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Discussions into possible sale of Rock Island water utilities continue

Published: Jul. 27, 2021 at 2:41 AM CDT
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ROCK ISLAND, Iowa (KWQC) - Discussions on the possible sale of the city of Rock Island’s water and sewer utilities continued Monday evening.

The mayor and city leaders heard a presentation from Illinois American Water during a study session.

Although no official decisions were made Monday, community members and members of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Union were urging the city not to sell.

“I don’t think something like water should be used for profit,” AFSCME Local 988 member Graeme Jewell said, “City of Rock Island just like any municipality that owns their own water service. Charges a little bit above what the water costs them to make so they can have reserve accounts - Reserve funds - for planned and unexpected infrastructure breakdowns, but they’re not trying to make a profit.”

Members of the union staged a picket ahead of the meeting. They’re concerned about what a sale would mean for rates for customers, employee wages and benefits, and job security. But a representative for Illinois American Water said no jobs would be lost.

“All employees that want to come work for Illinois American Water would have a job with us. We would welcome them. We would want them on our team. No jobs would be eliminated,” Karen Cotton, External Affairs for Illinois American Water, said.

The city of Rock Island is facing high debt and reduced revenue streams and city leaders are looking at their options to increase the tax base.

Initial discussion on a potential sale began Feb. 2020.

“American Water has been providing water and wastewater service across the country for over 100 years. It’s what we do. It’s the heart of what we do. We want to partner with communities. We want to grow. Just like any business, we’d like to grow,” Cotton said.

All community members and union members who spoke at Monday’s meeting were against the idea of selling the utilities. Most expressed concern of a private company have control over water and increasing rates for profit.

“The rates are going to go up even if the city owns it, but the city’s not trying to make a profit. They’re just trying to maintain what they have and build on it to make it better in the future,” Jewell said.

The city is now expected to draft an official request for proposal.

The parent company of Illinois American also owns Iowa American Water, which provides service in parts of the Iowa Quad Cities.

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