Churches and other tax-exempt entities in Downers Grove contributed about 9 percent of the revenue generated by the village's stormwater fee program, according to figures presented at a recent Village Council meeting.
An outside consultant for the village shared the information with council members during its Aug. 20 meeting as officials approved unrelated adjustments to its stormwater ordinance and discussed proposed changes to its fee structure.
"The stormwater utility is, in most cases, meeting and exceeding our expectations," said David Hyder, who helped officials craft the system.
Hyder's numbers are the first breakdown into who pays what with the fee, billed every two months, since it was implemented in January. According to Hyder, residents are responsible for 50.2 percent of stormwater utility revenues. Commercial properties put in 33.2 percent, tax-exempt properties pitch in 8.8 percent and industrial properties contribute 7.8 percent.
According to the village, it has collected about $2.32 million through the August billing cycle, meaning that tax-exempt properties have paid about $203,000.
DuPage County records show that there are 497 tax-exempt parcels in Downers Grove.
For months, leaders of the Downers Grove faith community have come before the council and complained that the fee is unfair, unduly burdensome and unconstitutional because it essentially taxes nonprofit organizations.
Mayor Martin T. Tully pointed to Hyder's presentation to support the idea that everyone must contribute, especially as the village mulls improvements to its infrastructure in the wake of this spring's flooding.
"That's not an insignificant amount," Tully said of the tax-exempt portion of the fee revenues. "If we took that out, it would mean a project or two that we don't do every year."
Some council members indicated at the meeting they might consider some kind of concession to tax-exempt entities, while others remained adamant the program should stay as is.
"I would like to find a way to support or compensate the churches and non-for-profits for their role in providing social services," Commissioner Sean P. Durkin said. "However, I would like to maintain the structure and integrity of the stormwater utility. I challenge us to find a way to do both."
"Everybody in the village is benefiting from stormwater being removed from our yards, low-lying areas, backyards, streets, everywhere," Commissioner Geoff Neustadt said. "This stormwater utility is working. We all knew that there was going to be a new fee. (Churches) had the opportunity to weigh in; that means they also had the opportunity to follow along and get ready for this year."
Commissioner Bob Barnett, the only remaining council member who voted against the ordinance in 2012, sounded the loudest call for excluding tax-exempt parcels from the charge. Barnett pointed to a similar fee in Jacksonville, Fla., that excludes 501(c)(3) classified properties such as churches, according to its website.
Barnett called for the council to direct staff to determine how the village could impose its own exemption and what it would entail.
"My understanding from our discussions to this point has been that the fee definition as opposed to a tax definition is what prevented us from exempting certain organizations," Barnett said. "I don't know that that's true."
On a separate note, the council also approved changes to its stormwater ordinance to comply with county regulations.
The council is also considering changes to some stormwater provisions of the municipal code. Specifically, village staff proposed changing definitions in the code to help residents better understand the fee and how it is calculated, as well as to clarify what parts of the charge residents can appeal to the village's committee.
The council is scheduled to vote on the changes in September.