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'Rain tax' set to begin in Baltimore City and nine counties

Washington County not included

June 26, 2013|By KAUSTUV BASU | kaustuv.basu@herald-mail.com

Some of the most heavily populated jurisdictions in the state are planning to implement a stormwater utility fee beginning next month as part of a plan to generate revenue to tackle water pollution locally and in the Chesapeake Bay.

Washington County residents are not among the counties that will be required to pay the fee, referred to negatively by some as the “rain tax.”
 
The fees are mandated by the Watershed Protection and Restoration Program that was passed by the Maryland General Assembly in 2012.

The counties and Baltimore City are required to “address water pollution that occurs when rainfall carries sediment, nutrients from fertilizers and pet wastes, and toxic chemicals from rooftops, roads, urban and suburban lawns and institutional grounds into local storm drains, streams, rivers and drinking water reservoirs of the State, and ultimately to the Chesapeake Bay,” according to a description of the program by the Maryland Department of the Environment.

The 10 affected jurisdictions — Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Charles, Frederick, Harford, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and Baltimore City — are part of the program because they have the largest populations and are among the most heavily developed.

“It provides a way for those counties to fund stormwater-management practices,” said Jay Apperson, a spokesman for the MDE.

Apperson said that the individual jurisdictions have the flexibility to set the fees.

Harford County will charge $12 per household the first year, while those in Charles County will pay $43 a year, according to reports.

“The jurisdictions have set different fees based on their particular needs and philosophies. Some decided homeowners and businesses with more ‘impervious’ surface should pay higher fees. Other jurisdictions decided to levy one flat fee,” Tom Zolper, a communications coordinator for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, in an email.

Impervious surfaces are areas such as roadways, sidewalks and parking lots.

Zolper said that among the jurisdictions required to levy the fees, eight have approved some kind of fee.

“Carroll County will hold a discussion this Thursday on a possible fee, and Prince George's County may vote on a proposed fee next week,” he said.

Alison Prost, Maryland Executive Director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the program would bring benefits to communities and counties because it would improve local water quality and reduce public health risks.

“It will also ultimately benefit the Chesapeake Bay,” she said.

Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, said although environmental issues are important to all, “how we get there is the question.”

“It is devastating I think to certain businesses and certain community groups .... Do we care about the bay? Absolutely. Should we try to do something? Yes. But it’s got to be a reasoned approach .... ,” Serafini said.

Although the program doesn’t currently include Washington County, the fear is that it may eventually do so, he said.

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