5:11 PM EDT, June 26, 2013
Taxpayers rarely react well to the notion of paying more, even when the reason is as seemingly altruistic as an environmental cause. The state's Watershed Protection and Restoration Program, known to opponents as "the rain tax," is no exception.
In 2012, the state legislature passed the law requiring Baltimore City and nine counties to charge a fee on local property tax bills to help pay for projects with the ultimate goal of improving water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. The law was necessary after the federal EPA mandated it of states in the region. Each local jurisdiction was then required to come up with a way of collecting the money, and they did with differing levels of fervor.
While Howard County's council spent months developing a complicated formula that would base a charge on residential property, Frederick County, in obvious ridicule of the fee, passed a law charging each homeowner a penny. Harford County took a similar approach by setting a $125 fee and then only requiring residents to pay 10 percent.
As the counties wrestled with what to do, many state legislators, including some from Howard, have also publicly suggested that the state's mandate needs to be tweaked, especially after some realized the impact the fee could have on businesses and nonprofits, let alone homeowners.
Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, noting the complexities of implementing the fee, suggested last week a simpler approach that would set flat fees depending on the size of your home. The fee wouldn't hit Howard tax bills until December as well.
While we're all in favor of making this as easy as possible for property owners to understand, we also see the inequities in how this state mandate is applied by the local jurisdictions. The best approach would be for Howard and the state's other mandated jurisdictions to simply delay implementing the fees until the state legislature can straighten out this mess during the 2014 legislative session.