2018 State of the City Address with Mayor John McCabe
May 1, 2018
"Thank you to the Kiwanis Club and Pekin Country Club. Thank you and I acknowledge all City officials in attendance.
Good afternoon, and thank you for attending the first State of the City address in a number of years. Mr. Tony Carson, our City Manager, and myself will cover a number of subjects in an attempt to bring all of you up to date on our community.
I would imagine that there are many questions concerning Pekin, and I hope that we will be able to address them today. We will be taking questions at the end of our presentation. There are a number of subjects I hope to cover, so… where to start?
A quick overview of the City has some mixed messages. Last year we were able to put together a balanced budget, but so far this year, we have no budget. I would like to state that I believe that the city has been a good steward of the taxpayer’s money. That being said, this year we have people pulling in too many different directions and we cannot seem to reach an agreement. Now I am calling on you, members of the community, to reach out to your city council members and let them know what you want. There are three ways to go here. A balanced budget with some public safety positions not being filled. Fill those positons and go into our reserves with are getting dangerously low; or cut other positions and/or services and fill those public safety positions. But we have to think about the overall picture here. We have to think about the future, not just the present. We need a vision and that will not happen without a strategic plan. I am convinced that is an absolute and hope to be able to convince the rest of the council to see this as well.
One of the biggest issues we are facing with this or any budget is our pension obligations. Like many communities in Illinois, one of our biggest challenges are our pensions and pension reform. Let’s make no mistake about it; this is something that we cannot turn our backs on. The City’s pension obligations eat up over 92% of the City’s property taxes this year and will only get worse unless there is real reform. However, that reform has to come from Springfield. In the meantime, we need to take whatever necessary steps, regardless of how painful they may be. So again, I am calling on you the taxpayer to let your voices be heard. Contact City Council members and tell them what you want the city to do. As I use to tell my government students, “democracy is not a spectator sport”.
In my three years as your Mayor, we have seen some good and some not so good things take place. An interesting example would be PAL Technology’s, which went away and then came back. I have to thank Dr. Rossi and his associates for their faith in Pekin, and to Mr. Carson and his staff for putting together a proposal that was good for the City and the company. These are head of household jobs that we did not want to lose, and it is our hope that more jobs would come from this re-investment in our town.
I have been on the Pekin City Council for seven years and one area that I have developed a great deal of excitement for is the downtown TIF district. Anyone who has paid attention to this can easily see the positive change that has been taking place. It was not that long ago that we had over a 70% vacancy rate and now that rate is about 25%. I have to give a lot of credit to Todd Thompson, and to the City Council for willing to take a chance on him. Let me draw your attention to the before and after pictures for the 200 block of Court Street. The change is quite impressive. All of the new business is local small business and they need our support. It is the only way the downtown area is going to stay strong and continue to grow.
While I’m on the topic of local business, I cannot stress enough the need for all of us to strongly support our local shops. Not just at Christmas, but all year long. I know that internet shopping is easy, convenient and quick, but the negative impact those sales have on local business and our whole community is real. Last year internet sales attributed to a loss of millions of dollars in local retail. It not only causes a loss of sales volume to these local businesses, (slide) but those sales tax dollars are needed to support vital city services. I would like to see the local business community and the chamber of commerce engage all of us in a “buy 365" campaign. We all need to think local first.
Which brings me to my next topic. This year is the 125th year of City of Pekin having an organization that is dedicated to helping the business community grow. Bill Fleming and his staff at the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce have done an excellent job of promoting businesses both old and new. I what to thank Bill, the staff and the board of directors at the chamber for the leadership they have provided through the years. If you want to know more about the history of this great organization, visit their web site or ask Mr. Fleming. He has become a walking history lesson on the topic.
When we talk about the many great assets of our community, too often our public schools are not given their due. Since my retirement, I have spent a good amount of time in District 108. Some of the things I witness are quite impressive, such as, the young authors program, the reading and fun night and the many different sports programs. Destination Imagination is a community program but receives a lot of support from the school district. This year there are three different teams from Pekin grade school levels competing in DI’s Global competition in Memphis. There is one high school level team competing in Memphis as well.
