Ulman announces stormwater fee to begin next year

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman Thursday announced the county's plan to enact new stormwater initiatives required by state law.

The Watershed Protection and Restoration Program signed into law last year requires counties to collect fees to pay for stormwater management and stream and wetland restoration projects. The projects are aimed at improving water quality and reducing phosphorous and nitrogen levels entering the Chesapeake Bay.

All property owners, except state and local government and volunteer fire companies, will be required to pay the fee, which will be a separate item on the property tax bill starting in 2014.

Ulman announced the initiative in front of an eroded stream at the intersection of Dower Drive and East Leisure Court in Ellicott City.

"This dedicated source, this stormwater utility (fee), will allow us to make progress on places that are similar to this all over the county," Ulman said, pointing to erosion along a stormwater outfall leading to a stream where trees and an electrical box were getting dangerously close to falling into the ditch.

The stormwater fee will be based on the amount of impervious surface on a property. Impervious surfaces include paved driveways and rooftops.

The county's Geographic Information Services will determine the buidling footprint and paved surface for each home and business.

For every 500 square feet of impervious cover, property owners will be charged $7.80. Homes built after 2002 will pay a lower fee because they use the latest stormwater standards.

For example, the owner of a moderately sized home (roughly 2,640 square feet) built before 2002 can expect to pay $39 a year, while the owner of a home built after 2002 would pay $31.

Owners of larger homes with long driveways can expect to pay $195 if their home was built before 2002 and $101 if it was built after 2002.

The county estimates it will collect $7 million in 2014 from the fee, according to Jim Caldwell, the county's Stormwater Manager with the Office of Environmental Sustainability.

The state program requires counties to offer a credit for property owners implementing physical modifications to reduce runoff. Under the Howard County plan, residents can earn credits by building a rain garden and using porous pavers on their driveway.

The proposed legislation, prefiled by the administration today, now goes to the County Council for deliberation and final approval in February.

Council member Calvin Ball called the initiative an investment in the county's future.

"I think that we all know it's oftentimes less expensive to prevent problems than try to solve them later on," he said.

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