Budget Plan Finalized Stormwater, Film Tax Credits, Bail Reform

April 4, 2014

House and Senate budget conferees completed their work Thursday evening on the State’s $38.7 million fiscal 2015 budget, removing language on stormwater management fees that was proposed in conference earlier this week and increasing funds in the budget for film tax credits from $7.5 million to $18.5 million.

Differences in the Senate and House budget plans were not as substantial as in previous years, as both chambers agreed to use pension reinvestment funds to balance the fiscal 2014 and 2015 budgets.  The stormwater amendment and funding for film tax credits became two of the more controversial items.

As reported by MarylandReporter.com, the stormwater amendment,

…would have allowed all of the 10 jurisdictions affected by the 2012 legislation to siphon a percentage of their property taxes to fund stormwater remediation programs, an initiative devised to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. Instead, only Carroll and Frederick counties will be allowed to establish alternative sources of funding for the “rain tax,” as it is derided by its opponents.

The language now dealing specifically with Carroll and Frederick counties has been included in the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act. Further details can be found on Conduit Street.

The film tax credit discussion heated up when an amendment was adopted by the House to allow the State to take action against a movie production company that moves filming out of state.  As reported by the Baltimore Sun:

The House last week signaled its resentment over the “House of Cards” threat by tacking an amendment on a budget-related bill to require the state to use its eminent domain powers to acquire the assets of any production company that has received tax credits and moves its filming out of state. On Thursday, House budget conferees agreed to drop the eminent domain provision and tentatively concurred to higher funding.

The House Ways and Means Committee, however, has yet to approve the credit increase or spell out under what conditions credits might be available.

Budget conferees also agreed on funding to partially fund extra costs for public defenders – arising from struggling bail reform efforts. As reported on Conduit Street, the budget-based approach appears to do the following:

  • Provide $10m in state budgeted funds to support the Office of the Public Defender hiring “panel attorneys” to provide indigent representation at bail review hearings
  • Additional costs beyond that budgeted amount placed as a new direct mandate on county governments (who do not currently pay for public defenders)

In response to a request by MACo and others, budget conferees approved budget narrative directing the Maryland State Department of Education to compile and submit information on the “nonrecurring costs” process allowing counties to make one-time investments in school budgets without those funds being built into the state’s permanent funding requirements. As reported on Conduit Street, MACo had supported HB 1145, a revision to the nonrecurring cost process as a legislative initiative for the 2014 legislative session, but resistance to the changes prevented the bill from advancing in the House.

MACo will provide further information, including information on specific county items of interest, as the budget and budget reconciliation bills are released by the conference committee charged with resolving House/Senate differences – as soon as today.


Budget Plan Narrows Stormwater Fee Effects To Carroll, Frederick

April 4, 2014

Following earlier discussions of a substantial change to state-mandated stormwater fee during the state budget conference committee, the joint panel instead has opted to provide a specific avenue for two counties (Carroll and Frederick) to pursue an agreement on alternative financing with the Maryland Department of the Environment.

From coverage in the Baltimore Sun:

The budget conferees agreed Thursday to a new provision specifying that only Carroll and Frederick counties may come up with alternative ways of paying to clean up polluted runoff. Those other arrangements must be adopted in local law and approved by the state environment department.

Environmentalists grudgingly accepted the compromise, though still unhappy over how it had occurred so quickly, without public hearings and the normal legislative process.

Read the full Sun story online (limited free views available).

See Conduit Street‘s previous coverage of the budget conference’s late-session discussions on stormwater issues:
Budget Conferees Unveil Stormwater Amendment


Howard County Executive Ulman’s Proposed Capital Budget Funds Schools, Parks, Stormwater

April 3, 2014

Howard County Executive Ulman released his proposed $259.9 million fiscal 2015 capital budget on April 1, which makes investments is schools, parks, water-quality projects, and the expansion of a new intercounty broadband network.

The county’s press release provides highlights of the capital budget spending plan.

Education: $88.5 million

Howard County Public School System: $77.3 million

  • Deep Run Elementary School (Elkridge) renovation and addition to create six new classrooms, enlarged music and health space, and the replacement of four modular classrooms with permanent space – $13.8 million
  • Atholton High School (Columbia) comprehensive renovation and addition – $9.5 million
  • Patuxent Valley Middle School (Savage) renovation and addition to replace six modular classrooms with permanent construction – $9.4 million
  • Wilde Lake Middle School replacement to create first net-zero-energy school (Columbia) – $7.7 million
  • Laurel Woods Elementary School (North Laurel) renovation – $7.2 million

Howard County Library System: $6.8 million

  • New Elkridge Branch – $6.3 million
  • Central and East Columbia Branch renovations – $500,000

Howard Community College: $4.4 million
Recreation and Parks: $22.3 million

  • Troy Regional Park – $8.9 million
  • Blandair Regional Park – $3 million
  • East Columbia Library Park – $3.5 million

Stormwater projects: $16.6 million

Public safety: $4.7 million

  • New Jessup Fire Station – $2.9 million
  • New Elkridge Fire Station – $505,000
  • Planning for third Police Station – $100,000

Roads, sidewalks and traffic: $26.9 million

The County Council will hold its first public hearing on the proposed capital budget on April 9 and County Executive Ulman will present his capital budget to the Council on April 21.

