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Miller, Busch vow no repeal of stormwater fees

The leaders of the Senate and House of Delegates predicted Thursday morning that lawmakers won't be repealing the stormwater fees in the state's largest jurisdictions this year.

At a breakfast hosted by the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. responded to a question about whether the fees would be repealed by saying flatly: "We're not going to repeal the stormwater fee."

House Speaker Michael E. Busch then quickly piped up: "Second!"

State lawmakers passed a bill two years ago requiring Baltimore City and nine counties to create a fee to raise money for stormwater pollution control projects. The bill left the details up to the counties to decide. Miller has previously voiced concern about the variations in fees charged by the 10 localities and their impact on churches and nonprofit groups.

The stormwater fee has been derided as a "rain tax" that's unnecessary and burdensome on homeowners and businesses. The General Assembly is expected to consider a number of bills to modify or repeal the stormwater fee, and it's one of the top priorities of the Republican Party in Annapolis this year.  Miller has previously voiced concern about the inconsistency in fees among the localities and the burden they place on churches and nonprofit organizations.

Environmentalists support the fee as a way to pay for stormwater projects that are needed to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay. The 10 jurisdictions required to have stormwater fees hold federal permits that require them to manage their polluted runoff.

Two candidates for Anne Arundel County executive -- current executive Laura Neuman and Del. Steve Schuh -- traded barbs over the county's stormwater fees at the chamber's breakfast.

Neuman vetoed the first set of fees approved by the county council, which overrode her veto. The council then made further adjustments to the fees, which Neuman allowed to become law without her signature.

Neuman said she doesn't believe a new tax needs to be created every time something needs to be fixed. She said the federal government should take more of a lead in cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, rather than pushing requirements for pollution control to local governments.

She noted that Schuh -- her opponent in the Republican primary for county executive -- voted for the state stormwater fee bill two years ago.

Schuh acknowledged his vote but said that Anne Arundel "overreacted" and established a set of fees that are too burdensome. He has introduced legislation in the House seeking to have Anne Arundel exempted from the fee.

Schuh suggested the county should cut its property tax to make up for the new stormwater fees. Neuman countered that cutting the property tax to offset the stormwater fees would be ceding more control over county spending to the state government, which she opposes.

Anne Arundel is phasing in a fee that ranges from $34 to $170 per year for residential homeowners. Commercial properties pay based on the amount of impervious surface is on their land.

County Councilman Jamie Benoit, a Democrat, defended the vote to establish the stormwater fees as "a wise and courageous decision." Benoit pointed out that Anne Arundel has hundreds of miles of shoreline.

"We have the highest obligation to be the leader when it comes to protecting the Chesapeake Bay," he said.

(An earlier version of this post did not fully explain the adoption of Anne Arundel's fees)

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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