Two area legislators have introduced a bill that would eliminate the new sanitary sewer permit fees that the state initiated this summer.
Area cities, villages and sanitary districts are paying between $7,500 and $85,000 to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits to discharge treated water from sanitary systems into waterways.
The permits had been free until this spring, when the General Assembly enacted legislation (SB1903) establishing the fees.
Illinois Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman Joan Muraro estimated the fee will raise between $23 million and $24 million.
About $6.4 million of that will go to the IEPA to replace funding the agency previously had received from the general revenue fund, Muraro said.
The rest will go to the state's general fund to help reduce the state's budget deficit.
State representatives Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, and Shane Cultra, R-Onarga, this week introduced a bill (HB3827) that eliminates fees for any unit of local government, school district or not-for-profit entity whose sewer system discharges wastewater into a state waterway.
The bill would also require the state to refund any fees paid by municipalities this summer.
The first fees were due on Aug. 1.
"It is my belief that the Urbana & Champaign Sanitary District will also be covered by the bill," Rose said on Thursday.
"This isn't something the governor wanted to do, but he had to do it to be fiscally responsible," said Tom Schafer, press secretary for Gov. Rod Blagojevich. "But this is something that municipalities in other states have already been paying."
Schafer said 40 states (including Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Ohio and Wisconsin) charge municipalities for their National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits.
Several area communities, including Monticello, Rantoul, Savoy and Tuscola, paid their fees under protest in the hope that they might be overturned by the courts as unconstitutional.
Savoy Mayor Robert McCleary, Rantoul Mayor Neal Williams, Tuscola Mayor Daniel Kleiss and Monticello Superintendent of City Services Floyd Allsop all sent official letters of protest to the state in July.
"This is a hardship to a lot of municipalities and creates a negative impact on our budgets," Williams said on Thursday. "I would be glad to see those fees taken off the books."
Rose said he hopes the General Assembly will take up the proposal during the fall veto session in November.
"These fees have hit hard in so many communities," Cultra said. "Those that can are paying the fee under protest, hoping that they can get their payments back if the law is rescinded."
Rose said the $6.4 million needed to run the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency could be raised by making cuts elsewhere in the budget.
"I would start with the $80 million-plus of brand new spending on social programs," Rose said. "If the state can't afford its existing obligations, we shouldn't go on a spending spree."
SB1903 passed the House by a 62-54 vote and passed the Senate by a 32-16 vote.
Rose said the new bill has the support of the 52-member House Republican caucus, and he hopes to persuade enough downstate Democrats to join him to get the bill passed.
Rose noted, for example, that Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, R-Urbana, also voted against the new fees.
"Downstate people are paying $2 to $8 each per capita to cover the costs of these fees, but the city of Chicago is paying 1.6 cents per capita," Rose said. "Frankly, that's hogwash. I would hope the downstate Democrats would have tough enough spine to join us and get this issue called for a vote this fall."
You can reach Tim Mitchell at (217) 351-5366 or via e-mail at email@example.com.