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updated: 8/14/2013 1:49 PM

DuPage County can pursue proposed stormwater fee

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Gov. Pat Quinn has signed a new state law giving DuPage County the ability to impose a countywide stormwater utility fee.

Still, it could take years for DuPage officials to decide whether every land owner in the county should help pay for efforts to control stormwater runoff. If the fee is approved, officials could remove stormwater costs from property tax bills.

"DuPage County has operated a stormwater management program funded through the property tax for 25 years," DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin said in a statement. "We owe it to all of our citizens to explore funding options that both sustain the program and allow property owners to potentially reduce what they are currently paying."

The proposed fee would charge land 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 have said a stormwater fee likely would save homeowners money because every land owner in DuPage would have to pay it, including those who currently contribute nothing because they don't pay property taxes.

The proposal, however, is expected to get resistance from schools, churches and other tax-exempt entities.

The DuPage Forest Preserve District, the county's largest land owner, already has raised concerns about how much a future fee could end up costing the district.

"If there's going to be a charge on the forest preserve, that cost would be directly passed on to the taxpayers of DuPage County," forest preserve President D. Dewey Pierotti said.

Forest preserve officials also stress the district already does "substantial active and passive stormwater control," with more than $150 million in stormwater management projects completed on forest preserve land since 1968.

DuPage officials say county board members could take as long as two years before voting on whether to adopt a stormwater fee.

During that time, the county would do a feasibility study to determine what stormwater needs exist and how much it would cost to address them. Feedback also would be sought from municipalities, businesses, community groups, residents and others.

The county's stormwater management includes watershed planning, floodplain mapping, water quality programs, permitting and operation of flood control facilities. However, money to pay for those projects is running out.

"In the next few years, funding for our stormwater management program will be exhausted," said Jim Zay, chairman of the county board's stormwater committee. "So we need to work with the community to find a solution for this problem."

If the stormwater fee is adopted, DuPage would spend two years doing public outreach and education before sending out the first bill. Officials said the two-year period would give property owners time to implement green infrastructure practices to reduce their fee.

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