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Shortsighted 'rain tax' repeal

I was surprised and disappointed by the Baltimore County Council's proposal to phase out the stormwater management fee, particularly as it was presented as a fait accompli with no opportunity for community input ("Balto. County move to end stormwater fee challenged," Oct. 27). Eliminating this fee is shortsighted and will prove to be counterproductive in the long run. In the absence of any guaranteed means to replace these critical funds over the long term, the elimination of this dedicated funding source risks undercutting pollution reduction programs which the council has supported over the years. It will also compromise the county's ability to meet federal and state mandated water quality requirements. It sends the wrong signal and puts Baltimore County in the company of the Maryland's most conservative rural counties.

In a recent letter to the editor, members of the County Council claimed that other funds are available to replace the fee ("Why Balto. Co. doesn't need the 'rain tax,'" Oct. 26). Even were that so, the council's powers over the county budget are very limited. Further, if other funds were to be used to replace the stormwater management fees, there would be no guaranteed dedicated funding source to continue this effort over the long term. Once the fee is eliminated, it would be nearly impossible to restore it at a future date.

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The council's statement referred to various perceived inequities in the current fee structure. This is a weak argument since the council has the power to address these issues without repealing the entire fee.

While state law was recently revised to allow local jurisdictions to eliminate this fee, the law also mandates that jurisdictions without fees must demonstrate and be accountable — to the state's satisfaction — that equivalent funding would be dedicated to the same uses as the fee. Repeal of the fee in the absence of a sound alternative funding mechanism does not meet that requirement of state law. How will this requirement be met without robbing funds from other critical county projects and services, particularly in this county that gives highest priority to holding the line on taxes?

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Of greatest concern is that eliminating the fee would severely handicap the county's progress toward meeting its state and federally mandated requirement to meet Chesapeake Bay pollution reduction requirements. This is a particularly puzzling proposal from a county where clean and healthy waterways are the foundation of recreational activities that form an important part of the local economy, particularly in the Chesapeake Bay waterfront areas. Deteriorating water quality would also threaten waterfront property values with a concomitant reduction in the assessable base.

Larry Fogelson, Rodgers Forge

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