Balto. Co. councilwoman calls to delay stormwater fee vote

A Baltimore County Council member is calling for the council to delay its vote on a measure to impose stormwater management fees, saying neither the council nor the public has had enough time to study the issue.

Councilwoman Vicki Almond, a Reisterstown Democrat, questioned why the county has not held public hearings on the fee scale proposed by the administration of County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. The council is scheduled a vote on the proposal for Monday, but Almond wants to delay it a month.

Under a state law passed last year, jurisdictions with stormwater systems that feed into the Chesapeake Bay must impose the management fee on property owners to help fund projects to clean and protect the bay. Local governments can set their own fee structures. At a council work session Tuesday, members discussed concerns, including large bills that nonprofit organizations could face.

"Did we have any public meetings?" Almond asked Vince Gardina, the county's environmental chief. "Were there any stakeholders involved in this?"

Gardina said he had met privately with builders, leaders of religious organizations and others about details of the bill. Under the administration's proposal, homeowners would pay between $18 and $36 annually, but businesses and institutions could pay thousands of dollars each year based on a formula that sets a fee per square foot of impervious surface on their properties.

Council Chairman Tom Quirk said after the meeting that he does not support postponing the bill. Under state law, the fee must be set by July.

"We're under a deadline, but I do think Councilwoman Almond has raised some valid concerns," said Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat. He said the council would consider amendments. "We have our work cut out for us between now and Monday."

Councilman David Marks said he has other concerns about the bill, which would authorize the county executive to issue an order each year to impose the fee. He said the council would be "giving the executive branch an awful lot of power."

"My concern is that we're giving this and all future county executives a blank check," Marks, a Perry Hall Republican, said after the meeting.

County attorney Mike Field said the county has set water and sewer service fees by executive order for decades.

Council members heard from several speakers at the work session. Cailey Locklair of the Baltimore Jewish Council said the fees would come at the expense of social services offered by nonprofits. She asked whether the council would consider capping or phasing in the fee for such groups.

"We're not asking for an exemption here," Locklair said. "We want to be part of the bay cleanup."

Adam Skolnik, executive director of the Maryland Multi-Housing Association, said the fee would be passed on to tenants of rental housing.

"In the real world, this is going to have an impact on the people who are the poorest," said Skolnik, whose group represents owners and managers of rental housing.

County officials have estimated an apartment complex with 127,680 square feet of impervious surface on a 5-acre lot would be charged about $4,405 annually. Commercial properties could get credits covering up to 80 percent of the fee, depending on their stormwater management system.

William Breakey of the Maryland Presbyterian Church in Towson said his church supports the fee.

"We believe that the natural systems are part of God's creation," he said.

The fee has generated controversy in affected local governments. State lawmakers tried but failed this week to delay the stormwater fees for two years.

Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, vice chairwoman of the committee considering the city's stormwater fees, said council members on Tuesday asked the Department of Public Works to work with businesses who will be hit particularly hard by the fees.

Some businesses, particularly in the Curtis Bay area of Baltimore, have objected to fees that could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. Clarke said she wants to see greater credits given to those businesses who take action to clean up their own stormwater pollution.

Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.

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