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Article posted: 6/22/2013 8:00 AM

DuPage may consider countywide stormwater fee

In turn, tax bills would no longer have stormwater charge

By Robert Sanchez

Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to sign legislation in the next two months giving DuPage the power to impose a stormwater utility fee on every property owner in the county, including schools, churches and other nonprofit groups.

The proposal likely would save homeowners money by removing stormwater costs from property tax bills and requiring all land owners to pay the fees, including those who currently don't contribute because they don't pay property taxes.

Not surprisingly, the county's largest land owner -- the DuPage Forest Preserve District -- already is raising questions about how much it could end up paying.

The district, which owns roughly 12 percent of the land in DuPage, doesn't pay property taxes. But it's expected to pay nearly $6,000 to Downers Grove this year because the village enacted a fee to pay for stormwater management.

If county board members decide to shift the cost of DuPage's stormwater management from property taxes to a fee similar to Downers Grove's, forest preserve officials estimate it could cost the district hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

"The fee certainly will have financial implications on the district's bottom line," said Sue Olafson, forest preserve spokeswoman. "It's not something we had anticipated."

County officials also expect pushback from schools, churches and others exempt from paying property taxes.

But they stress the fee can't be imposed until the county board adopts it, and that can't happen until there's a public debate.

"Everybody will have the opportunity to voice their concerns ... and engage in the discussion," said Anthony Charlton, DuPage's director of stormwater management. "That will all occur long before there's ever a consideration at the county board as to whether they should change from taxes to fees."

The state legislation requires DuPage to notify affected property owners of the fee two years before sending out the first bill. County officials also would be required to hold hearings, educate property owners about the fee, and develop a credit system for property owners who implement green practices.

"Perhaps at the end of the debate, we'll decide as a county that we need to stay on the tax system," Charlton said. "Or at the end of the debate, we might decide fees are the more appropriate way to go. All we've asked for in this (legislation) is the opportunity to have the debate."

When the legislation was approved last month by the General Assembly, county officials said a stormwater fee would more fairly charge property owners based on use, similar to gas or water bills.

"Stormwater is the only major infrastructure system in the region not funded by user-based fees and instead relies on the regressive property tax," county board Chairman Dan Cronin said in a statement.

Property owners who have more stormwater leaving their land would pay a higher fee. Anyone with land producing less stormwater runoff would pay a lower fee.

Charlton, for example, said he expects most homeowners to a pay a fee that's less than what they're paying in property taxes for stormwater management.

"Some businesses will pay more, and some will pay less," he said. "Obviously, (tax-exempt groups) will pay more than they do because they don't pay anything."

While forest preserve land is almost entirely green space, some of its properties do have impervious areas -- such as trails, roads and parking lots -- that contribute to stormwater runoff.

Nevertheless, forest preserve officials hope the county implements a system where the cost to the district isn't significant.

"Given the fact we provide a tremendous amount of stormwater relief for DuPage County residents as a whole," Olafson said, "we're hoping there would be some kind of consideration given to that."

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