CHAMPAIGN — The proposed storm water fee that, to this point, has cruised through the legislative process with little opposition could face its final test during a city council meeting this evening.
Champaign council members tonight could finalize the fee that would cost most homeowners $60 annually, beginning next year. A Champaign County Chamber of Commerce official said the group plans to challenge the fee, which could cost businesses hundreds, and offer an alternative.
The city council will meet at 7 p.m. in the Champaign City Building, 102 N. Neil St.
The proposed fee is expected to generate $3.2 million annually in new revenue, all of which would go toward maintenance and improvements to the city's storm water drainage system. As city officials are completing massive improvements to drainage in residential neighborhoods, they say all the funding is tapped while an $80 million list of projects awaits.
"We understand the need for storm water maintenance, but what we're asking the city to do is look at it a different way," said Paul Orama, the chamber's public policy manager.
In March, the chamber brought an alternative plan to officials asking the city to charge commercial properties at about half the rate that is proposed. It didn't gain much traction.
"It could be hundreds of dollars a year," Orama said. "We have one member who's paying close to $50,000 a year."
Early in the legislative process, city officials considered a lower fee that would generate $2.2 million instead of the $3.2 million. Orama hopes council members might reconsider that option.
During a February straw poll, seven of the nine city council members voted to push forward with the fee as-is. Council members Paul Faraci and Kyle Harrison voted against the proposal, citing the cost to businesses.
Under the current proposal, businesses would pay at a rate of $5.24 monthly for every 3,478 square feet of impervious surface area. An impervious surface is any area where rainwater cannot penetrate into the ground — roofs, driveways and parking lots, for example.
About 80 percent of the city's homeowners would pay $60 annually, but much larger homes could be charged up to $163.68 annually. The ordinance would be effective March 1, 2013.
Without the fee, city officials say all the available money for storm water improvements is committed and there would not be any room for substantial projects during the next 20 years.
Jim Creighton lives in the West Washington Street watershed, a drainage area that affects thousands of residents and likely would be the next in line to see improvements should the fee pass. When city officials approved expansive drainage improvements to two other residential areas two years ago, funds dried up for the West Washington Street area.
Creighton said he and neighbors plan to be in attendance on Tuesday, as they have been at most of the legislative steps.
"We just want to make sure that the council sees that we're still interested in supporting the project," Creighton said.