Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, the County Council introduced bills Tuesday night that would repeal an 18-month-old stormwater fee, or "rain tax," and introducing a hotel occupancy tax, known as the "room tax."
The hotel tax would levy 6 percent of the rent paid, for stays of up to 30 consecutive days, in an inn, motel, cottage, hostel, rooming house, guest house, bed-and-breakfast or tourist home.
Glassman plans to spend all the revenue on promoting economic development through a competitive grant process "with built-in accountability," he said in a press release Wednesday.
"The proposed legislation does not tax Harford County residents. Instead, it levels the playing field for our citizens who are charged a hotel tax when they travel to every other Maryland jurisdiction, and throughout much of the nation, but do not benefit in kind when travelers come to Harford County and use taxpayer-funded roads and services," Glassman said in the release.
"Since revenue from hotel taxes is often used to promote tourism, our taxpayers are subsidizing tourism in other locations and also funding local efforts, in essence, paying both ways," he said in the release."The legislation sets a reasonable rate of 6 [percent] of the cost of a room, which is in the mid-range of rates charged throughout the state. However, the legislation is only part of the plan."
Glassman recently announced plans to privatize the county's Tourism and Marketing Division into the non-profit Visit Harford! organization.
Half of the revenue collected from the tax will be paid to the mayor and city council of a municipality, if it is collected within a municipality. The rest of the revenue would go toward county tourism activities.
A hotel owner or operator who fails to register for the tax will be subject to a $1,000 penalty.
The stormwater fee bill would repeal the county's 2013 fee, which was a tentative attempt to comply with federal and state stormwater requirements.
Then-county executive David Craig originally proposed that it be $125 for each residential dwelling (to include farms) and $7 per every 500 square feet of impervious surface on commercial and industrial property; however, the council scaled the fees back to 10 percent of what Craig proposed: $12.50 for each dwelling and 70 cents per every 500 square feet of impervious commercial and industrial surfaces.
The legislation is likely to be reviewed by governor-elect Larry Hogan, who made criticism of the "rain tax" a major part of his platform.
Glassman said in a Wednesday press release that he looks forward to the fee's reconsideration.
"While the rain will no longer be taxed in Harford County, I look forward to working with Gov.-elect Hogan and the Maryland General Assembly to find common sense solutions that help protect the Chesapeake Bay," Glassman said in the release.
"Harford County is committed to watershed protection and restoration, but the rain tax is not the answer," Glassman also said.
"Not only does it pile another burden on the backs of our hardworking citizens and local businesses, regional disparities in funding stormwater remediation have put Harford County at a competitive disadvantage versus other jurisdictions," he continued. "Rather than continuing this unfair tax, we can meet our obligations using revenue from the county's general fund with flexible credits and innovative planning."
Public hearings on both the stormwater fee and hotel tax bills are set for 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 13, 2015.
Council staff changes
Also at Tuesday night's meeting, the council agreed to appoint Charles Kearney as its full-time attorney and as acting council administrator.
He has already been working on a contractual basis with the county since 2012 and said he plans to step down from his private law firm to work with the council.
Kearney served a number of years as the council's legal counsel, also on a contractual basis, until the post was made full time in 2012. The previous council then hired Melissa Lambert, who was recently named chief attorney for the county government by Glassman.
The previous administrator, Pam Meister, resigned Monday, the council confirmed. She had been hired in 2011.
A resolution was introduced allowing the county auditor, Chrystal Brooks, to complete a performance audit of the county government's network security monitoring procedures and management of any related contracted service agreement, as well as a performance audit of the county's ethics disclosure proceedings and related processes.
Council members did not vote on the resolution Tuesday night, although they were allowed to do so.
The authority for Brooks' office to conduct operational and performance audits was approved by voters via referendum in November's election.