Harford council may consider task force, as stormwater fee vote approaches

Harford County Council was expected to consider a resolution Tuesday night that would create a task force to oversee implementation of the county's state-mandated stormwater fee.

The council was also expected to take a final vote Tuesday night on establishing the fee of as high as $125 per single family home or townhouse, which could be one of the highest such charges in the region.

The council's meeting agenda lists the introduction and consideration of Resolution 12-13, which would create a stormwater remediation fee task force. More information on the resolution was not available prior to the council meeting.

The council previously took steps to set up an advisory board to study the fee prior to it taking effect.

"I think that creating the two committees will go a long way toward trying to restore some sanity to this thing," Councilman Dion Guthrie said Monday.

Guthrie did not say Monday if he thinks the council will try to scuttle the stormwater fee legislation entirely until the proposed task force has had its say. In the waning hours of the Maryland General Assembly session last week, the State Senate passed a bill to delay the implementation of any local fees statewide for a year, but the measure died when the House of Delegates failed to vote on it.

Guthrie has called the state requirement that local governments set stormwater remediation fees the worst thing to come out of Annapolis and said it pits "neighbor against neighbor" by having different counties and municipalities set different fees.

He said the Harford oversight board would have nine people, one appointed by each council member and two by the county executive.

He said he hopes the three council members who represent the municipalities of Havre de Grace, Bel Air and Aberdeen would appoint "high-level" officials from those municipalities who have experience in stormwater management. Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti represents Havre de Grace, Councilman Jim McMahan represents Bel Air and Councilman Dick Slutzky represents Aberdeen.

"We are all on board with the task force," Guthrie said.

$125 per home proposed

The bill proposed by the county administration would charge residential and agricultural property owners $125 annually to help treat stormwater and improve water quality of the Chesapeake Bay. Owners of commercial, institutional and industrial property and rental apartment buildings would be assessed at a rate of $7 for every 500 square feet of impervious surface on their properties.

If the council did not vote Tuesday night, it will either have to hold a special session to vote before April 24, the stormwater fee bill's enactment deadline, or just let the bill die.

The council previously approved a number of amendments to the bill during a very long council meeting last week, including establishing a watershed protection and restoration task force that Council President Billy Boniface said would analyze the implementation of the fee and come back with results in November.

The council also approved amendments to allow for just 10 percent of the fees to be collected initially. Guthrie said he expects that amendment to pass, which means affected residents would pay $12.50 until the task force says otherwise. That amendment would go into effect with the rest of the bill on July 1, with the revenue being maintained in a dedicated fund.

Some other amendments, which were tabled last time, would establish a flat fee of $100 in certain instances instead of the $125. Guthrie said he introduced an amendment to set the fee at $100 for everyone.

The council also discussed creating a permanent advisory board to study the fee implementation on an ongoing basis, which appears to be the direction the resolution on Tuesday's introduction docket is headed.

Municipalities wait and see

Aside from general discussions about it, none of Harford's three municipalities has moved to set their own stormwater fee, with officials saying they wanted to first wait and see what the county does.

Meanwhile, around the region some counties have passed fees, while others are still debating them.

The county council in Howard County has passed a local fee bill under which homeowners would pay on average $105 a year, according to a county official; however, the Howard fee is based on $15 per $500 feet of impervious surface, so owners of larger dwellings are likely to pay more.

The county council in Baltimore County on Monday night approved fees of $39 yearly for a single family home, $21 for a townhouse and $32 for a condo unit.

The county council in Anne Arundel County, also on Monday, approved a fee of $85 a year for owners of single family homes, with owners of townhouses and condo units to pay less.

Carroll County officials are still discussing potential fees.

The Baltimore City fee would range between $48 and $144 a year for a single family home, with larger properties paying at a rate of $72 per 1,050 square feet of impervious surface.

Published Baltimore Sun Media Group stories were used in compiling this report.

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