PEORIA, IL -- Whether the city of Peoria should buy the Illinois American Water Co. is a huge issue now, as the city has a year to decide what to do. It holds a contract that allows purchase every five years.
The League of Women Voters of Greater Peoria has studied the issue and voted that the city should explore the purchase with 'due diligence' using experts that could cost up to $500,000. The mayor and some council members are opposed as of now.
The League invited Pekin's city attorney, Burt Dancey to tell what happened when Pekin decided to explore the purchase. The meeting, on Oct. 28, was enlightening.
Dancey said the two water systems are different. Pekin has wells that require little treatment. Peoria gets half of its drinking water from the Illinois River, requiring much more treatment.
Pekin city officials decided to explore buying the water company and commissioned a study from local experts who ultimately advised the purchase. It would allow the city to control rates and service, manage growth, and keep the money and jobs in the city.
The city would save $1.5 million a year, since 34 percent of the annual income could be used to buy the company and reduce the rates, he said.
An earlier referendum failed, but when a German company bought Illinois American, Pekin citizens voted to buy. The issue went to the Illinois Commerce Commission, where an administrative law judge ruled against the city. Appeals also didn't work. "We lost," Dancy said, so Pekin still has Illinois American Water Co., and high rates.
The ICC is now out of the picture, Dancey said, so Peoria has only to commission an appraisal and pay the company to control the water. It could outsource the operations, and perhaps get grants to upgrade the century old system, something Illinois American cannot access. That would save ratepayers money.
The issue for Peoria is cost, so the appraisal is crucial. Illinois American will fight back with advertising, to persuade the public to reject the idea.
I have attended a few meetings on the water company purchase, and support it. The purchase makes good sense, but whether Peoria officials will do it remains to be seen. That's another reason to vote in local elections.
-- Elaine Hopkins