A little more than a week before the stormwater fee — approved by the Howard County Council in March — was set to take effect, County Executive Ken Ulman introduced a model described as simpler and more efficient.
Under Ulman's plan, which was announced June 20, owners of townhouses and condominiums would be charged $15 annually. Owners of single-family homes on lots up to one-quarter acre in size would pay $45, and residential properties larger than a quarter-acre would be charged $90.
“With a new program just starting up, simpler is better,” Ulman said in a statement. “We need to get started treating the run-off that is entering our waterways, and after much discussion, we think this is the better approach.”
Property owners will not see the fee, known by some as a “rain tax,” on their semi-annual property tax bills until December instead of July because of the months-long legislative review process. Ulman’s plan is expected to be introduced to the County Council July 1, and a vote could be taken in September. The council is off in August.
The state's Watershed Protection and Restoration Program, signed into law last year, requires the state's nine largest counties and Baltimore City 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.
The program originally proposed by Ulman and adopted by the council earlier this year tasked the county with using Geographic Information Services (GIS) technology to calculate the amount of impervious surface on each property and charge property owners based on the amount of impervious surface.
The revised fee system unveiled by Ulman last week maintains that calculation for non-residential properties, but removes that calculation for residential properties.
The average residential property owner would have been charged about $105, under the previous structure. But the fees were expected to be lower for most residential property owners in the eastern part of the county and higher than $105 for most in the west.
The Howard County Council will have a second rain tax related bill to consider over the coming months after Greg Fox introduced the “Umbrella Bill” June 20 that addressed aspects of the fee.
Fox, the council's lone Republican member, said he remains opposed to the fee, but his bill aims to correct the punitive nature of the fee.
“If it's going to have to be there and I'm not going have the votes to erase it then I want to make sure it's as fair as possible,” he said.
Fox's bill would cap the rain tax at $1 for religious and many nonprofit property owners, including those that receive Community Service Partnership Grants from the county.
The bill caps fees to residential properties not in the Planned Service Area of the county to $50 and non-residential properties outside of the Planned Service Area to $100. It also establishes a limit on the fee to five percent of the property tax.
Residential property owners countywide with a fee of more than $250 and non-residential property owners with a fee more than $500 would be phased in over three years under Fox's proposal.
Ulman has also proposed a fee relief for nonprofits and hardship provisions for businesses, as required by county and state legislation.
Nonprofits will have the ability to eliminate the full amount of their fee after implementing a county approved treatment plan and the county will offer grant funding to assist with treatments. Relief will also be offered to businesses who qualify for hardship relief because of disproportionately large assessments.
Ulman said this streamlined program he introduced is consistent with plans of other counties.
“While individual counties are responsible for their own plans, there needs to be a degree of consistency in this new program,” he said in a statement.