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Oak Lawn adds water bill fee to replace vehicle sticker revenue

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Oak Lawn did away with vehicle stickers this year, and village officials say a new street repair and maintenance fee being added to water bills is a fairer way to replace the funds that sticker sales generated.

Trustee Tom Phelan (6th) and Finance Director Brian Hanigan explained the reasoning behind the change at the March 27 Village Board meeting.

Phelan noted that the board made the decision last year to eliminate the sale of vehicle stickers as of this June.

“It was probably the most unpopular fee. They just cost $25 each, but all the headaches and time and manpower and money that the village employed to monitor and collect the sticker fees just is not worth it,” said Phelan. “The lines were out the door (in Village Hall), and at the library,” said Phelan, adding that village employees took a lot of abuse from disgruntled residents.

The trustee said that about 38,000 vehicle stickers were sold annually, at $25 each, amounting to $950,000 for the street repair fund. But by comparing that with the number of state license plate registration stickers sold, Hanigan determined that about 8,000 car owners were not buying vehicle stickers.

“We want everyone to chip in a little on our roads. If everybody pitched in, the individual cost would be less. This new fee to capture the revenue needed to repair our roads is fair because even people who don’t have cars use the roads,” said Phelan, “whether they use Uber or Lyft, or buses to get around.”

Under the new system, according to village information included in flyers with the water bills mailed in March, the minimum water usage amount on all utility bills (representing the minimum cost to provide the village's Lake Michigan water service) will decrease from 10,000 to 9,000 gallons per quarter. This will result in a $6.30 decrease of the minimum quarterly utility bill for senior and smaller households, from $63.00 to $56.70, or $25.20 per year.

The quarterly street repair and maintenance fee in 2018 for all households is assessed at a fixed minimum rate of $7.20, plus $0.80 per 1,000 gallons used above the 9,000- gallon minimum threshold, or a minimum of $28.80 per year. This fee will be billed to all households regardless of the number of vehicles owned and operated by the owners or tenants.

According to the village’s calculations, an average family using 18,000 gallons of water per quarter, and three cars would save $17 in fees annually, between the addition of the road maintenance fee and the elimination of sticker fees.

“What it comes down to is the vehicle sticker fee is not an equitable tax,” said Hanigan. “This new tax is revenue neutral. This isn’t a money-maker. In my opinion, the good citizens who always bought their vehicle stickers and paid their water bills will save money.

“The only ones who will be paying more with this fee are the scofflaws,” said the finance director.

“That money is going to be used to be reinvested into village streets. This is just a replacement of existing revenue for a fair and equitable tax. The last thing we need is to lose revenue. This is just to continue the village’s program of street repairs. No one wants to go back to where we were seven years ago, when we realized we weren’t investing enough in infrastructure repairs,” Hanigan said.

Phelan said Oak Lawn has been environmentally conscious, and the new tax is in keeping with that tradition as well.

“If you feel like you are being taxed too much, you can cut down on water usage,” Phelan said.

“Nobody likes a tax but this is one of those situations that really the only one who suffers in this is the scofflaws,” he said.

When Mayor Sandra Bury asked how the new fee will be assessed to businesses, Hanigan explained that since they pay water bills monthly, their fees would be a third of what would be assessed quarterly.

“You guys spent a lot of time on that to make sure it is fair and reasonable and equitable,” said Bury.

In addition to the flyers included with the bills due this month, the officials said details about the new fee will be posted on the village website at oaklawn-il.gov.