On eve of new fee, Harford school system tackles stormwater issues

The Harford County Board of Education recently approved spending more than $283,000 toward upgrading its stormwater management facilities after county officials spent the past year ramping up their inspections of all stormwater management infrastructure operated by county agencies.

"The county government had intensified their inspections of our stormwater management facilities," Cornell Brown, assistant superintendent for operations, told school board members Monday. "What staff has done is engage contractors to look at our facilities and to develop a plan that will allow us to do pre-inspections and work with the county government to make sure we are ahead of the curve."

The inspections identified about $800,000 in needed stormwater repairs, and the school system has dealt with about $500,000 worth of the repairs since staffers began working with the county on the issue last summer. More repairs, requiring more money, are likely, school officials said.

While local government and school stormwater facilities are in the process of being repaired and upgraded, residents and businesses are going to begin feeling the impact of stormwater facilities directly in their own pockets. Harford County's state-mandated stormwater fee, which among critics has also become known as the "rain tax," will go into effect this Monday, July 1

Residents will pay a flat fee of $12.50 per household annually, and businesses will pay 70 cents per 500 square feet of impervious surface, County Executive David Craig announced when he signed the fees into law in May.

The fees imposed are 10 percent of what county leaders had initially proposed to be in compliance with federal and state mandates to clean up stormwater running into the Chesapeake Bay. Meanwhile, the county has a task force studying what the fees should be in the future.

On Monday night, the school board approved a $149,155.41 contract with Angler Environmental of Odenton to develop an "annual maintenance plan" for the school system's 40 stormwater maintenance facilities.

"With the stormwater fees that we have now . . . there's going to be a lot more inspections and a lot more demands for maintenance of stormwater facilities in our system," board member Thomas Fitzpatrick said.

The board had already approved, on June 10, a contract for $137,288.47, also with Angler, for repairs to the stormwater facility at Hickory Elementary School.

The school system was able to obtain some money for the previous projects through the state's Aging Schools Program, Patti Jo Beard, executive director of facilities for the school system, said during that earlier board meeting.

Angler Environmental is an existing contractor with Baltimore County, and Harford County school staffers were able to obtain their services by piggybacking with Baltimore County, Brown and Beard explained.

Beard said the repairs at Hickory Elementary included removing sediment from outfalls and replace some of the pipes in the system.

Joe Licata, chief of administration, noted that local funding is not always available for stormwater maintenance projects.

"We've had numerous conversations with the county [Public Works] folks, trying to help them understand that we'd be glad to do all these projects, but we have to get the funding for these projects from somewhere," he said.

Beard said the school system has not been fined or cited by the county for its stormwater issues, but the county would hire its own contractor and send the school district a bill if the repairs were not completed in a timely fashion.

"Of course, they don't want to go that route," she said. "They want to work with us."

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