Howard County Council debates details of stormwater fee

Howard County will need to raise about $126 million over the next five years from a new stormwater fee to cover their state requirements on stormwater management.

But how the county implements that fee and how much each property owner is charged per year is up for debate.

The council discussed the details of the county's proposed implementation of the state mandate Monday night for nearly two hours during a legislative work session.

The county has proposed an increasing fee rate over the next five years that will generate $7 million in the first year and about $19 million in the second before continuing to escalate each year.

The average property owner is expected to pay between $40 and $60 in the program's first year, according to Jim Caldwell, county stormwater manager.

County Council members have plenty of concerns with the fee's implementation, including how much residents should be billed in the first year, should every property owner be charged a flat fee regardless of their impervious surface and whether the county's proposed credit program is too generous.

Council member Courtney Watson said some residents could feel the proposed fee is a "bait and switch" practice because they would be charged a lower rate this year before the fee escalates next year.

Council member Calvin Ball questioned why the county does not charge an even rate over the next five years.

"We know we have issues," Ball said. "Even if we don't have the chart and the priority list together yet, we know we're going to need some money."

County officials have said the fee should start low to begin collecting funds while plans are designed for county stormwater projects.

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, will be required to pay the fee, which will be a separate item on property tax bills starting in 2014.

A bill before the County Council is proposing that for every 500 square feet of impervious surface, property owners will be charged $7.80. Homes built after 2002 will pay a lower fee because they use the latest stormwater standards. Impervious surfaces include paved driveways and rooftops. The county's Geographic Information Services will determine the building footprint and paved surface for each home and business.

The Council will have the opportunity to continue its discussion on the proposed stormwater fee Thursday at its legislative work session.

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