DuPage County Board members say the forest preserve district could have saved significant lobbyist fees and the cost of long-distance calls to Springfield simply by asking them about pending legislation to give DuPage the power to impose a countywide stormwater utility fee.
Instead, forest officials, as recently as Tuesday morning, said they are continuing to urge Gov. Pat Quinn to veto the bill and exempt the district from paying any stormwater fee the county may adopt.
"Our lobbyist is working with the governor's office and his chief of staff to make sure they understand the law the way it is being intended," Deputy Director of Natural Resources Bob Vick told forest preserve commissioners. "Our lobbyist is constantly in touch."
Jim Zay, chairman of the county board's stormwater committee, said rather than lobbying Springfield, forest preserve officials would have been better served by talking to him about the county's proposal before asking Quinn to kill it altogether.
"Overall, we have a great relationship and have done amazing things to solve stormwater problems throughout the county. So I just don't understand why it's so hard for any of them to pick up the phone," Zay said. "It shows extremely poor leadership on their part. Give me one phone call and we'll come out and give you a presentation and answer any questions you have."
Forest preserve President D. "Dewey" Pierotti Jr. said he never intended to indicate the district was interfering in the county's legislative agenda.
"I think we were just stating our position that we have concerns because when we speak for the forest preserve district, we're speaking for all of the people we represent," Pierotti said. "Any additional cost or fees that would be imposed on the forest preserve district would indirectly or directly have to be conveyed back to the taxpayers, so it really doesn't make much sense."
Zay said it's his responsibility to make sure county board members are made aware of all options when it comes to solving the county's flooding problems.
"Look, at the end of the day, I wish all I had to worry about was whether people were playing nice and enjoying the woods," Zay said. "But I've got real problems, like people's houses flooding, and I'm trying to fix that."
If Quinn signs the legislation, and his spokesman says he will before the Tuesday deadline, 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. That would include agencies that currently are tax exempt.
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.
Forest preserve Commissioner Tim Whelan doesn't believe a formula exists to properly credit the district.
"Every time we talk about it, the component is not only the four pages of stormwater projects we have done, but we have 25,000 acres of open space and that is a component of flood control," Whelan said.
Pierotti on Tuesday morning pledged to call Zay but had not done so as of late afternoon.