Citing the need for a simple program, County Executive Ken Ulman announced Thursday significant revisions to the county's stormwater fee that would charge residential properties a standard fee.
Under the new plan, residential property owners would pay the following fees:
- $15 annually for owners of townhouses and condominiums
- $45 annually for owners of single-family homes on lots up to one-quarter acre in size
- $90 annually for owners of residential properties larger than one-quarter acre
Non-residential properties will still be subject to the $15 per 500 square feet fee, according to the legislation.
"With a new program just starting up, simpler is better," said Ulman, in a statement. "We need to get started treating the run-off that is entering our waterways, and after much discussion, we think this is the better approach."
The new plan also offers grant funding to nonprofits to help assist in building county-approved treatment methods, according to the release. In addition, fees paid by businesses will be capped at 20 percent of their total property tax bill, according to the legislation.
The new bill proposed by Ulman will still have to go through the County Council, but it will revise the previously adopted legislation rather than revoke it, according to David Nitkin, Ulman's communications director. Because this process will take several months, fees won't be collected until semi-annual property tax bills are distributed in December, according to the county's statement.
The stormwater fee, which has been dubbed "the rain tax" by its critics, was mandated in nine of the most populous counties in MD as well as Baltimore City, but it was left up to each county to decide how to implement.
Howard County passed the original per 500 square foot fee in May, but it was met with significant criticism from residents in the western portion of the county, who said they would pay an unfair burden.
County Council member Greg Fox, a Republican who represents the western portion of the county, sent out his own press release on Thursday hours before Ulman's announcement.
In it, he said he would reintroduce his "Umbrella Bill" monthly, after it was withdrawn without a public hearing in May by his fellow council members. The bill would cap the fee at $1 for religious and nonprofit property owners as well as reduce fees to $50 annually for homeowners and $100 for non-residential properties not in the sewer planned service area in the county.
Fox said in his release he hoped this bill would lead to "completely overhauling the Rain Tax."
After reading the new legislation presented by the administration, Fox said, "I think it's a giant step in the right direction."
He said the previous legislation would have resulted in a large amount of people in the western part of the county forced to pay over $100 due to lengthy driveways on larger plots of land.
"Some will still have concerns over the overall program, but the rate structure change itself will be less contentious," said Fox. He said he looks forward to working with other council members to make most people happy with the legislation.
The mandate from the state legislature has been implemented in a variety of ways across the state. In Frederick County, for example, the Frederick County Board of Commissioners required all property owners to pay a penny per year just to satisfy the law. The president of the Frederick County Commissioners, Blaine Young, said they set the fee so low "just to be in compliance because we are completely in disagreement with why we are having to do this," according to a MarylandReporter.com article.
The Anne Arundel County Council passed a bill earlier this month that would set standard fees for residential properties at $34 for townhouses and condominiums, $85 for most single-family homes, and $170 for homes in rural and agricultural zones, according to a Baltimore Sun report. As part of that legislation, churches and religious nonprofits would have to pay $1 per year and nonprofits would pay $680 per acre of impervious surface. Businesses in Anne Arundel would pay $85 per 2,940 square feet of impervious surface, but that would be capped if the fee reaches 25 percent of the annual property tax, according to the report.
Howard County's new bill is more similar to what Anne Arundel County has implemented. Fox said he also modeled his bill off of Anne Arundel's legislation.
"While individual counties are responsible for their own plan, there needs to be a degree of consistency in this new program," said Ulman, in a statement.
Fox said in addition to working on the legislation, he'll be making sure the funds raised by it will be used effectively.
"I will be looking at a number of other provisions of the law in the coming weeks regarding how funds will be spent and assure that the improvements being made with taxpayer dollars are actually meeting the intent for which they are required," said Fox in his release. "If the goal is to protect the Chesapeake Bay, we should take special care and oversight in how those dollars are spent."