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Elgin council members face(book) up to debate on stormwater tax idea

ElgCity Council member AnnMoeller

Elgin City Council member Anna Moeller

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Updated: March 2, 2013 6:52AM

ELGIN — Some city council members are using social media as a kind of debate forum on issues that have come before the council.

One recent example followed last week’s lengthy meeting, where council members voted 6-1 to approve paying engineering consultants Strand Associates $193,900 for creating a stormwater utility development project.

While that may not seem like a gripping topic of discussion, city council members John Prigge and Anna Moeller took to Facebook afterward to explain their differing views and interpretations of what the move means.

For his part, Prigge, who is up for re-election in April, has said that the consulting work is sure to lead to creation of what he’s been calling a “rain tax.”

Moeller, however, said more information is needed before the council makes any decision on how to fund issues related to runoff.

Study OK

On her council-related Facebook page on Jan. 25, Moeller posted, “Rest assured, the council has not approved a new tax on ‘rain.’ ”

“We did approve a study that will provide an analysis on funding options for addressing stormwater management — including flooding and stormwater/sewage discharge due to our antiquated combined sewer systems in the older sections of town, dealing with failed stormwater detention areas and new potential mandates from the IEPA and EPA on stormwater management regulations.”

Moeller wrote that the study by the Madison, Wis.-based firm “will describe the scope and cost of the problem and time frame for fixing the problem depending on the funding mechanism selected, including using property taxes, creating special service areas or a new funding mechanism that other communities have recently begun using — a stormwater utility tax.”

According to Moeller, such a tax is “calculated by determining the amount of impervious surface (paved parking lots for example) on a given property. Those with more impervious surface pay more because there is more stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces and those with less pay less.”

“A stormwater utility tax is one option that is being studied, but again, has not been approved,” Moeller wrote, “and I believe most of my fellow council members are sensitive to the tax burden that we all bear. We need to explore the best option that fixes the problems associated with stormwater (flooding, basement flooding, sewage runoff etc. ...) within a reasonable time frame while minimizing the tax burden on the community. More conversation and information will be available when the study is completed.”

Rain ‘police’?

Oh his Facebook page on Sunday, Prigge reminded his readers that the “Elgin Rain Tax” was part of the city’s five-year financial plan on which he was the lone “nay” vote, “mainly because of this Rain Tax scheduled to be implemented in 2014.”

“The plan will have your already bloated water bills increased a set amount every single month based on the average amount of surface Elgin homes have that do not allow rain to soak into. This includes driveways, patios, roof space, walkways in yards, etc. If you want to reduce this penalty, you must be able to prove to the city you made a rain garden or use a rain barrel. Who will be Elgin’s rain police is yet to be determined,” Prigge wrote.

Prigge claims a stormwater utility tax would devastate most large commercial, industrial and retail properties “who dare to conduct their trade in large buildings with large parking lots for employees or customers. Large firms looking to come to Elgin will know of this punishing tax way before they ask for incentives.”

Prigge said he is concerned about how any such tax would impact Elgin School District U46 and Elgin Community College, and how its impact would be passed along to taxpayers.

Prigge wrote that the city council should “really determine if increasing our current rate of separating sewers should be Elgin’s #1 mission going forward.”

“If so, let’s sit down and decide ALL other ways to pay for this project and, yes, that must include cuts to non-essential pet projects and special-interest funding and also include riverboat funding as a source, too. Then let’s discuss whether there should be any property owner assessments involved. If there needs to be a tax increase after those options are explored then make it a tax increase with full disclosure — but not a tax on rain that hits your cement or blacktop. Let’s not grow government with rain police walking on your property looking for your rain barrel or rain garden. Let’s not send a message to prospective businesses that they will be financially punished if they come to Elgin with jobs and plans for a large building and parking lot.”

Why Facebook

Moeller said she occasionally has been using her council Facebook page to address issues and plans to do so more frequently.

“It’s a good way to communicate,” she said.

In this case, because it’s an election season, Moeller said she felt only one side of the issue was getting attention. She said there needs to be more debate on the how to pay for stormwater issues, including exploring other options compared to a possible separate tax or fee.

“We haven’t talked about this enough as a council and to the public,” Moeller said.

And she doesn’t feel the council has enough information yet to decide one way or the other about implementing a stormwater utility tax.

Prigge did not respond to requests for additional comment.

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