Sketch Video Shows Why Federal Policies Matter to Counties

In a new sketch video, the National Association of Counties (NACo) shares the central role of county governments in America, and the influence of federal policy on county governments. The video was premiered this week at the National Association of Counties Legislative Conference in Washington, DC.

As described by NACo,

America’s 3,069 county governments provide fundamental services for building healthy, safe and vibrant communities. Through the National Association of Counties, county governments engage federal policy makers on a range of issues like transportation, infrastructure, healthcare, public safety and public lands management. All of these issues are vital to our nation’s quality of life and long-term prosperity.

For more information, see NACo.

Anne Arundel To Consider Stormwater Fee Phase-Out

Both County Executive Steve Schuh and Council President Jerry Walker have pledged to pursue legislation before the Anne Arundel County Council to eliminate the county’s stormwater fee.

From coverage in the Capital, quoting a statement from Schuh:

The proposed legislation will responsibly phase out the stormwater fee through a 33% reduction in fiscal year 2017, 33% reduction in fiscal year 2018, and complete repeal in fiscal year 2019. By 2020, the county will fully fund the current stormwater programs through others means, including the general fund.

The storm water management fee was established in 2013. Currently, Anne Arundel residents pay $34 per year for each town home, $85 for a single family residence. Non-residential stormwater fee charges are based on a property owner’s actual measured impervious surface area for individual parcels of land.

Read the full article online.

Senate President Weighs In On Stormwater Fees With Broad Bill

Maryland Senate President Miller introduced his own bill (with a majority of the Senate signed on as co-sponsors) on February 25, 2015 that would repeal the stormwater fee mandate for Maryland’s nine largest counties and Baltimore City.

According to the Capital Gazette, Senate Bill 863: Watershed Protection and Restoration Programs – Revisions, would

…would require those local governments to submit a report on how they plan to pay for storm-water pollution projects required of them by the federal government to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

“This has been a very contentious issue that I believe this proposal will help resolve,” Miller said in a statement announcing introduction of his bill. With 30 cosponsors, including 11 Republicans, it appears sure to pass the 47-member Senate.

“This legislation maintains flexibility for county governments while still ensuring that they can meet their obligations to protect and clean up the bay,” Miller said.

The main elements of the bill include:

  • repeals the mandated stormwater fee, currently imposed on 10 counties
  • requires the 10 counties to prepare annual reports on their plans, progress, and financial assurances regarding their EPA-issued federal stormwater permits
  • eliminates any fee on veterans organizations, caps any fees on other nonprofit organizations, and mandates a “financial hardship” process for nonprofits to reach alternatives to paying the fee
  • requires counties employing a fee to label it in collection documents as in response to federal stormwater management requirements

    Read the full bill text online. The bill has not yet been scheduled for a public hearing, and due to its late introduction is currently in the Senate Rules Committee (a reassignment to one or more standing committees is likely in the days ahead).

  • Counties Wary of Nutrient Management Mandate

    This week, MACo raised concerns with legislation codifying nutrient management plans, affecting both agriculture and municipal sewage sludge. On Wednesday, MACo’s Policy Analyst Natasha Mehu and MACo’s Legislative Director Andrea Mansfield testified opposing HB 381, Agriculture- Nutrient Management-Phosphorus Management Tool to the Environmental and Transportation Committee. On Tuesday, Les Knapp, MACo’s Legal and Policy Counsel, testified opposing this bill in the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Committee. HB 381 would codify previously proposed regulations that limit the amount of animal and poultry manure, sewage sludge and phosphorus- containing fertilizer that would be applied to agricultural lands.

    Essentially, this bill would impose significant costs on agriculture highly impacting the Eastern Shore. Additionally, this bill would increase the costs and challenges for local governments to properly dispose of sewage sludge.

    The written testimony explains

    MACo supports addressing agricultural phosphorus runoff in a timely and informed manner. Agriculture should not be exempted from reducing the pollution it generates. However, MACo is concerned about the grave consequences the proposed PMT would have on Maryland’s agricultural industry and the ability of local governments to properly dispose of sewage sludge.

    Instead of the proposed PMT, MACo supports working with both the environmental and agricultural communities to devise a refined PMT that lessens the negative economic burdens while still reducing phosphorus contaminated agricultural runoff.

    For more on MACo’s 2015 legislation, visit the Legislative Database.

    MACo Opposes Costly Environmental Regulations

    Yesterday, February 24, MACo Policy Analyst, Natasha Mehu, testified opposing SB 257, Agriculture- Nutrient Management-Phosphorus Management Tool to the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee. SB 257 would codify proposed regulations that limit the amount of animal and poultry manure, sewage sludge and phosphorus- containing fertilizer that would be applied to agricultural lands.

    Essentially, this bill would impose significant costs on agriculture highly impacting the Eastern Shore. Additionally, this bill would increase the costs and challenges for local governments to properly dispose of sewage sludge.

    The written testimony explains:

    MACo supports addressing agricultural phosphorus runoff in a timely and informed manner. Agriculture should not be exempted from reducing the pollution it generates. However, MACo is concerned about the grave consequences the proposed PMT would have on Maryland’s agricultural industry and the ability of local governments to properly dispose of sewage sludge.

