Unhappy over a state law requiring property owners to pay a new fee to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay, Frederick County officials have decided to set the charge at just a penny a year.
The county's board of commissioners approved the 1-cent storm-water pollution control fee on Thursday, declaring they were doing even that only to avoid possible state restrictions on new development in the county if they didn't act.
"We are being forced to charge this fee, so we decided to keep it at one cent just to meet the letter of the law," Blaine Young, president of the county commissioners, said in a press release announcing the action. "This so called 'rain tax' is just a political ploy and doesn't even directly affect clean up of the Chesapeake Bay."
Frederick's penny-a-year is the lowest of the fees set so far under the law, which requires Baltimore city and the state's nine largest counties to start charging a storm-water cleanup fee by July 1. Baltimore city has yet to act, but is weighing a fee of $48 to $144 annually for residential, depending on the size of the property. Commercial and industrial properties could pay much more, because the fee is based on the amount of ground covered by buildings and pavement.
Lawmakers in Annapolis voted last year to require the fee as a way of getting the state's most populous communities to raise the revenues needed to reduce pollution washing off their streets, parking lots and lawns every time it rains. The fee is supposed to help pay for retrofitting storm drains and other measures to reduce such storm-water pollution. Lawmakers suggested the charge be based on the amount of pavement and buildings preventing rain from soaking into the ground, but left it up to each locality to decide the amount of the fee. The fees being adopted vary widely.
The mandate has been controversial, with some objecting to yet another fee on top of other tax and fee increases imposed in recent years. Churches and some businesses and nonprofits, including private colleges and universities, have complained about the cost, which can run into thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars per year for those with sprawling pavement or builldings. An effort was made in the waning days of this year's legislative session in Annapolis to postpone the fees for two years, to give lawmakers time to reconsider, but it failed.
Like the other nine large localities, Frederick County is facing state orders to reduce its storm-water pollution as part of the statewide effort to restore the bay's water quality. County officials estimate it could cost them $112 million to comply with the new storm-water control requirements proposed by the Maryland Department of the Environment. The county's press release does not say how - or if - Frederick would cover those costs. The 1-cent fee levied on 48,781 eligible properties - state and local government sites are exempt - would raise less than $500 a year.