Anne Arundel stormwater fee debate flows into June

In Anne Arundel County, where new stormwater fees have generated national attention amid criticism of what some call Maryland's "rain tax," the debate over how much to charge property owners will continue into June.

County Council members had been scheduled to vote Thursday on a series of alterations to its fee structure, but the councilman sponsoring the changes, Crownsville Democrat Jamie Benoit, missed the meeting for medical reasons.

Earlier this week, the council approved a series of adjustments to the fees, including a three-year phase-in and capping the maximum fee for businesses. Those changes were made to win support of County Executive Laura Neuman, a Republican who had vetoed the original set of stormwater fees in April.

State lawmakers voted last year to require 10 jurisdictions — Baltimore City and nine large counties — to impose a fee to pay for stormwater projects designed to improve and protect the Chesapeake Bay. It's up to each jurisdiction to set its own fee and to decide how to spend the money, but the fee structure must be in place by July 1.

Benoit's amendments will be heard Tuesday, with council members considering inclusion of a notice with property tax bills explaining that the stormwater fee is required by the state, altering the calculation for apartment buildings, and limiting the fees for nonprofit organizations that own property.

In addition, on June 3, the council will consider a change in how some rural property owners are charged.

Initially, residential properties were split into three categories: $34 per year for townhouses and condominiums, $85 for most single-family homes and $170 for rural homes. But councilmen said they've heard from many rural residents with small homes who feel they've been unfairly placed into the more expensive category.

The bill also sets up an appeal process for homeowners who think they have fewer impervious surfaces — such as driveways and rooftops — than others in their category and want to be moved to another category to pay less.

Another Benoit proposal would have eliminated the $170 level and put all rural homeowners in the $85 category. But on Thursday, without Benoit present, his fellow councilmen changed the bill to only put some rural properties into the $85 category — those with zoning that allows one home per acre. Homeowners in rural-agricultural and rural low-density zones would still pay $170.

After the meeting, Council Chairman Jerry Walker, a Gambrills Republican, said he'd prefer to eliminate the $170 tier entirely. He represents the largely rural southern section of the county.

But that's not supported by the county's Department of Public Works, because it would cause the county to collect $1.722 million less in stormwater fees per year. Chris Phipps, deputy director of public works, said it would represent "a significant reduction in the revenue that's unsustainable."

The County Council's next meetings are at 11 a.m. Tuesday and at 7 p.m. June 3.

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