Champaign Council Backs Stormwater Fee in Study Session

February 29, 2012

After two years of discussion, the Champaign City Council is poised to start up a stormwater utility fee. Final action is expected in April following approval in a study session Tuesday night.

The 7 -2 vote followed nearly two hours of comments, most of them backing something that all homeowners and businesses would pay into.

The measure has been proposed as far back as 1996, and studied for the past two years as a means for developing plans to upgrade the city's storm sewer system, impacting neighborhoods that that flood regularly. Jim Creighton is with the West Washington Street steering committee, a neighborhood that has regularly suffered during heavy rains.

"If you've ever had a flat tire you know the sinking feeling in your stomach when it happens," he said. "Multiply that by 100 times. And that's what your first flood feels like. Now live in the neighborhood for 40 years, and have it happen 10, 20, 30 times."

The upgraded storm sewer system would cost owners of single-family homes and duplexes about $5 a month, but higher amounts would depend on the impervious area of property owners. Paul Orama with the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce suggested a fee of its own that could cut the amounts businesses pay by 50-percent.

Council member Deb Frank Feinen, a small business owner herself, says she understands the reasoning.

"But I also think that this is a fair way to provide needed infrastructure that is a citywide responsibility," she said. "And basing it on impervious area in my opinion makes it fair."

But council members Paul Faraci and Kyle Harrison voted against the fee, saying current language offering incentives and credits for non-residential properties aren't enough, and could force small businesses into leaving town.

"We can ill afford to lose if they (businesses) are so negatively impacted that we lose sales tax, we lose jobs, because they have to close, God forbid," Faraci said, a former small business owner.

Champaign Public Works Director Dennis Schmidt says if the council approves the rate ordinance in about a month in a half, then some tweaking can happen with those credits and incentives such as rain barrels and detention basins.

But the fee wouldn't kick in until April 2013.

Story source: WILL