Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner spoke to Streator officials about the city's future Tuesday night during a planning session for the City Council and its six department heads.
Renner said he is blown away by the city’s sense of volunteerism and couldn’t believe the efforts the Fourth of July Committee and Light Up Streator, among others, to create events and improve their city.
Streator City Manager David Plyman echoed Renner's awe.
“I’m amazed with all of the events that happen in Streator,” Plyman said. “The YMCA, Light Up Streator, Jammin’ at the Clock, Walldogs, the tourism stuff here is amazing. We couldn’t even attempt to undertake these projects with city staff.”
Renner went over a SWOT analysis — an acronym for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats — with council members.
Streator’s volunteer spirit was considered one of the greatest strengths along with the river and the city’s proximity to the interstates.
“Streator is not an island,” Renner said. “We need to remind people that even if you aren’t on Route 66, you still have your own history and reasons to visit. Give people reasons to keep Streator on the radar.”
Renner encouraged Mayor Jimmie Lansford to have the city take advantage of its proximity to the interstate; he said it only took him about 10 minutes to get to Streator from Interstate 39 and that’s not too much of a journey for interstate travelers.
He urged the importance of special events, noting all of the festivities planned in Streator throughout the year. He said a town Streator’s size rarely has a full event calendar.
The session also focused in on some of the weaknesses Streator has.
“The houses near the center of the city are falling into disrepair,” said Councilwoman Tara Bedei. “If you look at income within a mile of our downtown, it’s low and it gets higher out of city limits.”
Higher income homes out of city limits means the property taxes go to La Salle or Livingston counties instead of the city, even though these homes have access to most of the services the city has to offer, specifically fire and police protection.
City Manager David Plyman said annexation might not solve all the problems, though.
“If they annex, they’re going to demand additional services and there are parts of Streator that haven’t had their streets touched in decades,” Plyman said. “We’re going to end up hitting these neighborhoods that just came in first if they annex in.”
The city also struggles with the lack of a hospital after St. Mary’s Hospital closed in 2015, but Lansford said the services the hospital provided are slowly coming back.
“There’s some things we’re getting back and we hope at some point that we’ll get our overnight stay and same day surgery parts we had before,” Lansford said.
They also discussed the need for a city communications director to handle internal and external communications.
“We could be doing a better job communicating to our staff,” Plyman said. “We rely heavily on the media to do most of our communication, but with the advent of social media and the internet, it becomes very feasible for the city to have direct engagement with the citizens outside of meetings to create forums and dialogue.”
Plyman said somebody to handle communications also would help in cases of emergency to get information out to the people and stem chaos.
“This is someone who, frankly, becomes the heart of the organization,” Renner said. “We have one and she tells me what I need to do, what I need to know and what’s happening. ... If I need to know I go to her.”
Renner said it would also help stem some of the criticism that comes from local bloggers and Facebook users who may discuss city issues but miss the mark.
The City Council is meeting at 1:30 p.m. Thursday for a study session regarding marijuana legalization.