It could take years for DuPage County officials to decide whether to impose a stormwater utility fee on every landowner in the county -- but some residents already are organizing to oppose the idea.
More than 30 people staged a protest Tuesday night in front of the county administration building in response to a new state law giving DuPage the ability to charge property owners a fee to help pay for countywide efforts to control stormwater runoff.
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The protesters who lined County Farm Road in Wheaton carried umbrellas and homemade signs that referred to the proposed fee as a "rain tax." A government watchdog group issued a statement before the protest urging taxpayers to contact DuPage politicians.
"This bizarre bill allows 'stormwater utility fees' on all properties in DuPage County, including homes, businesses, schools, churches and forest preserves," said Jim Tobin, president of the Chicago-based Taxpayers United of America. "This could be the largest tax increase in DuPage County history."
The proposed fee would charge property owners based on use, similar to gas or water bills. Those who have more stormwater leaving their land would pay a higher fee. Anyone with land producing less stormwater runoff would pay a lower fee.
DuPage officials say the idea would make it possible for stormwater costs to be removed from property tax bills. They claim it could save homeowners money because every land owner in the county would have to pay it, including those who currently contribute nothing because they don't pay property taxes.
However, opponents who took their complaints to Tuesday night's county board meeting said the fee would put an undue burden on schools, churches, nonprofits and other tax-exempt entities.
"The people don't want a stormwater fee on their property," said resident Tom Sutton, who lives in Wayne. "This fee is unfair."
Wheaton resident Janet Shaw questioned the county's ability to accurately determine the amount of stormwater runoff individual residential properties are producing.
She also said it wouldn't help land owners to encourage them to install expensive "green" infrastructures on their properties to reduce their fee.
"The whole thing makes no sense at all," she said. "Nobody in this county wants it."
Jim Zay, chairman of the county board's stormwater committee, said it's "very premature" for stormwater fee opponents to lobby the board because it could take two years before a final vote happens.
"We're going to have an open process," Zay said. "There's a big timeline on this."
He said nothing will happen until after a feasibility study is done to determine what stormwater needs exist in DuPage and how much it would cost to address them.
Feedback also would be sought from municipalities, businesses, community groups, residents and others.
"As far as we're concerned, we're far away from finding out what's going on," Zay said.
Even if the stormwater fee is adopted, DuPage would spend two years doing public outreach and education before sending out the first bill.