Meeting to focus on Champaign drainage-project plans

CHAMPAIGN — As money from the city's new storm-water fee starts to trickle in, city council members this week will plan what drainage projects they intend to pay for during the next four years.

City officials expect they will collect $2.7 million annually while they face an $80 million backlog of needed storm-water-management projects. They will choose what projects to prioritize when they meet in a study session at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Champaign City Building, 102 N. Neil St.

The council voted in 2012 to impose a storm-water fee on property owners at a rate of $1.51 per 1,000 square feet of impervious surface. Billing started in May of this year.

That money will pay for operation and maintenance of the storm-water drainage system, which will free up property and sales taxes to pay for upgrades to the system. If council members approve of administrators' proposals, projects in the Washington Street West watershed and the Boneyard Creek north of University Avenue and a Garden Hills drainage study will get the nod between now and 2017.

Of the $7.8 million city officials plan to spend on those three areas in the next four years, the only construction that would take place would be of a detention basin on Robinson Court, part of the Washington Street West watershed. That detention basin is expected to cost $2.5 million, according to city documents.

The rest of that money would pay for engineering design and property acquisition as city officials plan for construction in the future. City officials list $80 million worth of projects they expect to complete in the long term.

Administrators are not recommending that the city issue bonds to accelerate the pace of storm-water improvements. The logistics involved make it an "unrealistic option," according to city documents, and officials also fear that issuing more debt could hurt the city's financial flexibility and potentially its credit rating.

City debt "is now in the high end of the middle range" after a few large projects were financed in the past 10 years, according to city documents. That includes the 2007 and 2008 bonds issued to finance the Hill Street parking deck and the 2005 debt taken on to build the new library.

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