A March 10 Washington Post article discusses Governor Martin O’Malley’s recent decision to move from a Bay Restoration Fee increase based on a user’s actual water consumption where measurable to a flat fee for most users. As introduced, HB 446 / SB 240 would have transformed the Bay Restoration Fee into a scaled payment system based on water usage where measurable. Residents on septics or whose water usage cannot otherwise be measured would have seen their annual fee double from $30 to a flat rate of $60. Under the Governor’s new proposal, residents would see a flat rate increase to $75 annually (2.5 times the current rate), with the fee reduced or waived for low-income individuals.
The change marks a reversal for O’Malley, who in touting his original plan said it was unfair to make a widow in Baltimore pay the same amount as the owner of a mansion. But after hearing from business associations and other opponents, O’Malley concluded that his plan was unworkable. …
Robert M. Summers, secretary of the Department of the Environment, said the push for a consumption-based flush tax was abandoned partly to assuage the concerns of businesses.
Summers said “a number of folks have raised concerns about the progressive fee being a little too impactful on small businesses” that use a large amount of water. The “complexity” of moving from a flat fee to a consumption-based fee was another factor in the change, he said.
The fee increase is necessary for the State to meet its obligations to upgrade the 67 major wastewater treatments plants to enhanced nutrient removal (ENR) standards. Upgrading the plants will play a significant role in the State and local governments meeting their 2017 nutrient reduction targets under the federally mandated Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). Secretary Summers also indicated in the article that if the fee increase to 2.5 times the current rate, a small portion of the increase will also be made available to help local governments with stormwater retrofits – another requirement of the TMDL.