Property owners in
the unincorporated parts of Porter County who are not already paying a fee
for storm water management will do so next year as the new fee schedule
ordinance was approved by both the County Commissioners and County Council
approved their ordinance 3-0 on second reading while the Council approved
the fees later on a 5-2 vote.
The two officials
voting against the measure were Council President Dan Whitten, D-at large,
and Councilwoman Sylvia Graham, D-at large.
According to County
Planning Director Robert Thompson, the average homeowner will pay an annual
fee of $120. If the home is on 10 to 19.99 acres, the fees will be $150
annually and $180 annually for any residential property 20 acres or more.
properties, the charge will be a flat rate of $2.75 per acre of farmland per
Residential, mobile home parks, condominiums, subdivisions, one residential
unit will be charged $3.50 per month to the property owners.
Thompson said the
fee ordinance is so the County can meet unfunded mandates by the
Environmental Protection Agency for six tasks -- complying with the
Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) requirements, education and
outreach to the public, construction site development review, site
inspection, post-construction review and water quality improvements.
The fees will give
the County the funds to work on its extensive problem areas as far as
drainage is concerned, Thompson said. A study done in 2010 looked at the
most at-risk drainage areas with the top 10 being in the range of $5 million
to $10 million to address. The infrastructure in South Haven is at top of
the list, with estimated costs of more than $15 million.
The fee is expected
to pull in roughly $3.5 million per year, Thompson said.
At their meeting,
some County Council members praised the fee while others expressed
Karen Conover, R-3rd, said it’s been five years that the County has been
talking about a way to pay for resolving its drainage problems and its
County Government’s responsibility to provide these services.
Council member Jim Biggs, R-1st, who said “mandates aside, we have a problem
in the county that has been in the making for 100 years.” With the fees, he
said, there are going to be some “real results made” on these projects that
have been in limbo.
Biggs had said that
“no one wants to raise a fee or taxes” but felt this to be “way overdue.” He
applauded the “size and scale” of the initiative and the meticulousness of
the Stormwater Management board in coming up with the fee structure so it
can be an equitable one for property owners.
“Big boys and big
girls make big decisions and tonight is a very big decision,” he said.
Graham, on the
other hand, said she worries how the fees are going to affect taxpayers who
are living on fixed incomes and are struggling to make payments already.
It’s not going to be “comfortable” for them, she said.
Part of the reason
she objected to the ordinance, as she told the Chesterton Tribune
later, was that the Council hadn’t seen it in full detail until right before
the meeting and she felt it was being “rushed through.”
“Here we are at the
end of the year and it’s like saying to (the taxpayers), ‘Merry Christmas,
now here’s a new tax,’” Graham said after the meeting.
Whitten too said he
had only seen the ordinance minutes before the meeting and had not had
enough time to study it, which is why he voted no.
Jeremy Rivas, D-2nd, showed reluctance at the prospect of implementing a fee
saying “it’s not an easy decision to make” and was curious to know if there
was any discussion as to how this would work with cities, towns and
conservancy districts that already have a storm water fee.
Scott McClure, who is also legal counsel for the County Stormwater Board,
said he’s reached out to those entities and was told they are more than
willing to collaborate with the County to fix drainage issues with a means
of funding in place.
Rivas also asked
about whether there are plans for bonding. Commissioner Jeff Good, R-Center,
said he hopes that the issues can be taken care of without having to bond.
Graham and Rivas
also questioned the County creating a new department which will reportedly
cost roughly $750,000 a year in administrative costs. Thompson said the
Stormwater Department will include the MS4 coordinator, a
professionally-licensed engineer, and inspectors.
They would work
where the Plan Commission and Building Commission offices are now on the
upstairs floor of the County Administration Building. All offices would
essentially work together, along with GIS and the Redevelopment Commission,
Much like the
public hearings on the fee last month, members of the Izaak Walton League
and other environmentalists sought to have exemptions on their lands that
capture, filter and clean stormwater that comes on to their properties.
president of the Porter County Chapter of the Izaak Walton League, said the
organization has “no problem with the system” but is “interested in
something that is fair and equitable” and asked the Council to “recognize
the value that open space and wetlands have.”
“They can be very
beneficial to solve storm water problems,” Sweeney said.
Walt Breitinger said organizations like Save the Dunes Council and Kankakee
River Basin Council have been reducing drainage problems for years.
Thompson said there
is an appeal process that these groups can take. The Stormwater Board can’t
make exemptions now as it uses property classification codes defined by
state law, Thompson said.
Good added that the
board would have to look at each individual parcel to determine what the
flow for stormwater is on each property. “It’s a system of checks and
balances,” he said.
Also from the
floor, Drainage Board member Ed Gutt said he would prefer to see a fee
system based on the amount of impervious surface a property has, something
Graham said she would also advocate.
Robert Poparad asked Thompson if the Drainage Board would go away after the
new system is enacted.
“They have a lot of
history. You don’t want to lose that,” Poparad said.
there will be an advisory panel to the Stormwater Board where the current
Drainage Board members could serve.
Taxpayers can look
for the stormwater fees to appear on their bi-annual property tax bills, the
first of which will be issued in the spring.