By Couri Thomas
Posted Dec 2, 2017 at 7:08 PM
The Illinois Black Chamber of Commerce and its members are an important part of our community. Executive Director Larry Ivory deserves to be heard and respected. However, his recent Spotlight letter opposing public ownership of the Peoria water system simply echoes the arguments made by Illinois American Water Co.
Mr. Ivory expressed concerns about “loss of jobs, charitable contributions and economic development, as well as higher rates and fewer infrastructure upgrades that put water at risk.” As the saying goes, “There are two sides to every story.”
1. There is no reason to believe there will be a loss of jobs. When the city considered public ownership in 2005, the planning was based on the same labor force used by Illinois American.
2. Recently, IAWC has been more aggressive with charitable contributions, but where does that money come from? It comes, of course, from local ratepayers — us. IAWC returns a small portion of its remarkable profits in the form of charitable contributions with the expectation it can continue charging ever-higher rates. Peorians should not fall for this sort of flimflam.
3. Communities that own their water systems have greater flexibility to support economic development, as we’ve seen in East Peoria, Washington, Peoria Heights and Morton. It is ironic that much of East Peoria’s retail development is supported by Peorians, especially those from the older parts of the city.
4. Peorians pay about twice the national average for water, over $600 per year. For many low-income Peorians, that extra $300 would be very welcome .
5. IAWC claims to have spent over $150 million upgrading Peoria’s water system. The other side of that claim is that IAWC is allowed to make a 7.47 percent return on those investments — more than $11 million in extra profit. Under public ownership, that $11 million could be kept in Peoria to do good things for Peorians, not to enrich a New Jersey corporation.
Mr. Ivory also argues that the city can’t afford to investigate the purchase of the water company. He does not consider the possibility that Peoria’s business leaders might pay for that appraisal. Such an offer is in the works to relieve the city of this expense.
Public ownership of the water system is really about money and transparency. IAWC desperately wants to protect the $58 million in income it takes annually from the rate zone that includes Peoria. Think of what Peorians could do to improve our city if just a fraction of that sum remained under local control.
IAWC doesn’t want Peorians to know its profits, how much money is being shipped out of state, the benefits of a public system, or the potential cost of the water system. Peorians deserve to know those answers. I urge the City Council to get the facts and share them with the public.
Couri Thomas is warehouse supervisor at Peoria Area Food Bank. He was a candidate for Peoria mayor earlier this year.
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