County Executive Ulman will release his proposed operating budget for fiscal 2015 by April 21.

More information on the county’s proposed capital budget can be found on the county’s website and in a recent Baltimore Sun article.

Budget Conferees Unveil Stormwater Amendment

April 2, 2014

As the Senate and House leaders currently engaged in the budget conference committee have been meeting to resolve issues of difference, many stakeholders were surprised to see an amendment to the budget reconciliation bill regarding county-imposed stormwater fees get discussed and tentatively adopted by the group.

From coverage on MarylandReporter.com:

Following a contentious back-and-forth between the Carroll County government and state officials, the Maryland Department of the Environment allowed Carroll County to allot a portion of its property taxes to fund the county’s stormwater management program.

DeGrange’s amendment to the catch-all Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act permits the other nine jurisdictions to seek the approval of the Department of the Environment to designate a portion of their general property tax for stormwater remediation.

Read the full article on the MarylandReporter site.

The full language discussed, in relevant part, would amend Section 4-202.1(e)(3)(i) of the Environment article to read:

(3) (i) A county or municipality shall set a stormwater remediation fee for property in an amount that is [based]:

1. BASED on the share of stormwater management services related to the property and provided by the county or municipality; OR

2. SUBJECT TO THE APPROVAL OF THE DEPARTMENT, A DEDICATED PORTION OF THE COUNTY PROPERTY TAX THAT IS:

A. BASED ON THE COUNTY OPERATING BUDGET FOR STORMWATER REMEDIATION AND ASSOCIATED EXPENSES; AND

B. DESIGNATED FOR DEPOSIT IN THE LOCAL WATERSHED PROTECTION AND RESTORATION FUND ESTABLISHED UNDER THIS SECTION.

(the bracketed text is removed form law, the capitalized text are new additions)


Environmentalists to Seek Repeal of State Exemption From Stormwater Fees in 2015

March 19, 2014

A March 16 Capital Gazette article reported that with the apparently successful defense against amending or repealing the State-mandated stormwater remediation fee during the 2014 Session, environmental groups are looking towards the 2015 Session to repeal certain exemptions to the fee, including properties owned by the State.

While environmentalists have so far spent much of this year’s 90-day General Assembly session defending the state’s stormwater mandate, some of them say they may be back on the offensive soon.

This time their focus will be on exemptions from the law under which:

  • Some federal entities pay no fees. The Department of Defense has interpreted federal law to exempt its properties from such charges, and Fort George G. Meade and the U.S. Naval Academy don’t get bills from Anne Arundel County or Annapolis.
  • Most private businesses on federal property aren’t billed. For instance, the USO of Metropolitan Washington — which in any case, as a nonprofit, would have to pay only $1 under county law — has an agreement with Fort Meade to provide all of its utilities, said spokeswoman Michelle Shortencarrier.
  • The State of Maryland pays no stormwater charges, as its properties, including its buildings in Annapolis, are exempt from all local fees.

The article noted that while Governor Martin O’Malley has included money in the proposed FY 2015 budget for State properties to pay the fee, the monies and any future payments are not guaranteed and that environmental groups want to repeal the exemptions.

[Chesapeake Bay Foundation spokesman Tom] Zolper said the CBF would “absolutely” be involved in an effort in coming General Assembly sessions to remove the government exemptions to the mandate.

“There shouldn’t be exemptions. States have the same issue that local homeowners and local businesses have. Polluted runoff is discharging from that property,” he said. “Some places there are large properties. We don’t think it’s fair that the state is exempted from a process that they are putting in place for everyone else.”  …

Environmentalists said that repealing the state exemption and other exemptions could force the federal government to pay up as well.

Former Senator Defends Stormwater Fee; Decries “Hypocrisy”

March 7, 2014

In a March 6 Capital-Gazette opinion column, former Maryland legislator Gerald Winegrad attacked local government critics of the stormwater remediation fee mandated by 2012 legislation, arguing that the fee is needed to undo past growth decisions and population growth that have dramatically increased water pollution runoff in the Chesapeake Bay.

Political hypocrisy has reached new levels in the debate on fees to pay to clean up polluted stormwater runoff.

Many local politicians have attacked this polluter-pays concept and, after proclaiming their love for the Chesapeake Bay, pledged to block these fees while offering no viable alternatives.  …

Unfortunately, as sewage treatment plants reach capacity due to population growth, the nitrogen reductions will get us back to where we were before the [Bay Restoration Fund], after expending more than $200 million in [Anne Arundel County]. This means much more will have to be done to reduce the biggest source of county pollutants: stormwater runoff.

