County Council passes Anne Arundel stormwater fee

Capital Gazette, Posted: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 By ALLISON BOURG

Property owners in Anne Arundel County will pay more to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay, after a divided County Council passed legislation Monday charging annual stormwater remediation fees.

The bill passed 4-3 after a last-minute attempt by Council Chairman Jerry Walker to amend it. Had the two amendments passed, they would have killed the bill, which was set to expire in two weeks.

Walker, a Gambrills Republican, called the fee — $85 for most homeowners — the largest tax in county history. He voted no, along with Councilmen Derek Fink, R-Pasadena, and Pete Smith, D-Severn.

“I could see the logic behind both sides of the issue,” Smith said after the meeting. The dispute, he said, was on “the implementation and timing of it.”

The legislation was introduced in January by former County Executive John R. Leopold in response to a state mandate that Maryland’s 10 largest counties establish stormwater fees by July 1.

Stormwater runoff is a main source of pollution of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

The fee would be $34 for townhome and condominium owners, $85 for owners of most single-family homes and $170 for owners of homes in rural areas. Commercial and industrial property owners would pay based on how much of their land is covered by rooftops, driveways and parking lots.

The bill was co-sponsored by Councilmen John Grasso, R-Glen Burnie, Chris Trumbauer, D-Annapolis, and Dick Ladd, R-Severna Park.

“This isn’t about anything except making sure our waterways are safe,” said Trumbauer, the West/Rhode riverkeeper who attempted to introduce a stormwater fee in 2011.

Grasso, who lives on Marley Creek, said he took no pleasure in the legislation. But the state has spoken, he said.

Ladd called the bill “an astonishing step that we should all be proud of. Don’t lose sight of the fact that what we’re doing is huge.”

The legislation was amended earlier this month after hours of testimony from business owners who said their annual stormwater fees would match or even top their property tax bills. The council capped fees for those property owners at 35 percent of their annual taxes.

Other amendments included a phased-in payment schedule for property owners who face annual fees of $500 or more, a $1 annual fee for churches, and breaks for working farms and homeowners’ associations.

“We do believe we’ve worked in good faith,” said Chris Phipps, deputy director of the county’s Department of Public Works.

Phipps said Monday night the amendments would shave about $6.6 million off the $26 million the legislation was supposed to raise in its first year, and $2.3 million in following years.

Yet others implored the council to scrap the bill.

“You guys are a little bit a victim of bad marketing, especially where the state is concerned,” said Brian Cassidy of Severna Park. “This bill makes it sound like it’s our fault that I have a roof over my head. That’s about as ridiculous as passing a law based on the number of umbrellas in my house.”

Tim Henderson, lawyer for Raven FS Property Holdings LLC, which owns two power plants in Pasadena, said the company is considering a lawsuit.

Before the legislation was amended, the business was initially expected to get an annual bill of nearly $272,000, according to figures from the county Department of Public Works.

“There’s no connection between the stormwater remediation fee and the impact of particular properties like the Raven property,” Henderson said.

Yet environmentalists say the problem is clear, and so is the solution.

“The need is real, and the cost is real,” said Andy Galli, executive director of environmental group Maryland Clean Water Action. “Unfortunately, the bill was heavily amended ... it’s become kind of a mishmash of caps and rates.”

Councilman Jamie Benoit, D-Crownsville, voted in favor of the bill, but said he did so with hesitation. Benoit said he would introduce measures to provide more relief to property owners such as nonprofit organizations.

“There are things in this bill that I am not happy about,” Benoit said. “I intend to bring legislation forward so we can debate them independently. From my perspective, the state has sent to us yet another unfunded mandate.”

(Revised May 2013)