PEORIA – Peoria City Council members might be warming to the idea of starting the formal due diligence process to explore buying back the city’s waterworks.

At a mayoral candidate forum Saturday morning, Mayor Jim Ardis told a standing-room-only crowd that “I believe the majority of the council will support taking that look this time around.”

But the three-term mayor said after the event that he wasn’t forecasting how a vote might go in the fall of 2018, but rather noting that many members of the council are interested in looking “at the potential of going down the due diligence route – not necessarily going there. … I think the majority is open to seeing if we want to spend $1 million to go to the next step.”

If they launch the process, it would be only the second time in more than 120 years that the city has done so…

…A great deal depends upon the length and complexity of the process, and there is but one piece of historical data to go on. When city leaders tried to start the process in 1998, it begat a seven-year process that included a legal battle in which Illinois American Water went all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court to challenge the franchise agreement. Ultimately the city’s right to open the process was affirmed. Council members later shut down the effort in 2005 when the price cited at the time – in a still-controversial valuation effort – proved to be too high.

The key to Ardis is that city coffers won’t support added spending to pursue a purchase.

“We don’t have $1 million out there to do a study. We just don’t have it,” he said Saturday, indicating that outside groups committing to foot the bill would be the only way a due diligence attempt would advance…

…So, what has changed the conversation among councilors since the decisive 8-3 vote in 2013 to not pursue the every-five-years option to enter the due diligence phase that’s guaranteed in the 1889 franchise agreement in which the city handed control of the waterworks to the company now known as Illinois American Water?

For one, Ardis said, the report released last year by the CEO Council evaluating the issue and outlining what the city does not know that would be necessary to assess whether a purchase is worthwhile for taxpayers.

“I think they’ve given the community more focus on this,” Ardis said, though he also acknowledged that he hadn’t heard residents of the city indicate their feelings had changed on the issue.