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Champaign Council Members Give Initial Backing to Stormwater Fee

A Champaign city council member says a proposed stormwater utility fee goes beyond the problems of a couple of neighborhoods, and impacts the city's marketability to prospective residents and businesses.

Marci Dodds and other council members unanimously backed the plan for a tiered fee system in Tuesday night's study session. She has heard years of complaints from residents who have seen their streets, basements, and backyards flooded by excessive rain.

Dodds said the problem came to head about ten years ago.

"The council and the city then took a step back and looked at the stormwater problem as a whole," she said. "They said 'Ok, where are the low points - let's start with those, and then work our way upstream. I mean really, how are you ever going to invest in this town if you're taking a canoe down Green Street?"

The tiered system means the majority of homeowners would pay less than $4 a month. Anyone with more than 6,000 square feet of impervious area on their property, like roofs or driveways, would pay close to $8 a month. And those with 8,000 or more square feet of such an area would pay about $10 monthly. But Dodds said residents can avoid paying the fee by investing in a rain barrel or rain garden, and earning credits in return from the city.

Champaign Public Works Director Dennis Schmidt said he recognizes there hasn't been a lot of public input on the idea yet. A committee formed by his department will be doing some outreach over the next several months.

Schmidt said the panel will meet with park districts, school districts, homeowners' groups and apartment owners to explain why the fee is needed, and how it will affect individuals. He said the city has identified about $80-million in needed stormwater improvements.

"Whether you're talking about 4th and Green (Streets), flooding viaducts, flooding in the John Street or Washington Street areas, I think the flooding is well documented in this community," Schmidt said. "I think there's other issues of areas where there's just no stormwater handling capabilities at all in the area."

Schmidt said discussions on the fee won't resume until February, so it if the plan passes, it will likely be 2013 before residents paying start it.