By Pamela Wood, The Baltimore Sun
8:26 PM EDT, June 21, 2013
Howard County Executive Ken Ulman is seeking a do-over on his county's stormwater fees.
After an earlier plan that involved calculating fees for each of tens of thousands of properties proved too difficult, Ulman is proposing a simpler set of fees. The proposal would have homeowners paying $15, $45 or $90 per year to pay for cleaning up polluted stormwater runoff that harms rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.
If passed, the new fee plan would raise $13 million per year for stormwater pollution projects. That compares to $7 million in Ulman's original plan and $18 million in the plan passed by the County Council.
"When I looked at implementing the plan that had passed, I fundamentally felt there was a simpler, more fair way to move forward," Ulman said.
The initial plan proposed by Ulman and adjusted by the County Council involved a calculation for every property — residential and commercial — based on the amount of impervious surfaces such as driveways, parking lots and rooftops.
Ulman's new plan keeps the fee calculation based on impervious surfaces intact for business properties.
But it sets the residential stormwater fees at $15 for townhouses and condominiums, $45 for single-family homes on lots up to one-quarter of an acre and $90 for homes on properties larger than one-quarter of an acre.
Ulman also proposes reducing fees for nonprofit organizations that work with the county to adopt practices to treat stormwater. And fees for businesses would be capped at the equivalent of 20 percent of their annual property tax.
Ulman said he had planned to revisit the fees because a hardship program needed to be designed.
"I thought it made sense to take another look," he said.
To fix Howard County's stormwater problems, the county needs to spend at least $100 million over five years, Ulman's spokesman David Nitkin said, though he added that number is constantly being revised.
Nitkin said Howard County should not run afoul of a state law that requires the state's nine largest counties and Baltimore City to start collecting stormwater fees on July 1. The law has drawn opposition in some jurisdictions from opponents who call the fees a "rain tax."
The plan already approved by the County Council is technically still on the books. County finance officials will hold off on billing for stormwater fees until the second round of property tax bills goes out in December, Nitkin said.
If the County Council does not approve Ulman's new plan by then, the existing fees will be billed.
The County Council will take up Ulman's bill July 1. He said he hopes the bill will be approved that month, before the council goes on recess for the month of August.
The council also will consider a bill from Republican Councilman Greg Fox that would limit fees for churches, private schools, swim clubs and other groups. In addition, the bill would cap fees and phase them in.
Ulman said he thinks the stormwater fees can be revised this summer.
"I'm confident we're all going to get there," he said.
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