By Christina Billos and Ana Hall-DeFoor
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writers
The Baltimore County Council voted 7-0 Monday night to phase out the controversial stormwater management fee commonly known as the “rain tax.”
The fee, which was assessed on all property owners as part of the county’s state-mandated requirement to clean up pollutants that wash into the Chesapeake Bay, will be phased out over a two-year period starting in 2016, council members said.
Council member Julian E. Jones Jr. of the Fourth District said the stormwater remediation fee brings in about $16 million a year that the county can use for programs designed to reduce pollutants that run off of streets, rooftops and parking lots and into the bay.
Under the plan approved Monday, Jones said, the county will lose $6 million in the first year of the phase out and another $10 million by the 2017 fiscal year. Stormwater remediation programs will then be funded through the regular budget, the council said.
Several local environmental groups and concerned citizens attended the meeting to protest against eliminating the fee, with nearly 13 people addressing the council. Some protesters came with signs that said, “Show me the money.”
Elaine Lutz, a staff attorney for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said she was concerned that the county won’t have as much money in the future to meet the state’s requirement that the county reduce contaminants that wash into the Chesapeake.
“The county did spend nearly all if not all of the stormwater revenue collected in 2014, in addition to general funds that were allocated to the program,” Lutz said.
Lutz said that state law requires the county to file a plan to the Maryland Department of the Environment describing how it will pay for projects to reduce polluted runoff.
In 2015, the Baltimore County budget reported that funds totaling $21.1 million will be transferred from anticipated stormwater fees revenue into various capital projects.
Lutz said the council and county executive will be held accountable to carry out the pace of the restoration plan.
For the 2016 financial assurance report the county must show 75 percent of the funds allocated for the next two years to meet their permit, and the 2018 plan will require 100 percent of the funding to meet requirements, Lutz said.
The Maryland Legislature approved a bill in 2012 that required the state’s 10 largest jurisdictions to establish stormwater remediation fees to help pay for environmental efforts designed to cut back on pollutants that wash into the Chesapeake Bay.
The remediation fees was dubbed the “rain tax” by opponents, and earlier this year the Legislature voted to drop the requirement that Baltimore City and the state’s nine largest counties assess the fee. However, the counties are still required to take remedial action to reduce pollution runoff.
Baltimore County resident Bill Deysher, who testified at the meeting, opposed the council’s decision to phase out the rain tax.
“I think it disproportionately passes on the cost to county taxpayers,” he said. Deysher said he wants the council to present a transparent plan on how it’s going to come up with the funds necessary to meet the EPA mandate.
According to the Baltimore County Office of Budget and Finance, the fee for a detached single-family home is $24. The bill approved last night would reduce the fee over the next two years to $17 for a detached single-family home by 2017.
Correction: A previous version of this story indicated 75 percent of the funding for the county’s plan was to come from rain tax, rather than the amount allocated to meet a permit for the next two years in the county’s 2016 financial assurance report.