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Peoria County hires lobbying firm to advocate for more federal funding

Jeffrey Smudde

The Peoria County Board is hiring a federal lobbying and law firm to represent the county’s interests.

Both the Finance, Audit and Legislative Affairs committee and the Peoria County Board Thursday night unanimously approved hiring Chicago and Pennsylvania-based Cozen O’Connor Public Strategies on a three-year contract worth $284,000.

The firm will primarily help the county secure much-needed federal infrastructure improvement funding, according to District 1 board member Sharon Williams.

“Cozen O’Connor will be sending their representatives to Peoria County over the next 90 days to help us determine priorities such as infrastructure programs, as well as to help us fine tune our strategies for acquiring federal funding for these projects,” Williams told WCBU.

The contract will pay the federal lobby firm $92,000 this year, $96,000 in 2025 and $96,000 in 2026. During the board’s discussion preceding the vote, Peoria County Board Chair James C. Dillon was asked if there would be any oversight of the company, or a regular assessment of the county’s rate of return on their investment [ROI].

“The county’s ROI will be really hard to gauge in the first year,” Dillon responded. “We are expecting a return on our investment. At the end of the day it is ultimately [about] how much money we can bring back from the federal government to the county of Peoria. Even if we can help a municipality or an unincorporated area to bring something back to the county, that is still a win for the county.”

Some board members expressed hope the firm’s hiring could result in federal funding for long-needed infrastructure improvements within their districts, including the Princeville and Edelstein water systems and the narrow, crumbling railroad viaduct on the north end of Chillicothe.

Williams said she hopes hiring the firm will bear additional fruit in the form of more jobs for county residents by spurring economic development and creating more infrastructure construction projects.

“One of the things I liked about Cozen was the fact that they mentioned economic development. They are going to work with us to introduce us to companies that might be interested in locating here. Through that we could be creating future jobs for Peoria County people,” Williams said.

District 15 Board member Steven Rieker noted that locally elected federal lawmakers are limited in the number of “pork” bills benefiting their home districts they can introduce during a legislative session.

“If we get [lawmakers] to look at one or two [projects] that we have, I would say we will be very successful. We have to internally prioritize the best ones for the county and, quite frankly, working with Cozen we will have the best chance to get funding,” he said.

In the end, the resolution to hire Cozen O’Connor was approved unanimously by the board. The contract includes an option to extend the county’s relationship with the firm. Four lobbyists will comprise Cozen O’Connor’s Peoria County team and will soon arrive to begin planning, according to Williams. The team will be led by former U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill.

Also at the meeting, the board approved::

● A resolution from the Infrastructure Committee recommending approval of an intergovernmental agreement between the county of Peoria and Radnor Road District for phase 1 preliminary engineering agreement to replace a structure on Voorhees Road.

● A resolution from the Infrastructure Committee recommending approval of a phase 1 preliminary engineering services agreement with Maurer Stutz, Inc. to replace for the replacement of a structure on Voorhees Road, at a cost not to exceed $70,298.

● A resolution from the Infrastructure Committee recommending approval of a Joint Funding Agreement for Construction Work with the Illinois Department of Transportation for Highway Safety Improvement Project on Hanna City-Glasford Road.

● A resolution from the County Health Committee recommending that the official name of the building under construction that will house the Peoria City/County Health Department, Peoria County Coroner, Peoria County Regional Office of Education, and Peoria County Sustainability and Resource Conservation Department shall be known as the “Peoria County Health & Human Services” building.

Tim Alexander is a correspondent for WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.