Strong Opinions Offered On Proposed Howard County Stormwater Fee Repeal

A Baltimore Sun article (2016-01-20) reported on a well-attended Howard County Council hearing that considered a proposal by County Executive Allan Kittleman and Council Member Greg Fox to phase out the County’s stormwater remediation fee (also known as the “rain tax”). The public hearing was held on January 19.  The article noted that most public testimony came from supporters of the fee but both sides made their voices heard. From the article:

“If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” said Paige Getty, co-chairwoman of [People Acting Together (PATH)], a coalition of neighborhoods and congregations in Howard County.”[We are] here tonight to say that the stormwater fee ‘ain’t broke.'” …

“This bill is a direct result of shortsighted, factually inaccurate and politically driven rhetoric that threatens to take Howard County back to a place where waters continue to be polluted,” [Chesapeake Bay Foundation staff attorney Elaine] Lutz said. “It also very ironically depends on the very fee revenue that this repeal would remove.”

Paul Lemle, president of the Howard County Education Association, called the fee a “good public policy” and “necessary revenue.”

The proposed repeal would halve the county’s fee in FY 2017 and phase it out completely in FY 2018.  The article noted that the fee generates approximately $10 million annually. Kittleman’s Chief of Staff Diane Wilson argued that the lost revenue would be replaced through other funding sources:

[Wilson] said she did not anticipate any cuts as a result of the change, calling the bill a “change in funding source,” not a change in the county’s commitment to the Chesapeake Bay.

In fiscal year 2017, $3.2 million would come from state grants, $4.7 from a reserve fund balance, $5.5 million from previous fee payments and $10.2 in government obligated bonds, Wilson said.

In fiscal year 2018, $2 million would come from state grants, $1 million from anticipated transfer taxes, $5 million in pay-go funding and $19 million from government obligated bonds, she said.

The County Executive’s office plans to provide further fiscal details on replacing the fee next week. The article noted that a few supporters of the bill also testified:

Pete Mangione, owner of Turf Valley, was one of a handful of voices supporting the phase out of the fee.

“To me this is another tax or fee being put on business,” said Mangione. “Many people seem to think that businesses can absorb it but we can’t.”

Legislation from 2012 mandated that 10 counties subject to Phase 1 Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permits adopt a stormwater remediation fee. However, 2015 legislation repealed the mandate but counties must still provide funding to meet their stormwater pollution reduction goals under the permit.

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