A decision by the Board of Carroll County Commissioners last week to not create a stormwater runoff fee as mandated by state law has left the county's municipalities wondering how they will fund federal and state required stormwater projects.
The commissioners voted unanimously June 27 to create a Watershed Protection and Restoration Fund to be funded by grants and county dollars instead of establishing a fee for businesses and property owners.
The state's Watershed Protection and Restoration Program, signed into law last year, requires the state's nine largest counties and Baltimore City to collect fees to pay for stormwater management as well as stream and wetland restoration projects. The projects are aimed at improving water quality and reducing phosphorous and nitrogen entering the Chesapeake Bay.
The law has been dubbed the "rain tax" by its opponents.
There was a "flurry of phone call activity" between local mayors after the commissioners voted last week, according to Westminster Mayor Kevin Utz.
He said the county fund is appropriate to fund the county's required projects, but leaves the municipalities to fend for themselves.
"Basically they shut the door on us," he said.
Westminster, for example, is required to pay about $850,000 in each of the next six years for mandated stormwater projects, Utz said.
There are currently no funds budgeted for these projects and without revenue from the stormwater fee, Westminster could have to look at raising taxes to pay for the projects, according to Utz.
"It's a complicated mess to say the least," he said.
County Commissioners President Doug Howard said that the municipalities' stormwater requirements were not overlooked when the commissioners created the fund, citing a $200,000 hardship fund established in the budget this year for stormwater needs of local municipalities.
"It was just not enough of a reason to put a tax on all citizens of the county," he said.
The county's eight municipalities met with Howard and commissioner Haven Shoemaker Wednesday at the Carroll County Farm Museum to discuss potential assistance for municipalities' stormwater requirements.
Utz said that he doesn't view the situation as adversarial between the county and municipalities.
"We are asking the county to work with us to help fund some of our projects as well," he said.
Utz did not attend the meeting. City administrator Marge Wolf represented Westminster and could not be reached for comment.Howard said he believed the meeting was a "very, very productive hour-and-a-half."
He added that the board could present some form of aid to municipalities by the end of September or early October.
"My hope is that a real solution will come in the form of a collective solution," he said.
Not every county commissioner was invited to the Wednesday meeting.