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Harford Council's Woods says he would 'be OK with going to court' over stormwater fee

Harford County Councilman Joe Woods said he would support taking the state to court over a newly-imposed stormwater management fee, which he has aggressively opposed.

Woods told the Greater Fallston Association Thursday that he had originally proposed lowering the fee to a nominal one cent, but was told that would be too low.

"Quite honestly, I would have been OK with going to court and taking this all the way through," he told the Fallston residents' group, explaining he would have been fine with voting against the bill completely.

The council passed a watered-down version of the state-mandated stormwater management implementation plan last week, requiring Harford residents to pay only $12.50 per home or property until a task force established to study the issue decides otherwise in November. The fee could be increased to as much as $125, under the new county law.

Woods also said he was disappointed during a recent trip to the General Assembly.

"It was my first time in Annapolis and I hope it's my last. Any thought or goal I had of running for Annapolis is gone," he said jokingly. "I don't know how they get anything done."

He said, as he did at a recent county council meeting, that the state's Department of the Environment seemed to send a different message about who required the stormwater bill.

Woods said the state did it to go above and beyond what was required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"At the same meeting [in Annapolis], EPA told us we did a better job cleaning the [Chesapeake] Bay than we expected," he said. "[State officials said:] the feds didn't require us to do this. They are actually glad that we took this on ourselves."

Woods said the bill passed by the council was a good way to show the county was reluctantly acknowledging the state-required county law.

"The best-case scenario is, let's do something to show we are compliant - not all the way compliant," he said.

Woods also said he did a calculation showing the revenue that would be generated by just a handful of Fallston commercial properties would be almost as much as the total amount the county is expected to raise with the bill.

"How can just a section or District B [in Fallston] bring in all that money," he said. "What is the money being used for?"

Woods also said he liked Councilman Chad Shrodes' proposal, which would have divided the watershed and restoration funds into separate accounts for each of the county's four major drainage basins: Bush River, Gunpowder River, Lower Susquehanna River and Upper Western Shore.

A minimum of 60 percent of the funds collected from properties within each basin boundary would have been deposited into the associated, dedicated basin account to be used for water quality improvement facilities within the same river basin.

"I think he had a pretty decent plan of how each community would be focused on the money," Woods said of Shrodes' idea.

Also, he said, many people came out from non-profits, churches and other groups, saying: "Why am I paying a double tax? I'm a member of the church."

Woods said the task force will take a hard look at those and other issues. He chose Scott Golly, vice-president of the Fallston Fire and Ambulance Company, and an engineer by trade, to represent Fallston on the task force.

Woods explained the council bill also caps the time frame the fee would be in effect to avoid having "the county executive or any future county executive" using the revenue for anything other than stormwater restoration.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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