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Peoria City Council hires a third-party firm for 'unbiased' fact-finding ahead of water company buyout decision

The City of Peoria will pay nearly $100,000 for an initial study of a water company buyout, but it's far from a done deal at this point if the city council will even try to find out how much the waterworks is worth.

Consulting firm Woodard Curran will lay out for the city council the logistics of owning and operating a water company, and how much an appraisal could cost if the city moves forward with the purchase process.

The city has the option to buy back the water company from its private owners every five years under the terms of the 1889 sale. It's a perennial topic of debate around the horseshoe. While there's been varying levels of interest in moving forward with a buyback over the past 125 years, the council has never actually pulled the trigger on the option.

The city council set aside $99,950 in the last budget to hire a third-party firm for a fact-finding mission. Third District councilman Tim Riggenbach said it's money well spent.

"This is setting the groundwork to give us some unbiased information as to the actual costs involved to do the actual due diligence, as well as the actual repercussions will be moving forward," he said.

The study will be presented to the council later this fall. City manager Patrick Urich said the council needs to make a decision on whether to proceed with a waterworks purchase by the end of October. A full appraisal process will likely take 2 1/2 to 3 three years, he said.

When the city council last weighed a water company buyout in 2002, it was valued at $227 million. The expected price has almost certainly increased substantially over the last two decades.

Peoria Mayor Rita Ali opposed spending money on the study.

"I honestly don't believe that the city can afford to purchase the water company, for one thing. I believe the cost will be astronomical," she said. "I don't believe that we should be taking on that astronomical expense. I think it's very risky."

Council members Denise Jackson, Andre Allen, and Bernice Gordon-Young joined Ali in voting "no."

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.