More bad business from Champaign County Board

More bad business from Champaign County Board

By Dannel McCollum

"It's like deja vu, all over again."

True to the words of New York Yankee philosopher Yogi Berra, the Champaign County Board gratuitously chose to disregard the urban interest by reappointing Marc Shaw to the Fountain Head Drainage District, overlooking a good candidate from the city of Champaign.

Allow me to explain. The Fountain Head Drainage District includes a portion of the western edge of Champaign known as Sub District 7. While the city portion constitutes only 25 percent of the total area of Fountain Head, it contains the vast majority of the taxpayers within the district, from whom the district generates over 70 percent of its revenues. At no time in the last 20 years (and most likely ever) has a resident of Champaign been named to the three-member district board. Further, none of recent revenues have been expended by Fountain Head within the city limits to alleviate flooding in Sub District 7.

There is more. The city of Champaign has recently passed a storm water utility fee to address drainage problems, and is currently focusing on Sub District 7. Currently, city residential taxpayers within Sub District 7 pay $20 to Fountain Head and $60 to the city for drainage services. While these citizens do get to vote for their representatives on the city council, they have no vote on members of the Fountain Head board. That means a double charge, no direct services from the latter — taxation without representation, if you will.

But wait, there is still more. The city has already spent $1.7 million on the Washington Street West Project to address flooding problems in Sub District 7 and plans to spend an additional $2.5 million in 2014 and $11 million in later years to deal with the severe drainage problems that remain. Again, there is no suggestion that the Fountain Head board will participate in any of the planned improvements.

The city has negotiated for the last 20 years to get Sub District 7 disconnected from Fountain Head without success. This is in contrast to successful detachments from two other drainage districts, Beaver Lake and Phinney Branch. It did take the city several years to get control of the Boneyard to make the improvements that resulted in the end of disastrous flooding in Campustown and the university properties beyond. In that latter case, obstructionism on the part of the county board over appointments to the Urbana & Champaign Sanitary District greatly increased costs to the city of Champaign before the project could go forward.

It would have been nice to have seen the mayor or other council members at the meeting of the county board to defend the city's position. With the absence of any real support from the city's elected officials, it has been left to staff to carry the ball.

With the reappointment of Mr. Shaw, Al Kurtz and a majority of the county board, including some of its urban members, continue a tradition of obstructionism in opposition to Champaign's interests. Kurtz could at least have held up the reappointment to encourage the Fountain Head board to come to terms with the city and accept the latter's overly generous offer to facilitate the disconnection. Intergovernmental cooperation is not alive and well and the citizens are paying for it.

Dannel McCollum, a former Champaign mayor and a 2002 Democratic candidate for the Illinois Senate, is a historian and a freelance writer.

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Sid Saltfork wrote on September 01, 2013 at 10:09 am

Champaign County Board?  It should be named Champaign-Urbana Board.  The rest of the county gets trickle down after C-U.  As C-U wants more, and expands more; the rest of the county has to do with less.  Yes, the major population is in C-U; but at least, address the needs of the rest of the "county".

pattsi wrote on September 01, 2013 at 11:09 am

Sid, I personally invited you to the participatory budgeting meeting being held on 4 Sept at 7 P in the city of Champaign council chamers. The purpose is to engage the citizens of Champaign County in a dialogue about the county budget and how your tax dollars will be spent in 2014. This is a first. So instead of posting that the CB needs to address the needs of the county, come and tell us what are your priorities.