Baltimore County Council divided over how far to cut 'rain tax'

As Balt. Co. Council considers one-third cut to rain tax, one councilman wants bigger reduction.

As the Baltimore County Council considers cutting the county's stormwater fees by one-third, members are being pressured to slash the so-called "rain tax" even further.

Several people told council members during a public hearing Tuesday afternoon that they feel the fee should be eliminated altogether.

"The voters said they didn't like the rain tax," said Al Mendelsohn, chairman of the Baltimore County Republican State Central Committee.

Council members are scheduled to vote Monday on a proposal from County Executive Kevin Kamenetz to cut stormwater fees by one-third.

If approved, owners of single-family homes would pay $26 per year instead of $39, while owners of town homes would pay $14 instead of $21. Businesses and institutions, which are charged based on their amount of impervious surfaces such as rooftops and parking lots, would get a one-third break in their rate.

Councilman Todd Crandell, a Dundalk Republican, said he's considering proposing "various scenarios" to change the to bill to cut the fees further, but declined to offer specifics.

Other council members defended the fees during their meeting Tuesday.

Council Chairwoman Cathy Bevins, a Middle River Democrat, noted that many people were frustrated with the fees, saying it was a "tipping point for a lot of businesses." But without the fee, she said, the county would have to cut funding for other projects to pay for stormwater controls that are required.

Councilman Tom Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat, said in order to have a clean Chesapeake Bay, people have to foot the bill for pollution abatement projects.

"Everybody wants everything, but nobody wants to pay for it," he said.

Under Kamenetz's proposal, the county would collect $8.1 million less per year to pay for stormwater projects required under the multi-state effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. But Vincent Gardina, the county's director of environmental protection, said lower-than-expected costs and new methods for calculating pollution reductions mean the county can still meet its obligations.

"We don't anticipate any problems meeting pollutant load reductions," Gardina said.

Baltimore County and nine other large jurisdictions were required by a state law passed in 2012 to impose a fee to pay for stormwater projects. There are several proposals in the General Assembly this year to eliminate or modify that requirement.

pwood@baltsun.com

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