Sun Has Strong Words for Proposed Baltimore County Stormwater Fee Repeal

As previously reported on Conduit Street, the Baltimore County Council recently introduced legislations to repeal the County’s stormwater remediation fee in 2017.  An October 20, 2015, Baltimore Sun editorial strongly criticized the Council’s action, arguing that the repeal would essentially shift the fiscal burden of mandatory stormwater mitigation from major polluters to average homeowners:

[The proposed repeal] would put the seven-member council, including four Democrats, on an anti-environmental path beyond such GOP-led counties as Howard and Anne Arundel. Even Carroll County, which does not charge a stormwater remediation fee, has designated a portion of its property tax revenue for that purpose.

How did this happen? Certainly, the fee is unpopular in many quarters, including the county’s east side, and Larry Hogan’s opposition to it helped get him elected governor last year. But that’s largely a result of some serious political prevarication — a representation that it’s a tax on rain (it isn’t), that it’s anti-business (not true) or that runoff isn’t a serious problem — when the reality is that it’s one of the Chesapeake Bay’s biggest environmental threats. …

Even if one abhors taxes and cares not a fig for the Chesapeake Bay, this is a short-sighted choice. For one thing, the refund will prove virtually unnoticeable (County Executive Kevin Kamenetz reduced the levy by one-third for most county residents earlier this year, and the sound of taxpayer gratitude was something less than deafening), but here’s the real problem: It means those average taxpayers, not the big polluters, will be stuck with the EPA-mandated bill. If the council were really interested in repealing this not-so-onerous fee, it would do better to reduce the property tax rate by an equivalent amount and keep billing the big polluters.

The proposed repeal is not only short-sighted, it’s effectively a transfer of tax obligation from businesses that account for much of the pollution to average homeowners who don’t. One group gets to sidestep responsibility and pocket thousands of dollars while the other gets the equivalent of a Starbucks cappuccino every other month (but still gets to foot the pollution bill in the long run). How such a decision could be worthy of support by anyone on the council, let alone every member, is absolutely baffling.

The editorial also correctly noted that if the County repeals its fee, it must create an “alternative compliance plan” to show how it will meet its state and federally mandated stormwater mitigation goals. The alternative compliance plan requirement was part of the 2015 legislation (SB863) which removed the requirement that Baltimore County and 9 other large urban counties adopt a stormwater remediation fee.