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posted: 7/27/2013 8:00 AM

DuPage forest preserve seeks stormwater fee exemption

Official calls on Quinn, governor said to be weighing proposal

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State legislation giving DuPage the power to impose a countywide stormwater utility fee has yet to become law.

And once it does, DuPage County Board members could take as long as two years debating whether they want to remove stormwater costs from property tax bills and require every property owner in the county to pay the fee.

Still, the county's largest land owner -- the DuPage Forest Preserve District -- already is asking Gov. Pat Quinn to get involved.

A spokesman for Quinn on Friday said the governor is planning to sign the legislation into law sometime before an Aug. 13 deadline. "He feels it's an important piece of flood-control legislation," spokesman David Blanchette said.

The forest preserve, however, has asked the governor to use his amendatory veto authority to exempt the district from having to pay any future stormwater fee the county may adopt. Blanchette said the governor will "carefully weigh the forest preserve's request."

"I don't hold any great expectations that the governor is going to act on this," forest preserve Commissioner Tim Whelan said. "But every time this issue comes up over the next two years ... I want it on the record that the forest preserve shouldn't be subject to any kind of fee structure related to stormwater."

If it becomes a reality, a stormwater fee would charge property owners based on use, similar to gas or water bills.

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.

County officials argue a stormwater fee likely would save homeowners money because all land owners would have to pay it, including those who currently contribute nothing because they don't pay property taxes.

But unlike schools, churches and other tax-exempt entities, the forest preserve already "engages in substantial active and passive stormwater control," district officials say. In a July 23 letter to Quinn, they list more than $150 million in stormwater management projects completed on forest preserve land since 1968.

"So any type of a fee structure that taxes this government agency for stormwater management is inappropriate," Whelan said.

On Friday, a county board member called the forest preserve's appeal to the governor a "knee-jerk reaction."

"Between the forest preserve and the business community, it seems to be the biggest rush to judgment ever," said Jim Zay, chairman of the county board's stormwater committee.

Zay stressed DuPage hasn't even started debating whether to adopt a stormwater fee. It could take as long as two years from the day Quinn signs the legislation for the county board to vote on it.

"All we're doing now is getting the ability to do it," Zay said. "No one has decided to implement this yet."

Before voting on the fee proposal, 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.

"It's going to be a fair and open process," Zay said.

If the fee is adopted, DuPage would spend another two years doing public outreach and education before sending out the first bill.

The county also plans to develop a credit system for property owners who implement green practices. Zay says that's one reason why he's baffled by the forest preserve's concerns.

"They have flood-control projects all over the county," he said. "They would get credits for all that."

But Whelan said there's no guarantee a credit system would be implemented by the county.

"As far as I know," Whelan said, "they could come up with some formulation that says nobody gets credit and everybody has to pay."

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