The Illinois State Black Chamber of Commerce is the leading advocate in the State of Illinois for black businesses. As an organization that is headquartered in Peoria, we are very concerned that a water buyout will not only result in a loss of local jobs, charitable contributions and economic development in our communities, but will also mean higher rates and less infrastructure upgrades, which will put the safety of our water supply at risk.
Also, with the issues facing the City of Peoria, we believe it is irresponsible to even entertain a water buyout. The City of Peoria has enough issues to manage including the mounting debt as a result of the Pere Marquette deal gone bad at the tune of $7 million, the $800,000 owed to Illinois EPA for Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) system-related fines, anticipated $200 million needed to improve the CSO system, unfunded pensions and more. Not to mention the estimated $2 million owed to buyout backers for their last water buyout “contribution.”
A water buyout would only add to our problems and Peorians would pay dearly for it. A risky water buyout investment would increase already high debt levels, which would ultimately mean higher taxes for the citizens of Peoria. In reality, the city does not have the money to purchase a water company so there is no reason to spend funds studying it.
If the city moves forward with purchasing a water company, it is estimated that it would cost much more than $300 million. This does not include the millions that are needed each year to maintain the existing infrastructure. It also does not take into account the loss of revenue the city collects each year from Illinois American Water in taxes and permit fees. You only have to do the math to know this is not worth pursuing.
Our city leaders are faced with difficult decisions. Our city leaders carry the burden of getting Peoria back on track. I believe they want to do it and can do it, but it is going to take creative and outside-the-box thinking.
For instance, they should seriously consider the benefits of Illinois American Water purchasing the CSO system. Illinois American Water is not only skilled at drinking water delivery, but sanitary sewer and stormwater service. A sale would provide the City with an immediate influx of millions of dollars. In addition, American Water would become responsible for the EPA fines and estimated $200 million for needed infrastructure investment. Also, Illinois American Water would pay additional property taxes and permits fees as the CSO owner and operator, producing additional revenue for Peoria.
I ask the members of City Council to oppose the water buyout and any study effort that would distract the city from the real work that needs to be done to bring revenue, jobs and economic development to Peoria. I also ask them to seriously consider the sale of the CSO system to Illinois American Water. It could truly be a win-win for all Peorians.