BY CHERYL BUDZINSKI
Chairwoman, League of Women Voters of Greater Peoria Water Action Committee
The League of Women Voters of Greater Peoria believes a financial analysis that could lead to public ownership of a water utility is warranted.
Our LWVGP committee studied the issue of public/private ownership of the water distribution system starting in 2016. The process culminated in a unanimous vote of members at our very well attended annual meeting in May 2017 to support due diligence.
I have heard many questions and comments from our public input meetings. While many comments question the leadership — or lack of — in Peoria, water is an important issue locally.
Others doubt that if Illinois American Water Company can’t get these problems fixed, the City Council won’t because of its management and budget problems. The truth is, water customers will pay to fix problems in the water system whether IAWC or the city owns the utility. The difference is cost: IAWC gets a guaranteed profit on what it spends; on the other hand, the city doesn’t profit and can borrow money at lower rates.
Our League findings are as follows:
Water is a necessary resource for human life, not a commodity. The most important attributes of a water utility are: transparency; local control of rates; water quality; local governance which is co-located with the water supply and service area; public oversight; high quality service; competitive rates.
After much deliberation and study, LWVGP supports public ownership of the water system that:
Is committed to Central Illinois’ water needs.
Charges water rates that reflect local costs and local infrastructure maintenance.
Is committed to transparency to insure information is easily accessible to the public about rates, cost, supply and quality of Central Illinois’ water system.
Allows water quality standards to be determined locally.
Protects the San Koty aquifer and Illinois River for future generations.
Can use water more effectively as an economic development tool under local control to meet local needs.
What do you think the money you pay monthly for water covers? The water is free — Peorians own the resource; IAWC pays nothing for it. Your monthly water bill pays to clean the water and pump it to our houses and businesses. It pays to make repairs and ongoing replacement to the distribution system, a system we paid to build.
How much is spent on Peoria water projects? We aren’t allowed to see the capital improvement plan for Peoria’s water system. Illinois American and the Illinois Commerce Commission effectively hide that Peoria-specific information. You can’t see that. How much profit goes to the shareholders? How much to the parent company or its subsidiaries? No, you can’t see that. Illinois American refuses to disclose those Peoria-specific details.
The LWVGP wonders how much of Peoria’s monthly water payments cover the cost of pipes going to Dunlap so IAWC can sell our water to Dunlap to increase IAWC profits? Meanwhile Dunlap charges lower water rates than are paid by Peorians. Will Peorians pay to pipe water to Farmington where IAWC is buying that system? All we hear from IAWC are crickets.
The purpose of our remunicipalization inquiry is not to disadvantage the IAWC union workforce. Rather, the CEO Council study found that communities that repurchased their water systems had a positive experience with union workers. The LWV invites labor to work with us to answer the key question: Is a public water system a benefit to all Peorians?
The bottom line is Peoria’s water system must be protected for Peorians by Peorians. IAWC’s interests are its stockholders. Peorians are not the company’s first priority and they never will be. Peoria must control its water resource.
We are encouraged that the CEO Council studied the business issues of public ownership of our water system concurrently with the League study. We are very encouraged and appreciate the CEO Council’s generous offer of $400,000 to conduct the due diligence process for the city.
It is time to conduct due diligence and find out the cost to re-purchase our water distribution system. We want to know. I urge you to contact your councilperson and tell them you want to know, too.