In its work session Tuesday, the Howard County Council honed in on the administration's plan to fund stormwater projects if the proposed phase-out of the stormwater remediation fee is passed on March 7.
Under the plan, funds would no longer come from a dedicated revenue source, resulting in limited assurances that funds would not be commingled with other government activities, said Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty.
In fiscal year 2017, the proposed plan carves $3.2 million from state grants, $4.7 million from a reserve fund balance, $5.5 million from previous fee payments and $10.3 million in government obligated bonds. In fiscal year 2018, $2 million would come from state grants, $1 million from anticipated transfer taxes, $5 million in pay-as-you-go funding and $19 million from government obligated bonds.
The administration believes costs for stormwater management will go down because of improved technology, adapting and evolving crediting procedures from the Maryland Department of the Environment and the potential for changes in nutrient trading policy, said Phil Nichols, a special assistant to County Executive Allan Kittleman.
The county plans to use $1 million in transfer taxes from the county's "peaking" Agriculture Preservation Program.
"We would look for state legislation to allow us to be able to utilize money in the agricultural preservation program," Nichols said.
Council Chairman Calvin Ball said he was concerned the administration would consider passing legislation on the anticipation of future legislation.
The administration's proposed plan rests heavily on using government obligated bonds and $4.7 million in pay-go funds in fiscal year 2017, raising concerns about how the county would resurface roads, which relies on pay-go funds, Sigaty said.
"What does not get funded?" Sigaty asked, citing upcoming county projects like a new courthouse and requests for additional schools. "I scratch my head at the concept of utilizing government obligated bonds."
Nichols said it is nearly impossible to predict where additional bonds would come from.
"That is why we have an annual budgeting process in the county," Nichols said.
A "sizable" funding gap for stormwater remediation projects in 2013 existed despite the fee's existence, said Councilman Greg Fox. Given cost reduction estimates, Fox said it was unclear why the council was unwilling to eliminate the fee this year.
Although the fee reeled in "insufficient funds," Ball said the solution was not to eliminate it completely.
State law requires the county to submit a financial assurance plan for the county's stormwater management program whether or not the fee is phased out.
If the fee is phased-out, the administration projects an impact of $15.7 million to the general fund for operating and capital costs between fiscal year 2017 and 2020, according to a Jan. 16 memo from the council's auditor to the council. An estimate by the council's auditor, which includes pay-as-you-go funding as a general fund revenue, projects it will cost $34.1 million — more than double the administration's projection — over the same time period.
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The proposal to create a citizen-funded campaign system was removed from Tuesday's work session agenda because sponsoring council members Jen Terrasa and Jon Weinstein were out sick. The proposal originally was to be voted on March 7, but will be likely pushed to April.