While it is good that state officials and the county have apparently worked out a compromise in their battle over implementing a tax to pay for stormwater management projects, at the end of the day residents will still be paying and the county will still be collecting what has been derided as a "rain tax."
A 2012 law mandated that nine counties and the City of Baltimore institute a new tax to pay for stormwater runoff projects, but the law didn't say how much the jurisdictions should charge or dictate any framework for how it should be imposed.
Some jurisdictions adopted tiered tax structures, giving breaks to nonprofits and others. Others implemented only a small tax. In Carroll, our commissioners said they wouldn't implement a new tax but, instead, created a dedicated fund to pay for projects. In response, the state said it might fine the county for not implementing the tax.
Under the resolution apparently worked out, the county will designate a portion of funds already collected under the current tax rate to pay the operational costs of Carroll's stormwater management program. New stormwater project construction costs will continue to be paid for through the use of bonds and general fund money.
Phil Hager, director of the county's Department of Land Use, Planning and Development, said the plan earmarks money specifically for stormwater management. "It could be overall that it is actually a good planning tool for budgeting," Hager told the Times.
So while the county won't have to do as other jurisdictions have done and increase people's tax bills with a new tax, it will still be collecting money under the current tax structure that will be dedicated to paying for the operational costs of the projects.
For the county, at least in the short term, the compromise represents a win because it doesn't have to implement a new tax that in future years the state may decide needs to be higher. Remember how Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich instituted a tax to pay for sewage treatment plant upgrades - the so-called flush tax - and how that fee was later increased by Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley?
For the state, the compromise also amounts to a win since the county will continue to remain in compliance with stormwater runoff regulations.
Residents also are off the hook, at least temporarily, from having to pay more in taxes. How long that may last, however, is anyone's guess, and additional questions arise when you consider that this board has cut funding in different areas over its years in office while claiming that money is tight. If money is tight, and we are going to have to devote more of it from existing revenues to pay for stormwater projects, ultimately that means that other areas of the budget will have to be cut.
As the commissioners work through the details of this compromise, they should keep residents informed about where they expect to get the money for this, areas where they intend to reduce funding and anything they intend to cut in order to pay for this dedicated fund.