State senator and Republican candidate for county executive Allan Kittleman has prefiled legislation to repeal Maryland's Watershed Protection and Restoration Program, he announced Monday.
"While the goals of the Watershed Protection and Restoration Program are certainly laudable, the method for paying for the plans to attain those goals is, I believe, discriminatory, counter-productive, and unfairly taxes the business community for something that should be the responsibility of the entire community," Kittleman said in a statement announcing the bill.
Otherwise known as the stormwater fee, or the "rain tax" by critics, the Watershed Protection Act, passed by the General Assembly two years ago, requires Maryland's nine largest counties and Baltimore to raise funds to limit pollution runoff into the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
The fees were supposed to be enacted by July 1 of this year, but some counties, such as Carroll and Frederick, have either refused to levy a tax or have charged a nominal fee of one penny.
Kittleman said the varying responses to the act were part of the reason he thought it should go.
"Why do we have a law that's not even being enforced?" he said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
He said the state's attorney general told him that counties have had the authority to collect a stormwater fee since 1992. He said counties shouldn't be forced into making any decisions.
"I don't think that's right; I think the counties should make that decision for themselves," Kittleman said.
In Howard, residents will pay different amounts based on a tiered structure. Townhouse and apartment dwellers will be charged $15 a year, single-family homeowners with a lot size of up to a quarter of an acre will pay $45 and homeowners with properties larger than a quarter acre will pay $90. Business owners will pay a fee based on the amount of impervious surface on their lot, at a charge of $15 per impervious unit of 500 square feet. The fee will be billed in December.
The county announced a program earlier this month that would exempt nonprofits and religious organizations from the fee if they agree to follow a stormwater management plan devised by the county for their property.
Kittleman said he also objected to the "burden" the fee puts on local businesses.
"I think the way it's been enacted [in Howard County has] been unfair to businesses," he said.
"Going forward, fairness would demand that our entire community must contribute to solving the stormwater run-off problem. Local and state governments were excluded from these fees, and residential property owners pay only a small amount of the true cost of stream and wetland restoration."
Kittleman, who said in the statement that as a child he spent weekends on the Bay at a family home in Dorchester County, said he "fully support[ed] efforts to clean up and preserve the Bay. "
He declined to address how to fund stormwater management measures, which have been mandated by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, although he suggested Howard could look to its general budget to find the money.
He said if he is elected county executive he would work to repeal the fee in Howard County if it hadn't already been repealed.
"I'm not saying I wouldn't do stormwater remediation; we'd just have to find other ways to fund it," he said.
Courtney Watson, the Democratic candidate for county executive and District 1 council member, said she was "not a fan of the approach Annapolis has chosen."
"The stance they took was not the best one, because they allowed the bill to be implemented differently in different jurisdictions," she said.
On the council, Watson voted to implement the stormwater fee.
"I think in Howard County, Ken Ulman and the County Council – we implemented the bill in the best way that we could given the goals that Annapolis was trying to have us accomplish," she said.
She said she hoped a solution could be found at the state level.
"The goals are good and curbing water pollution is necessary, and it has to be done," she said. "I think the state is best able to address it at the state level. I don't think necessarily that each county creating [its] own approach is the best way to go."
Howard County spokesman David Nitkin said in a statement that protecting the Chesapeake "is an important objective shared by our state and federal partners. Howard County is committed to doing its part to reduce pollution from all sources, and the administration's goal is to meet or exceed any standards required by state law."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun