Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman was in Annapolis this week to testify in support of repealing Maryland’s controversial stormwater remediation fee -- dubbed the “rain tax” by its critics.
Kittleman made his case in front of the House's Environment and Transportation Committee, which is weighing a bill that would eliminate Maryland's requirement that the state’s 10 largest jurisdictions, including Howard County, pay a fee to fund stormwater management improvements mandated by the federal government in an effort to improve the Chesapeake Bay's water quality.
If passed, the bill, proposed by Gov. Larry Hogan, would fulfill a campaign promise for both the governor and Kittleman to curb the fee.
Throughout his campaign for county executive, Kittleman, a Republican and former state senator from western Howard County who voted against the stormwater fee when it was passed in 2012 and filed his own bill to repeal the legislation last session, said he opposed the fee because it chips away at county government autonomy.
This week, he reiterated that view.
“I am someone who loves and admires our great Chesapeake Bay and I fully understand and support our nation's commitment toward restoring the Bay to its original beauty,” Kittleman said in a statement released Tuesday.
“I certainly understand that strides need to be made in order to satisfy Maryland's federal mandate, but I do not believe that forcing another mandate on the counties to create a rain tax is the best route to satisfy federal requirements,” he said.
At home in Howard County, Kittleman has not yet announced plans to repeal or change the stormwater fee. Howard County has a tiered model that charges apartment residents $15 a year, while single-family homeowners on lots of up to a quarter acre pay $45 and homeowners on lots of more than a quarter acre pay $90.
Nonresidential property owners pay a fee calculated by determining the amount of impervious surface on their property.
Other counties have taken varied approaches to the stormwater fee. In Carroll County, the board of county commissioners opted against levying a specific fee, choosing instead to pay for stormwater remediation projects through the county’s general fund. Harford County recently repealed its fee structure, and in Baltimore County, the county executive and County Council have rolled back the county’s fee structure by a third.
In Howard, the county's spending affordability committee, an appointed group tasked with making budget recommendations, has recommended maintaining the stormwater fee unless an alternative funding structure is proposed.
Stormwater projects cost the county about $10 million a year, and could place a strain on its already lean budget if the fee were eliminated, committee members said in their annual spending report, released Monday.
County spokesman Andy Barth said Wednesday that Kittleman is still weighing options.
“I think so far his intention is clear,” Bath said, “but he's looking at the numbers.”
Meanwhile, Hogan’s bill to repeal the fee at the state level is one of the options being considered by the legislature.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Democrat from Calvert County, recently introduced a bill that would remove the state mandate but require the 10 local governments involved to submit financial plans detailing how they will meet federal requirements for reducing stormwater pollution.
That’s in contrast to Hogan’s measure, which would repeal the law without requiring counties to report their plans to address stormwater projects. However, the counties would still be responsible for paying for the federal obligation, according to House Minority Leader Del. Nic Kipke, a Republican from Pasadena.
While those two efforts seek to change or repeal the mandate, there are some who believe the stormwater fee shouldn’t be altered at all.
Speaker of the House Michael E. Busch, a Democrat from Annapolis, wouldn’t comment on Miller’s legislation, but has been outspoken against Hogan’s bill and has vowed to resist repeal efforts.
Reporter Chase Cook contributed to this story.