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Don't kill the 'rain tax'

Storm water management pond area near the entrance to the newly constructed area of the Churchville Parks and Recreation area along Rt. 155.
Storm water management pond area near the entrance to the newly constructed area of the Churchville Parks and Recreation area along Rt. 155. (Matt Button/Aegis)

This month, the Baltimore County Council introduced legislation to phase out the stormwater remediation fee, a shortsighted decision that will have significant negative impacts on quality of life for county residents ("Shortsighted 'rain tax' repeal," Oct. 28).

The annual fee on impervious surfaces provides money to invest in projects to prevent polluted runoff and local flooding, repair failing infrastructure, protect homes and businesses and decrease stormwater runoff into the Chesapeake Bay. For example, a large effort is nearing completion in the White Marsh Stream Run where wetlands and historic floodplains are being reconstructed to absorb large volumes of runoff, instead of allowing it to inundate backyards and basements. Canopy trees have been planted in several urban neighborhoods to help control stormwater runoff.

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Such projects are not optional — the federal government requires Maryland to improve water quality significantly over the next decade. Upgrading stormwater infrastructure, reducing pollutants in waterways and cleaning up local streams and rivers is the only way this can be done. The county must comply with the regulations, regardless of the source of the money. Eliminating the stormwater remediation fee will require the county to find the money elsewhere — to the tune of $16 million every year.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz has signaled his unwillingness to raise property taxes which means the county must cut spending on education, transportation, public safety and so on in order to pay for required stormwater remediation. Further, the county will likely attempt to comply with Clean Water Act mandates in the cheapest possible way. Already, the county has signaled that it will eliminate tree plantings in urban areas and will reduce in size, delay or cancel larger stream restoration projects. Whatever scenario plays out, it is bound to be significantly more burdensome to citizens than the modest annual fees on impervious surface that we currently pay.

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Members of the council claim that the stormwater fee burdens the least fortunate among us and that no plan exists to give disadvantaged residents a break to alleviate this burden. Others are concerned that the fee burdens businesses and institutions with large areas of impervious surfaces. Such statements are puzzling. The county has a financial hardship exemption, businesses can reduce their stormwater fee by having stormwater management practices that reduce the pollutant load from stormwater on their impervious surfaces and non-profit institutions can convert impervious surfaces to green space. Further, the council can pass legislation establishing a credit program to incentivize residents to remove impervious surfaces, plant trees and install rain gardens and rain barrels.

With an annual cost to Baltimore County homeowners of $14 to $26 and larger costs to entities with large areas of impervious surfaces, the county funds a program that complies with federal requirements to improve the Chesapeake Bay while it protects us from costly flood damage, addresses degraded infrastructure, cleans rivers, improves neighborhoods and ensures that our county remains a place where people want to live and work. The fee is not — nor should it be seen as — a burden, but as an investment in our future.

Dr. Carol Newill, Elizabeth Miller and Wendy Jacobs, Stoneleigh

The writers represent the Green Towson Alliance.

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