BY CLARE HOWARD
Approval of a city budget with elimination of more than three dozen union positions and implementation of a special fee on top of property-taxes triggered scrutiny by officials with AFSCME who reported they found an undisclosed $30 million fund.
“It was behind a firewall,” said Sherry Carter-Allen, retired president of Local 3464 at AFSCME Council 31.
She triggered a discussion at the Peoria NAACP meeting Thursday evening.
The fund, referred to as OPEB, the Other Past Employment Benefit Fund, was not adequately discussed at city council meetings, she said. Carter-Allen said there was a $17 million transfer from the OPEB fund into the general fund as well as other transfers.
Patrick Urich, Peoria city manager, disputes the contention that the fund is not publicly disclosed and said the city is required to carry it as a line item in the budget. He referred inquiries to the city web page www.peoriagov.org and quick links to revised city budget dated 10-23-18, page 17.
“We are not hiding anything. It’s in the budget,” he said, explaining taxes allocated to the fund show an obligation of the city to past employees.
The city has a self-insured health plan and other liabilities for past employees that must be carried on the books. There is not $30 million in the fund. Transfers from OPEB to other line items must be repaid to the OPEB fund over time, Urich said.
The Peoria City Council voted at its meeting Tuesday evening to eliminate 22 firefighter positions and 16 police positions as part of its efforts to shore up a $6 million shortfall in the budget.
Voting no on the police and fire cuts were Beth Jensen, Jim Montelongo and Chuck Grayeb.
In addition, the council voted to impose a fee on top of regular property taxes. Voting no were Beth Jensen and Zach Oyler.
“Those cuts have a direct impact on the safety of our community,” said Marvin Hightower, president of Peoria NAACP.
“My question is why hasn’t this (OPEB) fund been adequately reported and discussed.”
Future plans call for closing two fire stations and building one new station in a centralized location, but response times could double for some locations on the South Side, said Hightower.
Following a lengthy discussion, the NAACP announced it would hold a press conference at 10 a.m. Monday Nov. 19 at NAACP offices, 101 N. MacArthur Highway, to discuss the city budget and the OPEB fund.