We are a council composed of members from different political parties whose districts include hundreds of miles of coastline and thousands of acres of rural and environmentally sensitive terrain. We take the stewardship of our lands and waterways seriously.
We took the step of phasing out the stormwater fee following the lead of the Maryland General Assembly, which voted 47-0 in the Senate and 138-1 in the House to stop requiring counties to assess the fee. Our decision does nothing to jeopardize the county's ability to meet its environmental goals, and it remains committed to improving our environment and the Chesapeake Bay. Stormwater management projects will continue.
In 2012, when the state mandate was approved, counties had no choice but to establish a stormwater remediation program and collect a fee to fund it — even if a county had dedicated funds to projects to meet its environmental responsibilities in prior years, including state and federal mandates. Baltimore County had not identified the need for such a fee.
The fee requirement — dubbed the "rain tax" — has been derided on many levels and has served to marginalize the ongoing efforts of local governments to do their part to clean up the state's waterways. The requirement has resulted in wrongfully portraying citizens and businesses as anti-environment.
Baltimore County will continue our financial commitment to clean and healthy waterways, without relying on this fee. Some may say that $26 yearly for residents is not much to pay, and that businesses and nonprofits should pay significantly more. However, we see no reason to pit businesses and nonprofits against the citizens they serve.
Our objections to the fee are based on valid concerns. Many believe as a matter of principle that local governments, not the state, should be able to decide on the mechanism for generating revenues to fund stormwater remediation.
Further, because of the quick compliance required by the mandate's establishment, many people lack confidence that the rate-setting mechanism is fair and appropriate. Its economic impact on many institutional and commercial entities has been devastating.
The small businesses, religious groups and other organizations that are the lifeblood of our districts felt blindsided by the assessment of significant fees. Businesses understandably complained that development regulations require the construction of large parking lots, yet the fee imposes immediate costs for implementing the best practices that address the stormwater generated by those same mandated parking spaces.
We all have seen businesses severely impacted by the imposition of this additional cost. Those businesses keep our residents employed and provide vital services to our neighborhoods. We need to be aware of the consequences when developing policies that affect our communities in such significant ways.
Other criticisms of the county's fee structure have been raised by environmentalists, who note that incentives are lacking for residents to engage in stormwater management. The current structure does not allow residents to receive credits for implementing best practices such as rain barrel installation and impervious surface removal.
We are a council that has been progressive in our environmental policies. We have preserved sensitive land from development and broadened the scope of open space zoning. We have increased the program cap on energy conservation tax credits to shorten the waiting period for eligible homeowners to receive tax credits for solar panels, and we have enthusiastically supported numerous environmental initiatives.
We simply believe that there are better ways to achieve our county's stormwater management goals than the current fee-based approach offers.
This council is proud of the progress Baltimore County has made in meeting its environmental obligations. We are also proud of our county's fiscal stewardship, which ensures that by utilizing other methods of financing, such as our prior practice of funding stormwater projects with bond and other funding, we will not jeopardize our ability to serve the public.
This achievement sends a message to residents, businesses and non-profits that we have acted in the best interest of Baltimore County, and it demonstrates again why the county is such a great place in which to invest, live, work and raise a family.
Tom Quirk, Vicki Almond, Wade Kach, Julian E. Jones Jr., David Marks, Cathy Bevins and Todd K. Crandell