A fluid debate
Experts say Anne Arundel will have to raise nearly $1 billion by 2026 to build infrastructure needed to meet the environmental goals set by the state and federal governments. The law O'Malley signed leaves it up to the counties to determine how they do it, as long as they have their programs in place by July 1.
Last year, the county set up a task force with representatives from the Chamber of Commerce, the county administration, home builders and developers associations and the Environmental Finance Center at the University of Maryland to develop a fair fee structure.
At Tuesday's meeting, Chris Phipps of the Department of Public Works explained how the group arrived at its proposed fee structure, which would charge $34 per year for townhouses or condominiums, $85 for urban or suburban single-family homes and $170 for homes in less-populated areas.
Nonresidential properties would be charged based on the amount of impervious surface present. The task force began, Phipps said, by assuming the average single-family home has 2,800 square feet of impervious surface.
If a business has twice that amount of impervious surface, it would pay twice the fee, or $170. If it had 20 times that quantity, or 56,000 square feet, it would pay $1,700.
County officials said the formula would yield $26.5 million its first full year. All money collected would go into a Watershed Protection and Restoration Fund, most of it to be used for new capital projects or to maintain or upgrade existing facilities.
The bill would grant credits of up to 50 percent to homeowners who have taken measures to protect the environment, or will do so in the future.
Few who spoke opposed outright paying a fee, though several challenged the logic behind the proposed structure. Some said the proposed fees would hit them unduly hard and a number scoffed at the notion that officeholders could refrain from dipping into the fund for other purposes.
"You can't trust Maryland politicians with another tax," said William Strong of Glen Burnie.
Christine Bolewski of Hanover said the fees proposed would place an burden on her small business, PreFlight Airport Parking.
"We would probably have to let employees go," she said. "We're not out to pollute. We do strive for clean water. [But] there's got to be a way that small businesses are not so disproportionately impacted."
And Linda Smith of Glen Burnie said that while the bill as written exempts government buildings from the fees, it confers no such favor on houses of worship.
"Churches are tax-exempt because they benefit the community," she said. "I realize rain falls on churches, but it also falls on government buildings. This sure looks like a tax to me."
Smith said the fees as written would cost her church, Grace Pointe Community Church of the Nazarene in Severn, more than $5,300 per year.
Others were willing to take the hit just as the bill prescribes.
"In this county, most pollution comes from storm-water runoff," said Bob Gallagher of Annapolis, a board member of the Scenic Rivers Land Trust. "The longer [we] wait, the more it's going to cost."
The council has 90 days from the date of the meeting to amend the bill, which would die April 27 if it isn't passed in some form.