Anne Arundel council overrides stormwater fee veto, then considers tweaks

The Anne Arundel County Council voted Wednesday to override County Executive Laura Neuman's veto of fees to pay for stormwater pollution projects, but council members then offered changes that could address some of her concerns.

It was not clear whether their new bill, which would cap some fees at a lower rate and phase in the charges, would meet her approval. Her spokeswoman, Tracie Reynolds, said Neuman "is working with the County Council on new legislation."

Budget analysts have not determined how much revenue the council proposal would raise for pollution control projects.

Neuman's veto last week made Anne Arundel the first county to take official action against the state-mandated stormwater fees, derided by conservatives as a "rain tax."

The council's 5-2 vote to override Neuman's veto drew praise from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

"We understand the council introduced revisions [Wednesday] afternoon, and will reserve a judgment on that until we know what that will translate to on the ground," said Alison Prost, the foundation's Maryland executive director.

State lawmakers voted last year to require 10 jurisdictions — Baltimore City and nine large counties — to impose a fee to pay for stormwater cleanup projects such as turning holding ponds into wetlands and restoring streams damaged by uncontrolled pollution.

It's up to each jurisdiction to set its own fee and to decide how to spend the money.

The fees have to be in place by July 1.

The council introduced the new bill Wednesday as emergency legislation, and members could vote on it immediately after a public hearing scheduled for May 20.

In her veto, Neuman asked the council to consider a new fee structure and to phase in the fees. She also said her staff would publicize the fees because she felt too few people knew about them.

Council Chairman Jerry Walker was one of the five members to sponsor the replacement bill.

"I don't support the fee, but I support this bill because it reduces the impact on small businesses and residents," the Gambrills Republican said.

The legislation would cap fees on nonresidential properties at 25 percent of their property tax, down from the 35 percent in the measure vetoed by Neuman.

It also calls for phasing in fees on most property over three years, so that the full amount would not be charged until the 2016 fiscal year; the earlier measure limited a phase-in to two years and restricted it to certain business.

Under the original bill, Anne Arundel's fee would be $34 per year for owners of townhouses and condominiums, $85 for single-family homes and $170 for rural homes. Businesses would be charged based on the square footage of impervious surfaces, such as rooftops and parking lots, on their properties. Churches would pay $1.

The fees are to be added to property tax bills later this year.

Council member Peter Smith called the new bill a "happy medium."

The Severn Democrat said he believes data shows that stormwater contributes to pollution of the Chesapeake Bay. Smith voted against the original bill, but supported the veto override.

"If this is going to make it easier to business and residents – if it will make it easier for them, then I'm certainly for it," he said.

Council member Chris Trumbauer expressed concerns.

"My interest is to make sure we put in something that is robust, to get the job done," the Annapolis Democrat said. "The county has hundreds or thousands of backlogged projects," he said, and wondered aloud whether the reduced fees would raise enough money to fund the work.

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