Continuing Controversy Over Stormwater Fees

Controversy continues around a 2012 State law requiring 10 counties to adopt stormwater utility fees as a funding mechanism to meet their Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and federal and state stormwater permit responsibilities.  This article collects several stormwater articles published during this week.

In a July 29 Baltimore Sun commentary, the President of the South Baltimore Business Alliance (SBBA) expresses concern over the fee’s impact on Baltimore area businesses but also compliments members of the Baltimore City Council for refining the City’s stormwater fee to address SBBA concerns.

The SBBA is proud of our success in improving the legislation, including a  gratifying collaboration with a myriad of interests beyond the traditional  business sector to inject needed transparency into the law.  …

Credit is due to the members of City Council who were able to grasp the big  picture earlier than most.  …

SBBA members want a clean Chesapeake Bay and are willing to pay our fair  share of the cost, side by side with homeowners and nonprofit organizations.  Since the rain knows not where it falls, we hope that a fresh look at the issue  by the U.S.  Environmental Protection Agency will result in Washington,  D.C., Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York bearing a  proportionate share of Chesapeake Bay restoration costs. Likewise, the inclusion  of federal, state and local government property owners in the calculation of  total impervious surface would more equitably share the burden.

The long-range forecast for the Baltimore City stormwater fee ordinance is a  mix of clouds and sun. In the last election, city residents voted to impose the  stormwater remediation fee upon themselves. With no such ballot option for  business, the SBBA and other business groups will remain vigilant on issues that  affect our members’ ability to compete.

A July 30 WBAL TV report discusses an appeal by a Rosedale Church based on fee increases caused by the Bay Restoration Fee, sewer service fee increase, and the new stormwater fee.  (Most of the increase comes from the church’s sewer service fee which is due to the installation of a meter to accurately measure the church’s water usage as opposed to estimating the usage.)

Father Donald Grzymski at  St. Clement Mary Hofbauer Church in Rosedale said he worries he may have to cut  services provided by the church to pay the bills.  …

The fee is for impervious  surfaces such as St. Clement’s parking lot, building roof line, driveways and  private roadways. That’s expected to cost the church nearly $1,700.   …

Vincent Gardina, the  director of environmental protection and sustainability, checked on the  stormwater fee charged to the church and said the bill is correct.

“They have 49,000 square  feet of impervious surface area. It’s based on the rate of $20 per 2,000 square  feet. They have no stormwater treatment in place. The total bill is $1,691 per  year,” Gardina said.

“We have one of the lowest  nonprofit rates in the state. We realize nonprofits have limited resources, but  they also contribute significantly to the pollutant load. If we don’t charge  them, we have to charge residences or businesses more,” Gardina said.

An August 1 Frederick News-Post article discusses a report from the Maryland Public Policy Institute critical of the implementation of the stormwater fee.  The report argues that the fee should be based on the amount of impervious surface and stormwater runoff a property generates and not be set at a flat rate.

According to  a new report from the Maryland Public Policy Institute, Maryland’s so-called “rain tax” is poorly conceived, has been ineptly handled by some jurisdictions, and may not live up to its billing as an important weapon in the fight to clean up and save the Chesapeake Bay.

MPPI’s John W. Walters, who wrote the report, concludes, “Despite its apparent environmental pedigree, the rain tax is basically just an additional property tax.”

The report discusses many aspects of the rain tax, including how various jurisdictions have decided to implement the program. Thomas A. Firey, also of MPPI, edited Walters’ report and was quoted in a recent story in The Daily Record. His assessment of how it’s all going so far: “It’s really important to understand, at least in theory, why this could be good, but why a lot of this is getting screwed up.”

In other words, the effort to address rainwater runoff as it affects the health of the Chesapeake Bay is a worthy enterprise, but this law and its implementation leave a lot to be desired.

Finally, an August 2 Capital-Gazette article announces the intention of two Anne Arundel County legislators to introduce a bill that would remove the County from the 10 counties required to establish the fee.

A Republican candidate for county executive said Thursday he’s working with another state lawmaker to exempt Anne Arundel County from the state stormwater fee mandate — which he voted to establish — that funds Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts.

Del. Steve Schuh, R-Gibson Island, and state Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-Pasadena, released a statement saying they’ve drafted a bill that would remove the county from a list of 10 Maryland jurisdictions included in a state funding requirement for stormwater remediation.

They plan to file the bill for consideration in the next General Assembly session, which begins in January.