The Peoria City Council has some big issues to settle-a balanced budget, a new city manager, the Sears block question, not to mention a return to civility. With such a long list of unresolved issues calling for immediate action, can the City still be seriously considering the buyout of Illinois American’s Peoria water utility?
Oh sure, the courts have validated the City’s "right" to acquire the assets, but a council drowning in issues they can’t seem to resolve-some of them internal-would be ill-advised to take on more. The opportunity to acquire is there, but there’s also a common sense reality that makes this a bad move.
I doubt that many Council members are besieged with phone calls complaining about water delivery, water quality, or responsiveness from the privately owned system. They are, simply, top notch. Residents have access to a 24-hour hotline and evening and Saturday service if needed. Boil orders aren’t in the Peoria vocabulary.
In today’s climate, the issue unfortunately goes beyond water delivery. There’s 24-hour-a-day security concerns. Somehow, it’s comforting to have that provided by a company focused on only one thing-providing reliable and safe water service-and that can draw on its experiences in the more than 100 communities it serves in Illinois.
Because an investor-owned utility system serving the public is subject to Illinois Commerce Commission regulations, residents are assured of a level of service many can only envy. In fact, the ICC oversees virtually everything a private system does. It provides a checks-and-balances system for consumers not there for municipally-held and -operated water systems.
Those checks and balances are critical when it comes to pricing. Today, the private system must have its rates blessed by the ICC. Yes, they recently approved a 12.9 percent increase for the Peoria area, the bulk of which will be paid by businesses. Extra and improved security and infrastructure costs since September 11 are valid. Political influences-everything from annexation decisions to favored treatment-are possible with municipal-run water systems. The only check residents have in such a system is an election. A voice only once every four years pales in comparison to the protection provided by the ICC. Given the current tendencies of the Peoria City Council for raising fees and taxes instead of prioritizing services, residents should welcome the outside price protection.
Peoria is at a critical juncture. Consensus building has taken a back seat to nose counting. And when city employee groups engage in that practice and put their provincial gain over the public good, things are getting out of whack.
Numerous projects with crucial long-term impact and influence on the future of Peoria are pending. Amid all of that, the council doesn’t have to worry about one of the most basic of public services-water. This just isn’t the time for the city council to willingly muddy the important course ahead by making a problem out of a solution.
To quote the prophet: "If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!" IBI