Baltimore County property owners are likely to see their much-maligned stormwater fees cut by one-third under a proposal from County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.
While the one-third reduction doesn't amount to much in savings — $13 per year for owners of single-family homes, $7 for those who own rowhouses — Kamenetz said the cut is still important to residents who feel burdened by taxes.
Kamenetz said the cut will send a signal to residents and business owners that "we feel your frustration" with the stormwater fee and other taxes.
At the same time, Kamenetz is suggesting that the federal government roll back its 2025 deadline for Chesapeake Bay cleanup — an idea that drew a sharp rebuke from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
"We would vigorously oppose any effort to quit on clean water with 10 years left before the deadline," said Will Baker, president of the nonprofit advocacy group. "It's such a preposterous suggestion, I couldn't imagine how it would happen."
Under the Clean Water Act, the federal government and the six states that drain into the Chesapeake agreed to put enough pollution-reduction practices in place by 2025 to get the bay off of the list of the nation's "impaired waters."
As part of the agreement, states and counties must meet targets for reducing harmful sediment and nutrient pollution leading up to the 2025 deadline.
Kamenetz argues that county governments have been stuck with those cleanup mandates with no financial help to pay for them. Kamenetz said he doesn't want to get rid of the stormwater fees altogether — "The money has to come from somewhere," he said — but he thinks a better option is to give counties and states more time to work on the pollution cuts.
Kamenetz said he floated the idea of delaying the 2025 deadline to Gov.-elect Larry Hogan during a meeting this month. A Hogan spokesman did not respond to requests for comment on Friday afternoon.
Hogan has called into question some Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts and was among those who have derided the stormwater fees as a "rain tax" that unfairly charges residents and businesses for broad environmental problems.
Even if the cleanup deadline isn't extended, Kamenetz said the reduced stormwater fees will bring in enough money for Baltimore County to meet its targets for reducing pollution. The revised fees will bring in about $8 million less than last year.
Kamenetz said some of the county's pollution-busting practices such as street-sweeping have cost less than anticipated. He also plans to delay some more expensive projects, including some stream restorations.
Kamenetz plans to introduce his proposal to the Baltimore County Council on Feb. 2 and expects that it will pass easily.
Under his plan, owners of single-family homes would pay $26 per year instead of $39, and owners of rowhouses would pay $14 instead of $21. Commercial properties will be charged $46 for every 2,000 square feet of impervious surfaces such as rooftops and parking lots — down from $69.
County Council Chairwoman Cathy Bevins said the reduction in fees, while small, is meaningful.
"For the average taxpayer, $39 doesn't seem to be a huge amount, but it was the tip of the iceberg on the fees and taxes in the state," said Bevins, a Democrat who represents an eastern Baltimore County district with many waterfront communities.
Bevins said she defended the stormwater fees on the campaign trail last fall and still believes in the need for government projects to clean up rivers and the bay. She thinks the revised fees will bring in enough money to keep making progress on pollution. "There's no way we would do this if we weren't going to meet the requirements," she said.
Though many Republicans in Maryland want to eliminate stormwater fees altogether, Republican Councilman David Marks of Perry Hall said he'll gladly vote for the one-third reduction, calling it a "significant step" toward tax relief. He voted against the creation of the stormwater fees.
"If it reduces taxes even one cent, it's something we should support," Marks said.
Councilman Todd Crandell is less enthusiastic about the proposal.
"I don't believe that one-third is nearly an aggressive enough rollback," said Crandell, a Republican from Dundalk. "One-third is two-thirds short."
Crandell said he wants to explore other ways to pay for environmental projects so the stormwater fees can be eliminated entirely, though he wouldn't offer any specific ideas.