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Gov. Quinn signs bill allowing DuPage County to charge new stormwater fee

Bill Ackerman –
A canoe is one of the few practical ways to cross 2nd Street in Downers Grove, east of Florence Avenue, during torrential flooding on April 18.
Bill Ackerman – A canoe is one of the few practical ways to cross 2nd Street in Downers Grove, east of Florence Avenue, during torrential flooding on April 18.

Gov. Pat Quinn has signed a bill allowing DuPage County to charge property owners a utility fee that would be based on the amount of stormwater displaced by property.

Switching over to a fee-based system – stormwater services are currently funded through property taxes – could help alleviate some of the flooding problems that have plagued the area as well as better fund the DuPage Stormwater Management department, Quinn said in a statement.

"Residents should be better protected from the flooding like we experienced this spring, and this other piece of legislation establishes a framework to improve their stormwater management," he said.

But the plan has already received mixed reviews.

Agencies that are currently tax-exempt such as churches and schools would likely have to pay the fee, a potentially significant cost.

In Downers Grove, where village officials enacted a fee-based stormwater system Jan. 1, churches and other non-profits have focused attention on a new municipal stormwater fee with petitions and public comments at village council meetings.

Church and nonprofit leaders there say the fees have presented their organizations with a brand new utility bill, cutting into their ability to provide services and assistance in the community.

While the village of Downers Grove did cut property taxes nearly $2 million this year to account for its separate fee, DuPage County officials have not indicated that property taxes would decrease as the result of a new fee-based system.

The county legislation has been likened to a utility bill of sorts as well and would base fees off of use, similar if not identical to the system the village of Downers Grove has adopted. Likewise, any potential future fee will involve an assessment of water displacement on a property.

Taxable features could include the property's square footage of pavement.

To offset some of the costs, credits could be offered through permeable pavers, rain barrels, retention ponds and other measures that reduce stormwater run-off, according to said DuPage County Stormwater Management Planning Committee Chairman Jim Zay.

Another entity that could be substantially affected by any county stormwater fees is the DuPage County Forest Preserve, the county's largest land owner. Representatives from the forest preserve could not be reached before press time.

Zay said in his statement that the process of forming the legislation is "not something that the county will take lightly," but that he also views the law change as a necessary one.

"In the next few years, funding for our stormwater management program will be exhausted, so we need to work with the community to find a solution for this problem,” Zay said. “It’s the county’s responsibility to mitigate regional flooding, and this legislation provides us with a potential tool to fulfill our obligation to property owners.”

Fee could be similar to Downers Grove's

DuPage County could enact a similar stormwater fee system as the village of Downers Grove. 

In Downers Grove, the fee is based on the amount of a property’s impervious area, which is any surface that does not or cannot absorb water, preventing the infiltration of stormwater into the ground, such as parking lots, roofs, driveways, patios or decks.

When it was enacted, the monthly fees for single-family properties were expected to range from $6.30 to $12.30 in Downers Grove.

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