Harford County Council members on Tuesday again delayed voting on a controversial bill that would charge all county residential and agricultural property owners an additional $125 a year to help treat stormwater and improve the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay.
One of amendments approved Tuesday, however, would have the county only collect 10 percent of the fee to start.
The bill would establish an annual flat fee of $125 (it was originally proposed to be $400 a year) for all residential and agricultural properties except apartments, and impose a fee of $7 per 500 square feet of impervious area for all commercial and industrial properties as well as apartment buildings, mobile home parks, maritime facilities and property owned by fraternal organizations, religious institutions or health care facilities.
During Tuesday's county council meeting, after reviewing 35 amendments to the bill, the council delayed until next week's meeting.
One amendment that was passed would allow for 10 percent of the fees to be collected, as of July 1, and be maintained in a dedicated fund, and at the same time establish a watershed protection and restoration task force.
McMahan said he is "excited" that the task force will provide an unbiased perspective.
Another amendment ordered the collection of the fee to end on June 30, 2018, when Councilman Joe Woods said the MS4 permit also expires. MS4 permits are granted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for storm drainage systems; MS4 is shorthand for Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System.
Council President Billy Boniface said the task force will be established by resolution at the next meeting.
"This entire process has been exhausting at times," Boniface said. "We wanted to make sure this fee was being executed in accordance with the state bill that required it."
Boniface allowed the meeting to go past the set ending time of 11 p.m., and it ended by 11:30 p.m. McMahan said later he believes that is the longest council meeting he has ever sat through since he was first elected to the council, in 2006.
Amendments proposing a flat annual fee of $100 instead of $125, as well as instead of the fee of $7 per 500 square feet of impervious area and requiring municipalities to authorize their own remediation fees were also put on hold.
"One of the greatest things that is created here is animosity between the county and the municipalities," Boniface said.
One amendment, introduced by Councilman Chad Shrodes, proved controversial. He proposed that the watershed and restoration funds be divided into separate accounts for each of the county's four major drainage basins: Bush River, Gunpowder River, Lower Susquehanna River and Upper Western Shore.
A minimum of 60 percent of the funds collected from properties within each basin boundary would have been deposited into the associated, dedicated basin account to be used for water quality improvement facilities within the same river basin.
Shrodes extensively defended his proposal by saying it creates more transparency and objectivity, and gives taxpayers a better accounting of where their money is going.
Other councilmembers, notably Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti, said it would be "micromanaging" the entire program. Councilman Dick Slutzky said drainage basin designations would be confusing to most people.
McMahan said he received the amendment at 4:30 p.m. that day and he found it "very confusing," although Council President Boniface said the amendments had been available since last Friday.
Shrodes basin-specific amendment narrowly failed, with Slutzky abstaining from the vote.
Other amendments were approved fairly easily, including the creation of a separate watershed protection and restoration fund, the creation of exemptions for those receiving property tax credits or having disabilities, and the award of a full fee waiver for properties that account for reductions in their stormwater discharges, instead of just a 50-percent waiver.
Another amendment "created lockbox language," as Lisanti put it, by explaining the funds from the fee would not be used for general fund governmental purposes.