Members of the Baltimore County Council want to phase out the stormwater remediation fee assessed to county property owners — often criticized as a "rain tax" — over the next two years.
A bill introduced Monday by the council would reduce the fee on next summer's property tax bills, then eliminate it entirely the year after that.
The measure was sponsored by all seven council members — assuring its passage even if it is vetoed by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.
"We all stand united in getting rid of the stormwater remediation fee," said Council Chairwoman Cathy Bevins, a Middle River Democrat, at a news conference in Towson after the council meeting.
Money collected from the fee is spent on pollution controls, stream restorations and projects designed to curb the flow of runoff that flows into streams and rivers that feed into the Chesapeake Bay. Baltimore County was among 10 large jurisdictions in Maryland that state lawmakers initially required to collect the fees.
This year, state lawmakers removed the requirement for a separate fee to be levied — as long as jurisdictions have a plan for how to cut the pollution and how to pay for it.
Earlier this year, Baltimore County cut its fee by one-third, but the change to the state law swayed some council members to support eliminating it entirely. Kamenetz led the effort to reduce the fee, but said retaining some allocation was necessary.
Council members said the fee is a burden on homeowners and businesses. Councilman Todd Crandell, a Dundalk Republican, predicted that eliminating the fee would help spur redevelopment efforts at the former Sparrows Point steel mill. "This takes a huge burden off of that company," he said.
Eliminating the fee means the county would have $16 million less in its budget each year. Don Mohler, a spokesman for Kamenetz, said cuts to other projects will be necessary if the county doesn't have money dedicated for stormwater projects.
"In eliminating the fee, the council gives the administration two choices: We either institute a significant increase in property taxes or we eliminate $16 million annually in projects," he said.
The executive is unwilling to raise property taxes, so Mohler said some school improvements, park projects and road projects would be in jeopardy. The stormwater projects are required under the multi-state Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort overseen by the federal government.
"We can't not do the projects," Mohler said.
Council members said there's enough money to go around to pay for stormwater projects and the county's other needs. They noted the county recently started billing health insurance companies when ambulances take people to the hospital, which is expected to collect $26 million per year.
The current stormwater fees are $26 for owners of single-family homes, $14 for townhouses and $22 for condominiums. Commercial properties are charged $46 for every 2,000 square fee for impervious surfaces such as rooftops and parking lots.
In other business, the council postponed a vote on whether to increase what developers in Towson pay when they can't include required open space in their projects. Councilman David Marks said negotiations are continuing between major developer Caves Valley Partners and community leaders on voluntary contributions to open space projects.