Harford proposes $125 stormwater fee, lower than expected

Harford County is proposing a stormwater remediation fee that is much lower than the $400 fee county officials warned about a month ago.

The bill introduced by the County Council on Tuesday would create a flat fee of $125 to all residential and agricultural properties except apartments.

In January, 31 people attended a briefing on the fee to express their concern to Ben Lloyd, deputy chief of staff for Harford County Executive David Craig.

Officials said at that time the County Council must set the exact fee but they estimated it could be as high as $400 each year per home.

This legislation would also impose a fee of $7 per 500 square feet of impervious area to all commercial and industrial properties and apartment buildings, mobile home parks, maritime facilities and property owned by a fraternal organization, religious institution or health care facility.

A public hearing will take place at 7 p.m. on March 19 in the council chambers at 212 Bond St. in Bel Air.

Public works director Tim Whittie was not available Wednesday or Thursday to answer questions on the proposed fee and the legislation.

Under a law passed last year by the Maryland General Assembly, many property owners throughout the state – including those in Harford County – will be required to pay a stormwater fee beginning in the second half of 2013 in order to fund local stormwater management projects designed to protect the Chesapeake Bay and other Maryland waterways.

Counties and municipalities can also set the fee based on the amount of a property's impervious surface, or other method, according to the law, which is what Harford is doing.

Harford officials estimate the county must raise $70 million to $90 million by 2017 to comply with federal requirements to treat 20 percent of local impervious surfaces, such as parking lots, to prevent runoff of pollutants during rainstorms.

The public works department did say in January the annual cost could be $125 if the county seeks to raise $10.5 million in a "best effort."

Owners of homes and commercial properties built during the past 10 years could receive credits if their properties have up-to-date stormwater management systems.

Towns on their own

The proposed county fee would take effect July 1, and be applied to residential, commercial and agricultural properties outside the municipal limits of Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace.

Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace are required to set up their own remediation plans and fees. Officials in Bel Air and Aberdeen have been discussing the new state mandate and its probable impact, but they haven't moved in the direction of setting a fee.

Bel Air officials were waiting to see what the county does, Town Administrator Chris Schlehr said earlier this month. He also said the town would not set a fee until it has a specific plan for using the money. "We don't want to just collect a lot of money and let it sit there," he said.

During a city council work session Feb. 4, Aberdeen City Manager Doug Miller reminded the mayor and council members the city will be "mandated" to begin collecting a stormwater fee from property owners during FY 2014, which begins July 1, "to start mitigating some of the stormwater deficiencies that are in the city."

Mayor Mike Bennett stressed the city is not responsible for imposing the stormwater fee.

"Any time that we have to collect an imposed fee that we have no control over, it needs to be a bright fluorescent red [message]," Bennett said. "We have no say in it, it's something that's imposed. If you want to yell at somebody, go to the people that imposed it on us and yell at them."

House Bill 987, the state legislation imposing the stormwater fee, was passed by more than a 2 -1 margin in both houses of the General Assembly last spring. Gov. Martin O'Malley signed the bill into law in May.

Most county leaders opposed the legislation, as did Harford's legislators.

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