North Riverside trustees have backed off, for now, on a program that would have provided no-interest loans of up to $12,000 to homeowners who wanted to install systems to prevent the kind of basement flooding the village saw back in May and has repeatedly experienced in the past decade-plus.

At a meeting of the village board’s Development Committee on Oct. 12, Village Administrator Sue Scarpiniti outlined a flood-mitigation program where the village would set aside $250,000 from its water fund to provide no-interest loans on a first come, first served basis for the installation of either overhead sewers or lift stations.

The loans would be available only to single-family homeowners who would be responsible for employing a licensed contractor and obtaining permits for the work. The program would have covered any such work completed between Jan. 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021, with homeowners who have already installed systems since Jan. 1 eligible for the program.

Participants would have had four years to pay back the loans. Scarpiniti said the program was intended as a one-time initiative and that, with $250,000 set aside, the program could accommodate between 20 and 22 participants.

Scarpiniti and Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. developed the proposed flood control loan program in response to discussion trustees had while considering the 2020-21 operating budget in June.

Since that time, the village has asked residents via e-newsletters and the village website to let officials know if they’re interested in participating in such a program. Scarpiniti said she’s received some interest from about a dozen people.

At the time, trustees said they wanted to assist homeowners who had been subjected to repeated basement flooding amid increasing numbers of heavy rainstorms in recent years. Scarpiniti told trustees it was that direction that led to the proposal discussed last week, and that she was not in favor any such program.

“From a financial perspective, this is not a program I’d normally recommend,” Scarpiniti said. “These are private properties. It’s up to the residents to protect their assets.”

But the loan program using water fund reserves was the most financially feasible, said Scarpiniti. Obtaining a loan to fund the program would have interest payments of 3 to 5 percent, and would have added red tape, like credit checks, for homeowners. 

While trustees on the committee appeared open to some sort of program to help, they disagreed on what kind of program and also feared pushback from residents who might see such a program as an argument against the water infrastructure fee homeowners pay above and beyond their normal water bill.

“Right now everyone is complaining about the water rate,” said Trustee Deborah Czjaka, a member of the committee who opposed the loan program. “I’m a little uncomfortable with people saying, ‘I’m paying a water maintenance fee and you’re giving it to 20 people.'”

Trustee Bob Demopoulos, also a member of the Development Committee, said he preferred offering a 50/50 program where the village would not just loan but pay for up to half the cost of installing a flood-control system.

He also advocated expanding the types of systems that would be funded to include lower-cost solutions. The village’s Public Works Director Tim Kutt in June had warned trustees against cheaper solutions, saying they were not as reliable as overhead sewers or lift stations.

Asked where the village, which is balancing its 2020-21 budget by depleting cash reserves, would find $125,000 for such a program, Demopoulos said, “I’ll save you $100,000, no problem.”

Committee member Trustee Fernando Flores said he favored the loan program while Trustee Marybelle Mandel was non-committal, saying she needed “to get resident input.”

In the face of no firm committee position, chairman Trustee Joseph Mengoni tabled the matter.