Stormwater improvement ordinance approved in Hobart
By Rich Palzewic
HOBART – The Hobart village board unanimously passed an ordinance regarding village participation in stormwater improvements on private property within the village at its Tuesday, Dec. 15, meeting.
A public hearing was held at the meeting where one community member spoke.
Village President Rich Heidel said there are several stormwater drainage problems in the village.
“It’s not limited to one area,” he said. “It’s occurred on the south end of the village and in the Indian Trails area. It’s not uncommon.”
For the village to participate in the improvements, where the village would split the cost of improvements related to stormwater issues on private property 50/50 with the property owners, certain criteria must be met.
The village’s plan states projects can be denied for several reasons, including: if the stormwater plan for the property is not complied with; if a property owner had made altercations to any previous improvements to cause the issue; if the village is not granted easements for the property; if the stormwater conditions do not create a health or public safety issue, or has created any damage to private property; or if the village is not financially able to provide the improvements.
“There were a few issues with the last draft, so I asked Village Attorney Frank Kowalkowski to speak,” said Village Administrator Aaron Kramer. “I wanted to be transparent with the board and the public.”
Kramer said there’s a slight risk in adopting the ordinance because public funds could be used for improvements to private property.
Kowalkowski explained what needs to be done to prevent issues.
“Since you’re dealing with taxpayer money, you need to use the money for a public purpose,” Kowalkowski said. “For example, we couldn’t give $10,000 to a person to put in a new driveway – there’s no public purpose of that. To be compliant with the public purpose doctrine, you need to show there’s a benefit to the whole village. If the village can’t justify the money they spent was used to benefit the public, a complaint could be made. It doesn’t have to 100 percent benefit the public, but it has to be justified.”
Kowalkowski said an example might include a drainage problem on private property next to a day care, possibly leading to accidental drowning.
“We’d want to fix the draining problem in that case, but if a farmer has a problem in the middle of his 100-acre field and wants our help, that wouldn’t fly,” he said. “It most likely will need to be done on a case-by-case basis. If someone applies for some money, have a public hearing and discuss each case.”
Kowalkowski said unless the village was found liable due to negligence with poor planning, it isn’t under any obligation to remedy stormwater issues.
“That’s not to say there never could be a situation where there was some liability for the municipality,” he said. “As a general rule, because a property has some water drainage issues, that doesn’t make the municipality legally compelled to incur all the costs to remedy it. People would have to show some misstep by the municipality in the planning.”
Heidel said he’s glad the new language was added.
“With the added language, this is a good ordinance – it’s strict,” he said.
Also, any proposed improvement for which the project cost is projected to cost more than $10,000 must receive final approval by the village board, following a review and recommendation by the Public Works and Utilities Advisory Committee.
Kramer said the ordinance can be changed anytime in the future.
“Also, if someone doesn’t like what the staff recommends, they can appeal,” he said. “If they want to pursue it further, they can. At some point down the road, if you don’t think the ordinance is worth it, we can get rid of it. I think some of our neighboring municipalities have come across this – we’re trailblazing here.”
Language was also added to protect the village in the case of continued maintenance in the future.
“Let’s say, in 10 years, if the original property owner where the work was done sells the house,” Kowalkowski said, “does the buyer know there’s a string attached if they need to maintain something down the road? Technically, the seller needs to disclose that upon selling.”
The ordinance requires the seller to record any on-going maintenance improvements in the future at the register of deeds.
“It’s not a cumbersome or costly process for the seller, and then the buyer can’t say he or she didn’t know about it,” said Kowalkowski. “You can’t police if people will file any on-going maintenance, but at least the village is covered.”