Oak Park residents whose basements filled up with sewage last summer can start applying for village relief on April 2.
Village trustees gave their final approval to the new grant program on Monday, in a narrow 4-3 vote. With that, residents can receive up to $3,500 from village hall to install pricey flood-prevention devices in their basements.
Trustee Glenn Brewer and President David Pope were absent earlier this month when the new program was first discussed. The two officials attempted to kill the grant offering, preferring instead to offer loans for the upgrades. They, along with Trustee John Hedges, argued that all taxpayers shouldn't pay for repairs in just a few homes.
"The idea of a loan program was to say to the other taxpayers, who were not affected by this issue, that we are not giving your tax dollars away," Brewer said.
But the majority of trustees disagreed. Oak Park sewers are only built to withstand a five- to 10-year storm, while the area has seen the most rain since 1987 recently, including a 100-year storm in 2010, along with last summer's 50-year downpour. It would be extraordinarily costly to build sewers to absorb such rare rain events, officials say, and perhaps impossible because of the sheer space such a system would require.
"This is one way to attack that problem on a home-by-home basis," said Trustee Adam Salzman. "We're asking, in essence, for individual homeowners to bear the cost of an infrastructural improvement that the village is not willing to make. So it seems to me only fair, and sort of a matter of equity, that we should reimburse homeowners for as much of that cost as we can."
Village officials said last week that some 400 homeowners reported flood damage in their basements over the last few years. They are concentrated in northeast Oak Park, where the ground level is lower, but complaints came in from all over the village.
The village budgeted $225,000 for the program this year, enough to serve about 64 homes. Oak Park is giving first priority to lower-income houses, with a threshold set at a maximum income of $113,000. Those applicants will be able to apply for the first two months, followed by everyone else starting June 1.
The village is not waving permit fees for making the upgrades, as some residents had urged. That's because the program is retroactive, and would reimburse residents who have already installed flood-prevention devices going all the way back to 2010. Oak Park didn't want to deal with the logistical problem of going back to those who already paid their permit fees years ago.