Peoria water future; a vote ahead in 2018 - WEEK.com: Peoria-area News, Weather, Sports

Peoria water future; a vote ahead in 2018

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PEORIA, Ill. (WEEK) -- -

It's been an on-and-off controversial topic in Peoria since the 1800s, and it's flowing again.

In 2018, the city Council will decide whether or not to purchase the the city's Water system from Illinois American Water.

Every five years the city has the opportunity to re-purchase the city's water system.

While many think it's a bad idea, one local group called the CEO council insists there are benefits.

As a disclaimer that the group includes WEEK Vice President and General Manager -- Mark DeSantis.

Nonetheless, that group is on one side of a more-than hundred-year-old debate.

The panel, made up of local business leaders, says their research shows Peorians are paying too much for water, and they've got a plan.

"We believe that we'll be able to purchase the water company, assuming we can get it at a fair price," said Tom Fliege, the chairman for the CEO Council's water study.

He said the goal is to not raise anybody's water rates or taxes.

"Not only that," Fliege added "we also believe we'll be able to contribute one to three million dollars a year to the city budget."

Fliege calls the city water system an "alternate revenue source" that he said could be the answer to some of the city's financial problems.

Fliege believes if Peoria took ownership of the water system, residential bills would not go up and profits could support the city, while paying for the purchase and for operational costs.

"The only way we can know for sure that this is the deal we think it is ... make the offer to buy it. Do the due diligence, and then find out," Fliege said.

As for the cost of that "due diligence," it includes taking the steps to ensure that the purchase is feasible.

However, that comes at a price.

That's why the organization has raised $400,000, so that the city of Peoria will not be out any money should it choose to move forward with the measure.

However, Illinois American Water believes the CEO Council doesn't know what kind of cost they're getting into.

One of the aspects they are referring to includes investing, which they say often gets neglected when cities own their own water systems.

"Many are not investing," said Karen Cotton, Illinois American Water Manager in Peoria. "We have a good working relationship with the city of Peoria. We'll continue to work with them. ... It's important to us to continue to do what's best for our customers and that's to partner."

Cotton also told 25 News the CEO Council is relying on inaccurate information about the aquifer underneath Peoria.

She also said since the Illinois Commerce Commission currently approves any rate increases, she wonders if city ownership could actually lead to higher rates.

Meanwhile, the CEO council has said that increasing rates is not in their plans.

The group has presented their research to the city who will vote whether or not to pursue the matter later this year.

Should the city vote to buy back the water system, the question still remains as to who would actually run it.

Flege said options include finding a water company to operate the city's water system.

We will keep you up-to-date on this story and bring you new details as they surface.

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