Clean Water Act requirements are forcing the counties to address this runoff. The cost to undo 100 years of poor development practices is estimated at $900 million in [Anne Arundel].

It is well past time for our elected leaders to face up to the need to fund these necessary measures.


General Assembly Rejects Stormwater Fee Repeal Legislation

March 7, 2014

A March 5 Capital-Gazette article reported on the General Assembly’s continuing rejection of bills that would repeal or exempt certain counties from the requirement to enact a stormwater remediation fee.

A House committee shot down a GOP proposal to repeal Maryland’s mandate that its 10 largest jurisdictions assess stormwater fees.

The House Environmental Matters Committee voted 14-7 to kill House Bill 50, a proposal sponsored by Dels. Wayne Norman, R-Harford, and Cathy Vitale, R-Severna Park.  …

Another repeal bill sponsored by Sen. Allan Kittleman, R-Howard, was killed by the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.

Elsewhere, a bill that would have exempted Anne Arundel County from the mandate fell in the county’s Republican-controlled House delegation in February. A bill that would have exempted Frederick County failed as well.


State Accepts Carroll County Proposal on Stormwater Fee

March 6, 2014

A March 3 Carroll County Times article reported the State has accepted a proposal by Carroll County to resolve concerns about its approach to 2012 legislation requiring it adopt a stormwater remediation fee.  As previously reported on Conduit Street, the Office of the Attorney General had warned the county that it faced civil penalties of up to $10,000 a day unless it adopted the stormwater fee as mandated by the 2012 legislation.  Instead of adopting a fee, the County had created the required stormwater program fund and then identified other sources to fund the program.  From the Times article:

Under the proposal outlined in a letter from Carroll County Attorney Timothy Burke to state officials last week, there would be no additional fees or tax rate increases for residents to pay for a stormwater management fund, as called for in a 2012 state law commonly derided by critics as the “rain tax.” Instead, the county would designate for the fund a portion of the revenues collected under the current tax rate each year based on the operational costs of the county’s stormwater management program.

For instance, in Fiscal Year 2015, the county will likely use about 5 cents per $100 of the assessed value of Carroll County properties from the current tax rate – set at $1.018 per $100 of the assessed of Carroll County properties — to put into the fund, said Phil Hager, director of the county’s Department of Land Use, Planning and Development. This will pay for the more than $900,000 in operational costs he expects for the stormwater program for the next fiscal year.  …

In a response to the county’s letter obtained by the Times, the Maryland Attorney General’s Office said the fund as proposed would meet the requirements under the law. The response noted that officials with the office could not comment on other aspects of the county’s compliance with stormwater regulations, however, since the county’s letter only dealt with the fee requirement.

The response notes that the Maryland Department of the Environment also accepts the proposal.

The article explained that the potential agreement could resolve the ongoing dispute between the County and the State over the County’s compliance with the stormwater fee legislation.  The County Commissioners will need to adopt the proposed changes to the County’s property tax rate ordinance.


Senate Committee Votes Down Stormwater Repeal Bill

February 21, 2014

A February 20 Capital Gazette article reported that the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee voted unfavorably on legislation that would have repealed the 2012 stormwater fee legislation.

The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee voted 7-4 to give an unfavorable report to Senate Bill 5.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Allan Kittleman, R-Howard, would repeal a requirement that Maryland’s 10 largest jurisdictions assess stormwater fees.  …

The same legislation is in the House of Delegates as House Bill 97. The House Environmental Matters Committee is scheduled to hear the legislation Feb. 26.

But the Senate committee’s unfavorable report isn’t a good sign for that bill, or other proposals in the General Assembly to weaken or exempt counties from the mandate.


Former South River Federation Executive to Manage Anne Arundel Stormwater Program

February 14, 2014

A February 9 Baltimore Sun B’More Green blog post reported that Anne Arundel County Executive Laura Neuman has selected environmentalist and South River Federation Executive Director Erik Michelsen to administer the County’s stormwater management program.  One of Michelsen’s primary tasks will be to oversee the use of funds generated by the County’s recently enacted stormwater remediation fee.

[Neuman] said she chose Michelsen for the job because he’s shown he can work well with environmentalists, private homeowners, businesses and government officials.

“He brings that balance of caring about the environment and the needs of the business community,” Neuman said. “For me, it was about finding both in a candidate.”  …

“In Anne Arundel County, we’re in a great position because the county has invested money on the planning side. … We’ve lacked the dollars for implementation,” Michelsen said. “Now the dollars are there to do the work.”  …

Remediation efforts are required for the county to comply with a federal stormwater permit it holds, as well as to meet its bay cleanup obligations under the federal “pollution diet,” Michelsen said. He said the county has a $1 billion backlog of needed stormwater pollution projects.

And while Michelsen is excited to take on that billion-dollar challenge, he has mixed feelings about leaving the South River Federation.


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