    Instead of the proposed PMT, MACo supports working with both the environmental and agricultural communities to devise a refined PMT that lessens the negative economic burdens while still reducing phosphorus contaminated agricultural runoff.

    For more on MACo’s 2015 legislation, visit the Legislative Database.

     

     

     

    Montgomery, Prince George’s Counties Lead State in Recycling

    The Maryland Department of the Environment recently released a chart with 2013 data showing that Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties lead the state in recycling.

    Coverage by CBS DC states,

    Prince George’s County had the highest “Waste Diversion Rate” at nearly 65 percent, surpassing its 2012 rate of 54 percent. This percentage is how much trash was kept out of landfills. Washington County came in second with a 62 percent waste diversion rate and Montgomery County was not far behind at 60 percent.

    Montgomery County took the lead for the most recyclables with a total of more than 600,000, while Prince George’s had the second highest at more than 440,000.

    Click here to view the MDE chart or visit CBS DC to view the article.

    CBF Urges Counties to Maintain Their Stormwater Fees

    A February 17 letter to The Dagger from Chesapeake Bay Foundation Maryland Executive Director Alison Prost recounted the purpose of the 2012 stormwater remediation fee legislation (also known as the “Rain Tax” by opponents) and urged people not to “demonize” the fee.  Prost also stressed that counties should not reduce or eliminate their fees.  From the letter:

    The so-called “rain tax” is easy to demonize. It makes a convenient political target. What’s harder is to help people understand the reason for the fee, and the risk to Baltimore and Harford counties of reducing the fee or getting rid of it altogether.  …

    First, some history. The 2012 law requiring ten jurisdictions to establish some level of fee came after years of frustration. Since the early 1990’s, the ten jurisdictions have been required by the federal Clean Water Act to meet specific goals to reduce polluted run-off. The federal law singled out these 10 jurisdictions because polluted run-off is often the biggest source of water pollution to urban and suburban rivers and creeks, and because specific rivers in these localities were badly fouled.  …

    But the problem is the nine counties and Baltimore City have not reduced their polluted run-off sufficiently. Most have fallen fall short of goals set by the state, Harford particularly. Money is the issue.  …

    Given all this, the Maryland General Assembly decided in 2012 it had to act. It required the 10 jurisdictions to collect a fee that would be dedicated only to reducing runoff. The money couldn’t be hijacked for some other purpose.  …

    We urge citizens to tell their state delegates and senators not to repeal the 2012 law, and to tell county leaders to reinstate a reasonable-sized fee to tackle a long-neglected problem.

    Harford County to Leverage Recordation Tax for Stormwater Projects

    Harford County Executive Barry Glassman presented a resolution to the Council this week proposing a new strategy to meet federal stormwater requirements. As reported by the Baltimore Sun,

    Glassman plans to move part of the revenue from the county’s existing recordation tax toward stormwater-related capital projects, Director of Administration Billy Boniface explained.

    Boniface noted the move would not mean raising any tax rates and would not need to be passed as a bill, and the move should keep the county free from any state or federal actions for not having a viable stormwater remediation program.

    The revenue to be used for this purpose totals $1.8 million, which the county would leverage by selling bonds. The county expects to receive approximately $6 million annually from such borrowing.

    The County Council plans to vote on the resolution on March 3.

    Hogan to Unveil New Phosphorus Management Regulations

    A February 19 Washington Post article reported that Governor Larry Hogan plans to unveil a new version of the controversial phosphorus management tool (PMT) regulations a day before the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on legislation that would codify the previous version of the regulations proposed by former Governor Martin O’Malley.  The previous version PMT regulations would limit the amount of phosphorus that could be applied to agricultural lands and could prevent the spreading of fertilizer, poultry and other types of animal manure, and sewage sludge.  The PMT regulations have caused great concern on the Eastern Shore due to the potential effect on the poultry industry.

    From the article:

    The [Hogan] official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the regulations are still being finalized, said the governor’s rules will “balance the needs of the environmental and agriculture communities while also delivering immediate action to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.”

    Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s) has said that he will pull the bill he submitted if the governor releases regulations comparable to those proposed late last year by then-governor Martin O’Malley (D). …

    “No one disagrees that [phosphorus is] a major problem,” Pinsky said. “For us to cast a blind eye and say, ‘It’s not a problem,’ or ‘Yeah, it’s a problem, but let’s talk about it some more,’ is not taking responsibility.”

     

    Federal Budget May Offer $33M For Bay Rivers Initiative

    An article on the Bay Journal website details funding in Presdient Obama’s proposed federal budget that would target the “Rivers of the Chesapeake” initiative, to ptotect sensitive lands around the Bay waterways and tributaries.

    From the BayJournal.com site:

    [T]he Rivers of the Chesapeake was the big budget prize. The proposed funding was only a little more than half of what proponents had requested, but it is nonetheless expected to lead to greatly increased federal land protection funding in future years — something that is also mentioned in the president’s budget.

    “Even though it is half of what we asked for, I am still thrilled,” said Joel Dunn, executive director of the Chesapeake Conservancy, which rallied support for the initiative. “This is a big deal. With this budget, we’ve made enormous progress. I think it reflects really well on all the partners involved.”