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City Council axes water buyout, with budget battle and cuts looming

No funding, no water buyout.

That was the decision made during Tuesday Night’s Peoria City Council meeting.

The decision means Peoria City won’t have the option again until 2023.

“We’re only going to be able to acquire the water system, in my mind, if we have both labor and business on the same page,” explained Councilman Chuck Grayeb of Peoria’s second district.

After an hour of public testimony both for and against the buyout, the motion failed in an 8-to-3 vote.

The CEO Council’s bid to help fund the due-diligence check initially appeared to pass – however, Illinois Municipal Law meant the 6-5 vote wasn’t enough.

“This contract required the city to incur debt this year (2018) without any appropriation,” said the city’s legal consul Don Leist. “Whenever you have to amend the budget, you have to have a super majority.”

In the end, it all came down to money – an issue Councilman Grayeb is well aware of.

“We’re going to be straining hard enough just to pay the bills to support budget safety without draconian cuts – just as it stands now – without having to dig up another 700,000 dollars.”

Budget talks were moved to the next Council meeting.

The city faces a looming threat of $6 million-plus of debt, and a very real possibility of closing Peoria fire stations.

The proposal was to close Fire House 8 in Peoria’s south side and consolidate it’s equipment, along with cutting 22 fire jobs.

“Response times matter for civilians and firefighters,” professed Firefighter Union President Ryan Brady. “When you talk about a fire doubling in size every 90 seconds, it creates a big problem.”

Brady says the cuts would also make it harder to hire and keep firefighters in the River City.

“They might not come back to Peoria, based on the fact that they’re trained and can be hired anywhere.”

Councilman Grayeb says the best bet to avoid cutting to needed emergency services: a community agreement to raise taxes.

“The number one responsibility of any government is to protect the people. If we do not have a force adequate for that, be it fire, rescue or police, we have betrayed our citizens.”

Mason Dowling

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