8/19/2017: Spotlight: Higher city taxes? Fewer services? Buy water company instead?
By Gale Thetford
Peoria Journal Star Letter to Editor
The Peoria City Council is facing dire budgetary challenges. From my time as a council member, I empathize with the difficult choices facing the Council, especially with the city budget being squeezed from many sides — a bankrupt state, an uncertain local economy, uncontrolled pension costs, declining reserves, and already high local taxes.
I remember agonizing over how to maintain operations and city services even when there was no budget deficit. Now City Hall has a $7.9 million shortfall.
The Journal Star editorial of Aug. 10 outlined the city’s financial troubles accurately. There aren’t any good choices for a city also facing increasing demands for police protection, road repairs and other important services.
In looking for a way out of this budgetary morass, the Council should avoid higher taxes on Peoria homeowners, shoppers and businesses. The Council must be creative. The city’s financial future depends on it.
Spotlight: Publicly owned water company makes sense
By Cynthia Hsieh
Peoria Journal Star Letter to the Edior
Mar 18, 2017
For the past several years, Illinois-American Water Co. has added ammonia to chlorine, forming chloramines, as our water disinfectant.
On Illinois-American’s website, it states that water with chloramines is safe to drink, though it is not to be used in fish tanks or for dialysis patients. If chloramines kill fish, would people ingest it knowingly, even at very low levels?
Without getting into which is more mutagenic, unlike chlorine, chloramines are significantly harder to remove by the consumer. Chloramines in water cannot be removed by boiling, aerating or reverse osmosis alone, but rather need sufficient contact time with a high-quality granular activated carbon filter. Some may choose to neutralize chloramines with Vitamin C tablets for bathing or citrus fruits for drinking water.
Letter: What do other communities know about protecting their water source?
Peoria Journal Star Oct 22, 2017
More than 85 percent of the U.S. population is served by publicly owned water systems. Area communities that own their water systems are Morton, East Peoria, Peoria Heights, Washington, Creve Coeur and Springfield.
On Aug. 24, the League of Women Voters sponsored a forum at which Tim Jeffers, East Peoria councilman and water commissioner, Springfield Mayor James Langfelder, and Ted Meckes, that city’s water division manager, spoke on how their publicly owned water systems are managed.
9/9/2017: Start with facts on potential water company purchase
I want to thank the city of Peoria for giving residents an opportunity to offer suggestions through the online "budget challenge." The City Council may find a gem or two among the dozens or hundreds of ideas that come forward.
However, in at least one circumstance, the "budget challenge" offers Peorians a false choice. Peorians are asked to choose one of these options:
• Spend $1 million to study issues surrounding the buyout of the water company.
• Status quo: Do not pursue a study of the buyout of the water company at this time.
The numbers are flawed.
By David Ransburg and Lowell
Posted Nov 3, 2017 at 5:00 PM
As the two most recent former mayors of the city of Peoria, we have been following with great interest the current discussion over the future of the water system. During our tenures, the question of remunicipalizing our water system was explored but never fully pursued. We regret not having done so.
It is evident that a public water system has great potential for Peoria residents. From significant revenue for the city to local control of our most valuable asset to greater stability in rates, a city-owned water system could be of meaningful long-term and short-term benefit.
Since we served, much has changed. Consider:
* Peoria’s budget deficit has gotten more severe and the need for additional revenue is greater than ever. The City Council would do a disservice to its taxpayers not to explore every option before cutting services or raising taxes.
* During the past 12 years, residential rates charged by Illinois American Water Company have increased more than 60 percent, much greater than the rate of inflation. The Council should try to limit this hidden tax upon every Peorian.
* With the severe drought in the Southwest, we are much more sensitive to the value of water and who controls it. A publicly owned water system would safeguard this life-sustaining natural resource for our children and grandchildren.
* Two well-respected civic organizations, the CEO Council and the League of Women Voters of Greater Peoria, have done independent analyses and arrived at similar conclusions. Both urged the City Council to conduct the due diligence to arrive at a purchase price. If this support had been available when we were mayor, we are confident the the City Council would have had more and better information to go forward with due diligence and possible purchase.
What’s clear is that the city of Peoria does not have enough revenue to support our current level of service. The water system has a revenue stream the city could access to benefit all Peorians, if it could be purchased for a “fair” price.
We write to urge the City Council to take this unique opportunity to find out what the cost of the water system would be. If the city gets an appraisal that is excessively high, we will be the first to say a purchase should not proceed. If, however, the appraisal price is affordable, the Council and the citizenry will know the facts, and we would support municipalizing the water system.
This is really a simple question: Do the people of Peoria want to know the cost of purchasing this public asset? We urge the Council to say yes.
David P. Ransburg
Lowell “Bud” Grieves
12/12/2017: By Lowell (Bud) Grieves
Re. Nov. 25 Forum letter by Doug Johnson, “Why should private company own Peoria’s water?”:
I want to take this opportunity to clarify a statement made in the above letter that when mayor I was personally offered $50,000 to make the water buyout issue disappear. The facts are that shortly after my taking office in 1997, water company executives met privately with me concerning the 1889 option granting the city the option every five years to purchase the water company. Their contention was that this option, because of its age and other factors, was no longer valid. They urged me to meet with the council and get them to approve the city’s dissolution of this contract.
They also stated that they were willing to pay the city $50,000 to end this “nuisance” issue for both parties. To their great credit, the council refused, and bolstered by a group of community-minded citizens who provided the funds for a legal challenge, the city went to court to prove the validity of this option. In 2002, after a five-year legal battle, the courts ruled in the city’s favor to uphold the 1889 franchise agreement, forcing the water company to participate in the city’s process of exploring a buyout every five years.
Establishment of the validity of this option is now a very valuable tool for the city, and one I am glad we did not relinquish for $50,000
Lowell (Bud) Grieves
Former Peoria mayor
Spotlight: The true benefits of a water buyout
By Tom Fliege
Peoria Journal Star Letter to Editor
May 28, 2017
Last October, a committee of the CEO Council presented to the Peoria City Council a study of the city’s option to purchase its water service.
We sought to clarify a very complex issue without resorting to the politics and personality assassination that has marked this issue in the past.
The due diligence we brought to the table was designed to get a close approximation of whether exercising the city’s franchise rights would benefit our community — nothing more, nothing less.
The reason we had to do the study is because Illinois American Water Company (IAWC) will not release analytical information on the Peoria Water District unless the City Council exercises its option first — a true “Catch 22.” Our study was designed to help the Council make a knowledgeable decision.
4/22/2017: Spotlight: Don’t be afraid of facts on water company
By Elliott Murray
Peoria Journal Star, Letter to Editor
Apr 22, 2017
Thanks to Lori Horstman for Illinois-American Water’s response (March 26) to Cynthia Hsieh’s March 18 letter, “Publicly owned water company makes sense.”
I understand that Ms. Horstman’s job, as superintendent of production for IAWC, is to speak for the private water company. Cynthia and I, however, are citizen volunteers who served together on a League of Women Voters committee that studied whether a public water system better serves Peorians than a private system. As independent volunteers, we have nothing to gain personally in our advocacy.
It was disheartening to read Ms. Horstman’s conclusion that Ms. Hsieh’s comments about chloramine were “irresponsible and inaccurate.” In fact, they came straight from IAWC’s website: “Water with chloramines is safe to drink, though it is not to be used in fish tanks or for dialysis patients.” And it is IAWC that states: “Chloramines in water cannot be removed by boiling, aerating or reverse osmosis.”
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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