Three major floods in five years have DuPage County officials convinced more needs to be done to address stormwater issues.
The question county board members eventually must answer is where the money to pay for those efforts will come from.
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"DuPage County has significant problems with flooding even though we've done a great job over the past 10 years making changes and doing projects," said Jim Zay, chairman of the county board's stormwater committee.
Officials say DuPage's existing revenue isn't sufficient to pay for future flood-prevention projects.
So county board members are considering whether to shift the cost of the county's stormwater management from property taxes to a countywide fee.
The stormwater utility fee, which is possible because of legislation expected to be signed by Gov. Pat Quinn, would be imposed on nearly every property owner in the county, including those who don't contribute because they don't pay property taxes. Only Aurora property owners would be exempt because the city participates in Kane County's stormwater program.
"This legislation in Springfield is a tool," DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin said. "It's simply a tool that allows us an opportunity to ... examine the issue."
If approved, a stormwater fee would more fairly charge property owners based on use, similar to gas or water bills, officials say.
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.
Officials stress that implementing the fee can't happen overnight. It could take as long as two years from the day Quinn signs the legislation for the county board to vote on it.
In the meantime, the county would do a feasibility study to determine what stormwater needs exist and how much it would cost to address them.
The public also will be asked to share its thoughts about the idea. County officials already are expecting to hear concerns from schools, churches and others exempt from paying property taxes.
"We've got a lot people ... all worried about how this is going to impact them," Zay said. "The last thing we're going to do is shove something down their throats. This is going to be an open process."
If the board adopts the fee, DuPage would do two more years of public outreach and education before sending out the first bill. It also would develop a credit system for property owners who implement green practices.
During a question-and-answer session this week, one board member said the county could simply increase property taxes to pay for stormwater projects.
But Zay said the county's philosophy has been to avoid raising property taxes. "I thought we're a pretty fiscal conservative organization in that we looked at every other means besides that," he said.
Then there's the issue of fairness.
"How can you tell me that your property in Elmhurst displaces the same amount of water as my house in Carol Stream, but your property tax is 10 times higher than mine because the value of your house," Zay said. "Is that equitable and fair?"