Leopold proposes storm-water repair fund

The Baltimore Sun

Anne Arundel County's chief executive is seeking to create a storm-water management fund that would generate at least $5 million a year to repair waterways damaged by future construction.

County Executive John R. Leopold, a Republican, said yesterday that he will introduce legislation to the County Council on Monday to create a fee paid by property owners based on the amount of impervious surfaces, such as driveways, parking lots and home additions, they create.

It would raise at least five times the amount of the current storm drainage fee, which would be eliminated, but far less than a fee that environmentalists wanted imposed on all property owners.

The county spends $11 million a year on storm-water restoration. Estimates of the backlog of projects to repair scores of polluted waterways range from $400 million to $700 million.

"It will be a helpful start to resolve an important environmental problem," Leopold said. "The needs are enormous, but we must act within the framework of fiscal reality."

Leopold, who vowed in last fall's campaign to address storm-water runoff over the county's 530 miles of shoreline, said he hoped his initiative would help to push through a statewide bill, known as the "Green Fund," to create a fee on new development to restore the Chesapeake Bay.

Under the Arundel legislation, a charge of 25 cents per square foot of impervious surface would be imposed if a grading permit is required; for building permits, the charge would be 15 cents. No fee would be charged if a new structure is built within the existing building footprint.

The proposed fee is Leopold's latest attempt this year to expand revenues without raising income or property taxes, or as he has said, levying "a direct hit on county taxpayers." He failed to get permission from the State House to impose a car-rental tax at BWI-Marshall Airport, but he persuaded the County Council to raise the commercial bingo tax.

Council Chairman Ronald C. Dillon Jr., a Pasadena Republican who was briefed this week on the Stormwater Management and Restoration of Tributaries, or SMART, Fund, called the initiative "a good start."

But, he said, "We are going to have to be more aggressive than that. It's going to require big dollars."

Local lawmakers in the tax-averse county have frowned on the idea of creating a storm-water restoration fund paid by a fee on property owners. During his campaign, Leopold said it amounted to a property tax increase and said he would pay for restoration efforts within the confines of the existing budget.

Environmental groups estimated the broader fee would raise at least $20 million a year.


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