Pekin Community High School District 303 has so much to offer that I don’t believe that I would be able to do it justice in the space of a few moments but allow me to highlight a few of the many outstanding programs. Four different foreign languages, numerus art programs such as contemporary sculpture, photography and glassworks; a very strong academic core with several AP and duel credit programs. The Career and Technical education program offers students opportunities that cannot be matched in any school in the central Illinois area. Just last week the high school sent students to the Skills USA Illinois competition in Springfield, and if you are hungry, check the different menu items the Culinary Arts class has to offer. You will not regret it.
The City of Pekin and the high school have worked closely with Illinois Central College in helping our young people get a good start on furthering their formal education or career. With the ICC workforce program, students have a more varied choice in education and career opportunities. Studies have shown that for communities to grow and prosper, that 60% of the workforce should have some type of degree, certificate or training beyond high school. This is where ICC working with the local schools, trade unions and other institutions will help Pekin become a strong, more prosperous community. We are thankful for the continued presents of ICC.
An asset that we sometimes take for granted is our airport. The airport has been undergoing some changes over the last few years and the airport board has worked hard to keep things moving in the right direction. It might be a surprise to most of you to know that last year the airport did between 5 and 10 thousand hours of operation and had fuel sales of $125,000.00. There also is a private airplane mechanic operation on sight that brings in additional traffic.
Another item that has to be discussed is the Waste Water Treatment Plant. Several years ago, the City started a complete overhaul of the treatment plant because it was way overdue. Also if we, as a City, are hoping to expand, this had to addressed. The results are a facility that not only meets state and federal EPA standards but will be able to handle future growth in the community. We are not finished with all the improvements but should be in the very near future. To me this project is a good example of long range planning.
I think all of us can take a great deal of pride in our public safety departments. They are will trained, highly professional individuals and they and their families make the sacrifice of missed holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and other family events; not to mention the fact that they could called on to risk life or lime in the line of duty. Their level of professionalism is evident in our low crime rate and the quick response times to emergencies. As a result of this, we have a very good ISO rating. This in turn, means lower insurance costs for homeowners and businesses.
In the last few years, the City has been witness to a number of positive steps in the medical field. UnityPoint Health Pekin has established itself as the leading hospital in the Pekin area. With the addition of its new offices on the East end of the city, UnityPoint’s commitment to Pekin could not be more clear. We welcome this great addition to our health care community. OFS has also expanded its presents in Pekin with their health care facility in East Court Village that focuses on mothers and young children. And with the assistance of Heartland Health Services, more of our community members are able to get the care they need without the worry of insurance or out of pocket expense.
And when we talk about insurance, we have to include in that discussion Pekin Insurance. As one of the largest employers in the city, Pekin Insurance plays an invaluable role in our community. Their constant improving of services is only matched with the efforts made to the buildings and grounds of the home office and the claims office (for those of you who can remember the Jewel grocery store). The conference facility behind the main office is an added touch to not only their business but also the whole community. I want to thank Pekin Insurance for the annual cookout that they host for our public safety personal. I greatly appreciate it and I think that I can speak for our police and fire departments that they do as well.
When I talk with other local government officials, one topic that comes up is recreation. When I state that the City of Pekin has 16 parks and over 2,200 acres, the conversation comes to a halt. We have a wonderful park system but Cameron Bettin and his staff are not content sitting back and just letting things happen. They are always looking for new programs and ideas to help the park system grow or ways to expand and improve programs already in place.
I have watched with pride the different changes that have taken place at the Pekin Library. Three years ago, the library started on an expansion and renovation program that has made a world of difference. There are more computer workstations for the public, a large children’s section and a teen section with a number of options. Jeff Brooks and his staff do a great job helping all patrons. And there are a number of community organizations (such as Kiwanis) that take advantage of the new community room and meeting rooms.
In closing, I must thank all of the members of the City Council for their hard work, countless hours of meetings, and their sincere dedication to our community. I would also like to thank Tony Carson and all of the City staff. They continue to go out of their way to make our community a better place to live, work and play. The City of Pekin has many challenges ahead of us, but with a capable and strong group of elected and appointed officials and professional staff, I feel confident that we can meet most all of what comes before us. I am convinced that Pekin’s better days are still ahead of us. Thank you."