River Forest has a flooding problem. And it is not just the Des Plaines River.
Basements in the village, particularly on the north side of town, flood regularly during heavy storms; they have for years. They will continue to flood because the century-old storm sewer system just doesn't have the necessary capacity.
Village officials, to their credit, have decided that a major fix is essential. They've done their engineering homework and costed out a giant storm sewer line along Greenfield. With a price tag of at least $13 million, village leaders are now doing the financial homework of sorting out how to pay for the upgrade. We like the broad range of options and combinations of options the staff and board are considering. A decision on how to fund the work is expected this summer.
Here's our thought: Cancel the property tax hike option simply because it would force a referendum. This is not a choice to be made by referendum. It is a choice to be made by elected leaders. That's why we elect them.
Fixing an infrastructure issue so grievous as this flooding isn't optional. It can't depend on whether voters "are in the mood" for a hike in their taxes. We fix infrastructure because that is what communities do; it's why we live in community.
We're interested in the concept of a storm water utility fee. This is a fairly new idea but one which our reporter Deb Kadin says is gathering steam across Chicagoland and the nation as communities seek ways to fund these monster second-century projects.
The storm water utility fee would apply to any entity in town that gets a water bill. So everyone is paying a fair share. And it could have a decidedly green orientation with the fee based on the size of the property and the percentage of the property that is permeable. The bigger the rooftop footprint, the wider the driveway, the less permeable surface to absorb rain water, the more you pay. In some towns, if a homeowner or business takes steps to get greener — rain barrels, permeable paver driveway, disconnected downspouts, their fee could drop.
The fee could also be a steady and semi-permanent revenue stream to cover not only the Greenfield fee but future essential costs tied to modernizing local storm sewers.