Cronin: Stormwater utility fee not a done deal

Despite a new state law giving DuPage the ability to impose a countywide stormwater utility fee, county board Chairman Dan Cronin says there’s no guarantee the idea will be implemented.

“The devil is in the details,” Cronin said of the proposal to charge property owners a fee to help pay for countywide efforts to control stormwater runoff. “If the details become too difficult and too controversial and too unworkable, then we don’t have to go down that path.”

Cronin’s remarks came Monday during his annual State of the County speech in Naperville. The talk covered a wide range of topics, including the county’s budget, efforts to reform local governmental entities and the future of the county fairgrounds.

Cronin told the audience at a Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon that flooding has long been a serious problem in DuPage.

In order to address it, he said, infrastructure improvements are needed. Right now, money for those projects comes from property taxes.

The proposed utility fee would charge property owners based on use. 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.

Enacting a utility fee would make it possible to have charges for stormwater projects removed from the property tax bill, he said.

“If you can shift away from a property tax and if you can go to a system that’s based on usage, conceptually I think everybody could probably agree that’s a pretty attractive idea,” Cronin said.

However, some residents already are opposing the idea. Last month, protesters demonstrated before a county board meeting and called the proposal a “rain tax.” Objections also are expected to come from schools, churches and other tax-exempt entities that would be required to pay the fee.

Cronin said the county should at least examine the issue and have “an informed dialogue about it.” That process could take as long as two years because DuPage must do a feasibility study to determine stormwater needs and seek feedback from municipalities, businesses, residents and others.

“If at the end of the day ... the conclusion is that this is something that we’re interested in, we can go forward,” Cronin said, “If it’s something we’re not interested in, we don’t have to go forward.”

Also during Monday’s speech, Cronin provided an update about the DuPage Accountability, Consolidation and Transparency Initiative, which calls on 24 local governmental agencies to make structural and operational reforms.

Cronin said more than 20 of the agencies have aligned their ethics rules with the county’s policy. They also have agreed to use the DuPage County Ethics Commission and the county’s investigator general to review complaints.

Earlier this year, representatives from county-appointed agencies participated in an annual ethics training seminar normally offered to county officials.

“We’re trying to make ethics a big part of what it means to do the people’s business in DuPage County,” Cronin said.

When it comes to the county fairgrounds, Cronin said he will be forming a task force to examine whether the property in Wheaton should continue being the site of the DuPage County Fair.

“I love the county fair,” he said. “But is it really the best use of that parcel of land?”

The panel of real estate experts will explore whether there could be a more productive use of the 42-acre site, which the county owns next to its government complex.

In the meantime, Cronin said the county is focused on reducing spending and improving the quality of services to residents and taxpayers.

“We really are trying to be an example here in DuPage County,” he said. “You can deliver services. You can meet your duties and obligations. And you don’t have to do it the same old, same old way.”

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