If the measure doesn't pass, everyone we talked to said staff reductions may be one of the only ways to solve the problem. That included fire unions, who themselves don't necessarily support the tax increases.

Local 50 President Ryan Brady says they feel caught in the middle by the City Council and that Peoria residents will end up suffering.

"Peoria hasn't had a plan on how they are going to do this," Brady said. "We are going to be the only city, or municipality that grinds public safety services to a halt to prove a point in Springfield."

Brady believes tax money should only go to core services, not pensions.

So who does support these tax increases? City Manager Urich says the money has to come from somewhere.

"I don't think anyone likes to pay more taxes, but unfortunately, this obligation isn't going away," Urich said.

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Alex Gaul

Alex Gaul joined WEEK 25 News and Heart of Illinois ABC in January 2021 as a Multimedia Journalist. He formerly worked for KPNX-TV and KAET-TV, both in Phoenix, Arizona. The Illinois-native is an alum of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.

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