Lauzen's Kane County revenue idea undercut by new state law

Updated 5/15/2018 3:13 PM

A new state law will decapitate one of the major sources of new income that Kane County officials hoped to tap into as part of efforts to fend off local property tax increases.

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the Small Wireless Deployment Act (SB1451) into law last month. The legislation allows cellphone providers to install antennas on streetlights and utility poles at much lower costs with less oversight than many local governments would like.

The DuPage Mayors and Managers Conference opposed the change. A letter from the conference co-authored by Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin said the law "usurps local authority" to give "thriving" telecommunication companies "carte blanche" to install refrigerator-sized antennas on utility poles.

In Kane County, the move sinks an initiative first proposed by county board Chairman Chris Lauzen during his 2016 campaign. In his re-election announcement, Lauzen hailed the potential to lease space on the public right of way to cellphone providers as a major source of potential new, nontax income.

It was one of three new revenue ideas he pitched. Expanding the county's fiber-optic network was another, which is generating several thousand dollars. The cellphone plan now appears ready to join Lauzen's third idea of bringing a waste-to-fuel recycling facility to the county on the list of unrealized dreams.

Deputy Director of Transportation Tom Rickert told board members Tuesday the new legislation will transform the budding income source into a money loser for the county. Officials passed a local ordinance that created a $250 per-antenna, monthly fee for cell providers who want to lease space in the local right of way. The new law caps that fee at $200 for the year.

"That won't even cover our expenses for managing it," Rickert said. "It's now become an unfunded mandate. We're going to handle it the best way we can."

Part of that entails requiring cellphone providers to provide a letter from a structural engineer guaranteeing whatever public structure carries a new antenna can handle the load. Rickert said the county does not have the resources to provide a review on its own.

In signing the legislation, Rauner hailed the move as paving the way for 5G wireless technology in Illinois. A written statement issued by Rauner's office highlighted estimates 5G will create 100,000 jobs and bring $9 billion in business investment to the state the next seven years.

The law will impact every municipality except Chicago, which is exempted in the legislation.

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