By Pamela Wood, The Baltimore Sun
12:29 PM EST, February 17, 2014
Drama over stormwater fees continues in Anne Arundel County, where a proposal by Del. Steve Schuh to exempt the county from the fees was met with resistance from fellow delegates last week.
Schuh's bill would remove Anne Arundel from the list of 10 jurisdictions that are required to collect a fee from property owners to help pay for projects that reduce polluted stormwater runoff that harms the Chesapeake Bay.
Schuh, a Gibson Island Republican, voted for the state bill requiring the fees in 2012. He said, however, that Anne Arundel's fees are too high. Plus, he said, Anne Arundel already was spending money on stormwater fixes, so it didn't need a nudge from the state in the form of a fee.
"The state mandate was really less applicable to Anne Arundel County," Schuh said during the weekly meeting of Anne Arundel's delegates on Friday.
But Del. Pamela G. Beidle, a Linthicum Democrat, pointed out that Anne Arundel has $1 billion worth of stormwater projects that are needed. She said if the money doesn't come from the stormwater fee, then the county would have to make cuts elsewhere, such as building schools or hiring police officers and firefighters.
She acknowledged the fees may be high, but she added: "I think eliminating is a little overboard."
Schuh said that with an improving economy, more tax revenue is flowing into the county, so there's enough money to go around.
Schuh said the overall increase in revenue also could allow the county to cut the property tax to offset the stormwater fees — a separate proposal he's pushing.
Schuh had support from some Republicans who expressed concern about how the fees are affecting homeowners and businesses.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch, an Annapolis Democrat, said the county council could reduce the stormwater fees if it wanted to.
"This is in the purview of the county … They can make any adjustments they want," he said.
Schuh and County Executive Laura Neuman have tangled over stormwater fees in recent weeks as they campaign to win the Republican Party nomination for county executive.
Neuman's lobbyists, Don Murphy and Barbara Wilkens, said they were not prepared to discuss Schuh's bill because it was not on the agenda distributed before the meeting.
Murphy noted, however, that Neuman has expressed support for a statewide repeal of the fees and vetoed the fees passed by the county council last year. The council overrode her veto, establishing fees that range from $34 to $170 per year for homeowners.
"Her veto speaks for itself," Murphy said.
As a practical matter, Murphy said that even if Anne Arundel is no longer required to have a fee, the county council likely won't eliminate the fee.
"There's not much chance this is going to go away under this council," he said.
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