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Harford council passes watered-down stormwater fee, creates task force to study program

Environmental PoliticsU.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Harford County residents will be charged a $125 stormwater fee, but will only be required to pay 10 percent of it.

After weeks of debate, the Harford County Council Tuesday passed a significantly amended version of the contentious stormwater fee bill, designed to generate funds to help treat stormwater and improve water quality of the Chesapeake Bay, was easily passed Tuesday, with only Councilman Chad Shrodes voting against it.

Council members said they were pleased to only require residents to pay 10 percent of a $125 fee per each home or property. They also set up a task force that will study the bill's implementation and make recommendations in November.

"I know this was difficult but I think this is a good way to go," Council President Billy Boniface said. "The hammer isn't going to come down on us by the state."

He pointed out the version of the bill that was passed in Baltimore County on Monday, calling it a logical "tier system" that charges different amounts of those living in townhouses versus those in single-family homes.

"At the same time, they did some creative things, which caps the commercial [fee]," he said. "These are all things the task force will look at."

Boniface said he was also glad the municipalities will not, for now, be under the umbrella of the county legislation.

"We're partners in this," he said, explaining that Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace will have to meet the requirements at some point and it is better for the county and municipalities to work together so there is no "animosity."

Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti said the bill was "obviously" very "contentious," but said she believed the individual fees and implementation strategies should be made by each jurisdiction.

"Bottom line is, it's a state process that must be guided by local leadership," she said.

She thanked everyone for their hard work and noted one size does not fit all for the watershed.

"For us to come up with 35 amendments and build a consensus among ourselves, I think is very proactive," she said.

Lisanti pointed out the amendments include lowering the fees for non-profits, enhancing waivers from 50 percent to 100 percent, creating the task force, establishing credits for good behavior and working with the municipalities.

Shrodes, however, said he was not happy the amendments he proposed last week, creating separate funds based on the water basin residents live in, did not pass.

He said the county auditor told him that while northern Harford makes up 50 percent of the county's watersheds, only a small portion of funds have been spent on the district.

"I'm just not convinced that it's going to be spent fairly. I tried with my amendments; they failed," Shrodes said.

Councilmen Joe Woods and Dion Guthrie said they would love to get rid of the bill altogether but consider the highly-amended bill a good step.

Woods said the Maryland Department of the Environment could not give a straight answer on whether the mandate is required.

"[The Environmental Protection Agency] is truly not forcing us to do this and the state made the law," he said. "As much as I want to get rid of this thing completely, and I think we should, I'll vote to support this."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Environmental PoliticsU.S. Environmental Protection Agency
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