Flooding woes prompts call for property-tax increase
By Dan Moran email@example.com | @NewsSunDanMoran October 8, 2013 8:24PM
Stressed sewers resulted in a flooded basement in the Waukegan home of Rita Melius. | File photo
Updated: November 10, 2013 6:26AM
WAUKEGAN — The city’s North Side has had a rough string of years when it comes to stormy weather, and Greenwood Avenue resident Rita Melius told the City Council on Monday that last weekend’s rainfall produced what she sees as a recurring problem: a flooded basement from overwhelmed sewers.
“The water in my basement has been up to my knees several times, and it’s not from my gutters,” Melius said. “This past Saturday, my husband called and said, ‘Check the basement — the streets are flooding.’ I went downstairs, and sure enough, the basement was flooded.
“We had about four inches of water from what really was not too bad of a rain. This flooding is happening more and more and more,” she added. “We’re not the only North Side home that’s had problems with this. There’s really something wrong with the sewer system there.”
Public Works Director Tom Hagerty said he has been in contact with Melius prior to Monday’s comments and he expressed doubt that the North Side has systemwide sewer troubles contributing to her house’s specific problem.
“There have been isolated instances (of flooding), and some of that is the way the homes were designed, the homes were built,” Hagerty said. “I mean, we can only do so much.”
Hagerty added that if the issue becomes a question of replacing municipal sewer lines, “it all revolves around money. That’s the bottom line.”
While past storm damage in the neighborhoods north of Grand Avenue came from windstorms in both 2011 and 2010, Melius’ report of periodic residential flooding prompted 4th Ward Ald. Harold Beadling to renew a past call for new revenue to replace aging sewer lines citywide.
“We have some serious water and sewer issues in this town that have been deferred for years as we’ve repaired our streets,” Beadling said, adding that “I think it’s time everybody puts a little skin in the game and we show a little intestinal fortitude up here and do the right thing for a change — on our next tax levy, I think we should raise the necessary amount of money to start (maintaining) our water and sewer infrastructure.”
Beadling said that late last year, he made a motion for a 21-percent increase in the city’s property tax levy that would have increased taxes $240 on a $150,000 home.
“(An extra) $240 to pay cash for streets and start relining of our water mains and sewer mains?” Beadling told the council on Monday. “Sounds like a pretty good bang for the buck to me. And as heavily in debt as we are now — is it $95 million, approximately? — I don’t think we can borrow any more money.”
Hagerty said there was some focus on sewer upgrades in the city’s $11 million capital-improvement program in 2010-11, but a more comprehensive approach is needed on both the North Side and beyond.
“The sewers in that area are 50 to 60 years old, and the city’s been built up since then,” he said. “I don’t know the exact dates, but (when) the system was built, we didn’t have all the modern appliances we have today. ... We have a lot more water being used all going to the same place.”
As for Melius, she told the council that she feels her family has done everything it can do privately to address its flooding issues, and she called on the city to uphold its “responsibility to maintain a safe environment.”
“We have replaced four furnaces, four dryers, three washers, two refrigerators,” she said. “We’ve done everything the city has said — we dug a new sewer line in our front yard with new lines, we rodded our sewer lines.
“(We’ve) spent thousands of dollars, and I don’t know what to do anymore. Maybe the city can buy our house and turn it into the water department.”