Howard County property owners can expect to see a new fee on their annual tax bill in July.
After a three-hour legislative session Thursday that included the passage of 17 amendments, the Howard County Council voted to approve legislation creating a state-mandated stormwater fee to fund stormwater restoration projects. The average residential property owner will be charged about $105, according to county officials, but the fees are expected to be lower for most residential property owners in the east part of the county and higher than $105 for most in the west.
“It is going to impact everyone in the county,” Council member Mary Kay Sigaty said. “I believe that what we have done is to create a fair system of assessment.”
The council voted 4-1 to implement the fee with Greg Fox, the council’s lone Republican who represents western Howard County, voting against.
Fox said he wanted to have more information before taking a vote, and made the request to table the legislation, but received no support.
“I’m not convinced that we have to get this done right now,” he said.
The state's Watershed Protection and Restoration Program, signed into law last year, requires counties 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.
All property owners, except state and local governments and volunteer fire companies, are required to pay the fee, which will appear in the July tax bill as a line item, similar to trash and fire fees.
The county needs to raise about $130 million over the next five years from the new stormwater fee to cover their state requirements on stormwater management.
The fee will continue to be assessed after five years, but the county can’t predict those costs until it learns what its requirements are to meet state permits on stormwater management, according to Jim Caldwell, county stormwater manager.
The county administration had proposed charging property owners $7.80 for every 500 square feet of impervious surface in the first year with the fee escalating to more the $20 in subsequent years.
Impervious surfaces include paved driveways and rooftops. The county's Geographic Information Services will determine the amount of impervious surface for each property.
Council member Calvin Ball's amendment set the fee at $15 per 500 square feet of impervious surface for three years.
The council voted 3-2 to set the fee at $15 for the next three years. Fox and Courtney Watson, a Democrat, voted against the rate. They wanted the fee increases to be phased in.
With the $15 rate, a residential property owner with 2,500 square feet of impervious surface will pay $75 a year. A residential property owner with 7,000 square feet of impervious surface can expect to pay $210 a year.
Ball said his amendment stabilized fee and prevents it from doubling or tripling in future years.
“If they [residents] don’t know about this fee, learning about the fee and then [having] it potentially tripling the next year would be disconcerting,” he said.
The fee will rise in the fourth and fifth years, according to Caldwell.
If no additional funding is generated for the stormwater program by grants or other state agencies, residential property owners could be charged $25 per 500 square feet, he said.
Watson said she voted against the $15 fee rate because of its impact on small- and medium-sized businesses with disproportionate amounts of impervious surface.
“It concerns me that we will have a number of properties that will be unduly burdened by this fee at this level,” she said.
Fox said he opposed the rate because it would in some cases double the tax bill of a property owner.
“What you’re doing is just shocking them with a high number right now, rather than having it phased in,” he said.
Some of the 17 amendments passed by the council included: property owners applying for a credit will need to pay a $75 application fee that will be refunded if credit is given; information will be mailed with the tax bill that indicates the fee is required by state law; a hardship program will be created for non-residential property owners; and the county administration will submit an annual report to the county council.