Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Illinois HB 1522 and What's All This About Stormwater Utility Fees?

We’ve been tracking the progress of HB 1522, or the stormwater utility fees bill, this spring. Now that this measure has passed both houses and is on the desk of Governor Quinn, we’re delving into what stormwater utility fees are, and what they might mean for Illinois residents.

What are stormwater utility fees?
A stormwater utility manages the rainwater running off houses, driveways, roadways, parking lots, and buildings of a municipality. Just as the electrical utilities charge for their product, so the stormwater utility relies on a fee for managing the extra runoff of a city. Since a local government usually manages the stormwater utility, the fee is often regarded as an additional tax. However, since the fee is charged for use of the utility, Illinois courts have ruled it a fee that even traditionally tax-exempt organizations like churches and schools must pay.
The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning provides an extensive overview of stormwater utilities here.    

How much will it cost?
That largely depends on the funding structure adopted by your municipality. Champaign, IL, where several IWRC staff members happen to live, is using a graduated system based on the square footage of the impervious surface of a residence. For example, a home having between 500 and 6000 sf of impervious surface (including the driveway, deck, patios, etc.) will pay $4.94 a month, while homes between 6001 sf and 8000 sf will pay $10.55 per month. Any building other than a single family home will be billed $1.51 per 1000 sf per month. The City of Bloomington, IL charges fees based on the square footage of a property, and, for larger properties, even relies on aerial photography to determine how much runoff a property contributes. Some areas, like Bay County in Florida, have opted to charge a simple flat, annual fee of between $40 and $200. Since HB 1522 applies to DuPage and Peoria counties, it’s up to those counties to decide how the fees will be structured.  

Is there a way to reduce the fee?
HB 1522 included language directing counties to provide fee credits for property improvements that decrease stormwater or improve water quality. In Champaign, these improvements can include things like rain barrels, rain gardens, and green roofs. Bay County, FL waives the fee for qualified senior citizens, disabled veterans, and disabled persons, while Minneapolis, MN applies credits for either water quality or quantity improvements from actions like installing ponds or pervious pavement.
If your school wants to create a rain garden as part of their stormwater reduction efforts, check out this small grant program for some help.