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The folly of Craig's stormwater fee repeal

ElectionsLocal GovernmentRick PerryDavid R. Craig

I listened with curiosity to Harford County Executive (and Republican gubernatorial candidate) David Craig's broadside against clean water this week. I realize that as we close in on Maryland's 2014 election, campaign fodder often overtakes serious debate, but even so I was surprised at his rant against county stormwater legislation that he himself introduced and then signed into law.

Polluted runoff is a serious problem. In Anne Arundel County, it is responsible for a blanket advisory from our health department warning our residents against water contact within 48 hours after a rainfall. Just this past summer, several of our community beaches were closed because of high bacteria levels.

Many of our communities depend on clean water for recreation and quality of life, and our maritime industry and commercial watermen depend on it to make a living. Furthermore, rushing stormwater erodes stream banks, which threatens bridges, roads and other public infrastructure, and localized stormwater flooding can damage private property — it has even caused some of my constituents' flood insurance to go up.

This is not a problem we can choose to ignore.

The state law requiring our largest jurisdictions to implement fees to reduce polluted runoff deliberately gave these local jurisdictions the flexibility to set up their programs to meet their individual needs. There is no prescription for the amount of the fee, the assessment mechanism, or other details — that is all left to the local government to decide. Isn't this the exact opposite of the "one size fits all" policies that we often hear Mr. Craig and many other politicians criticize?

Giving counties control of their stormwater programs means they will also control the money — where it is spent and how it is tracked. Local governments have dedicated funds, such as for water/sewer service or trash collection, where the revenue and expenses can be tracked independently of the general fund. This makes it much easier to oversee the program and ensure the money goes where it is supposed to, that it is invested back into our local communities in the form of projects and jobs.

Instead of concerning himself with Texas Gov. Rick Perry's absurd ad campaign inviting Maryland businesses to the Lone Star State, maybe Mr. Craig should look inward and use his power as county executive to help promote the many jobs — in design, engineering, and construction — that will be created as a result of investing in projects and programs to reduce polluted runoff. That's what we're doing in Anne Arundel County, where a recent economic impact study by the University of Maryland showed that a local stormwater program will support thousands of jobs throughout the county and will help usher in new and vibrant economies based on protecting our natural resources. The study demonstrates that investing in our local environment will in fact keep the jobs here rather than moving them somewhere else.

Earlier this year, the Anne Arundel County Council passed bipartisan legislation creating a stormwater fee, after countless hours of thoughtful consideration and good debate. We have a reasonable cap on commercial property fees, give reduced rates to non-profit properties, give credits and other rebates for existing management practices, and allow a hardship exemption for low income families. It isn't perfect, but it is a responsible way to tackle our county's obligation to provide safe and clean water for our citizens. If Mr. Craig doesn't like his Harford County stormwater bill anymore, he is welcome to copy ours — he can find all the details on our county website.

Chris Trumbauer, a Democrat, represents District 6 on the Anne Arundel County Council. His email is ctrumbauer@aacounty.org.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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