EAST PEORIA — The city of East Peoria will not grow by 500 residents after all.
On Tuesday, the East Peoria City Council voted down the recommended annexation of the Highland Hills Estates subdivision following a month of pleas from many residents to leave them alone and let them remain in unincorporated Tazewell County.
The vote was 3-2 against annexation. Mayor Dave Mingus and commissioners Dan Decker and John Kahl voted against annexation. Commissioners Tim Jeffers and Gary Densberger voted for annexation.
Residents of the subdivision filled City Council chambers, some holding signs facing the council that read, for example, "No taxation without representation," and "Please Don't Bully Us, Vote No." There was no public input. Subdued applause followed the vote. The whole discussion and vote lasted less than 30 minutes as the happy crowd spilled into the hallway.
"I'm not surprised that they changed their minds when it looked like it was going to cost the city money," resident Terri Pagan said after the vote which occurred in the reconvened July 18 meeting prior to the regular city council session. "A month ago (annexation) looked like a done deal."
State law gives municipalities the authority to annex properties that sit on less than 60 acres. Highland Hills is about 50 acres and is surrounded by the city of East Peoria. Residents learned of the annexation bid in a letter from the city last month that stated that while coming into East Peoria would likely increase their property taxes by 15 percent, they would receive benefits like garbage pickup without an additional fee. Some residents said they found the letter insulting. By many accounts, an ensuing meeting with members of the city staff, including City Administrator Jeff Eder, did not go well. Many residents said they left dissatisfied with the answers to their questions and felt like annexation was being "jammed down their throats."
A subsequent meeting with the five members of the city council in the Robein School gymnasium was civil, but decidedly anti-annexation. The council put off a vote on annexation at its July 18 meeting after it was apparent there was not widespread support in the neighborhood of about 150 homes.
On Tuesday, Commissioner Decker started the discussion by announcing that he would vote no on annexation. He stopped a ripple of applause before it could get started.
"Don't," he said. "Don't do that. I'm not voting no because you want me to. I'm voting no because it is not in the best interest of the city. And I don't think you are going to like what I have to say."
Decker said he was "100 percent a yes vote" a month ago. His vote changed when he learned it could cost the city as much as $2 million to make necessary infrastructure repairs in the neighborhood..
"That's too much of a payback for the citizens of East Peoria to take on," Decker said.
Jeffers was the only commissioner to speak at length in support of annexation. He said coming into the city of East Peoria would get necessary repairs done and ultimately lead to lower taxes for residents.
"(Annexation) would not be putting a hardship on your community. Frankly (Fondulac) township cannot provide what you need done. The township can't do it, hasn't done it. Needless to say (the city) is responsible for what we annex."
The path to the annexation vote began in May when the city learned the subdivision's sewer provider, Sundale Utilities, was sold to Illinois American Water Co. The city believed it would be a better, and cheaper provider of sewer service and filed with the Illinois Commerce Commission to intervene in the sale. City Administrator Jeff Eder said Tuesday a rejection of the annexation proposal would likely lead to the city dropping its intervention status in the sale of the sewer system.
Frustrating as it was at times for residents, in retrospect, Pagan said the annexation process wasn't all bad.
"The one good thing to come out of the lead up to tonight's vote?" said Pagan, who has lived in Highland Hills since the 1960s. "It got residents to meet with each other and talk to each other, just like we used to do."
Scott Hilyard can be reachd at 686-3244 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @scotthilyard on Twitter.