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Yes, tax sewer use

Opinion: Editorials

January 22nd, 2020 9:39 AM

By Editorial

There is a storm coming. Spring rain that doesn't stop. Another storm of the century. A rising Des Plaines River. Backyards that are saturated. A combined sewer and storm water system that pumps waste into basements. Huge frustration. Huge costs of repair for home and commercial building owners.

This has been the Forest Park model. It is what happens when a hundred-year-old infrastructure decays with only patchwork fixes and minimal investments. It is about the throwing up of hands and the declaration over years that a small town can never come up with the $100 million — a real number — it will take to upgrade and separate the storm water and sewer infrastructure. And it will only get worse with the intensifying storms that are inevitable due to our climate crisis.

Now, though, the model may be changing with new leadership in our village. Shortly after last spring's village election, the new council commissioned a thorough study and plan from its contracted engineering firm that spells out the scope of the necessary work, puts a stunning price tag to it, offers priorities and, finally, suggests some ways of paying the overdue bill.

Stunningly, a key recommendation is that for the first time the village begins charging users a monthly fee for sewer use. Christopher Burke Engineering put together a simple chart of 11 nearby communities and what they charge in the way of a sewer fee. Along with Elmwood Park, there is Forest Park, knee deep in wastewater, without any sewer-use fee. 

Expect the village council to shortly remedy that by imposing a fee of $1 per 1,000 gallons used. Just that modest fee, with a 5 percent residential and 15 percent industrial water rate increase, will raise $950,000 annually to throw strategically into the breech of failing infrastructure. Taxpayers should consider themselves lucky. Lyons residents pay $7 per 1,000 gallons. River Foresters pay $5.87 per 1,000 gallons. We're not sure why the village wants to start at such a low rate. How about $2.50?

Combine it with the recently approved tax on gasoline sales and new parking fees on Madison and Circle and you have a village government smart and confident enough to reliably raise the money it needs to pay for necessary services. 

We'd like to see the village turn next to financial advisors who can figure out how much the village could raise in bonds now that it has a steady source of revenue to repay infrastructure work. Taking this massive project on in $5 million or $7 million increments is likely to be cheaper and would allow quicker progress. 

Because this problem is not going away.

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