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The Charles County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to accept and send to public hearing a draft ordinance establishing a state-mandated watershed restoration fund and local stormwater fee that would cost rural homeowners twice as much as urban residents.

Last year, the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation requiring the state’s 10 largest jurisdictions to implement the fee by July 1 to fund projects that reduce stormwater runoff.

The bill came on the heels of a 2010 order from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requiring states within the Chesapeake Bay watershed to abide by a “pollution diet” aimed at reducing the amount of pollutants they contribute to the estuary.

The commissioners spent little time discussing the ordinance and quickly voted to move it on to a public hearing, but not before Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) asked Charles Rice, environmental program manager, to briefly go over the actions taken by the federal and state governments that required the county to establish the fee.

“We are required by state law to approve this?” Robinson asked.

“Correct,” Rice answered.

Environmentalists claim that much of the pollution in the Chesapeake Bay is attributable to rainwater washing nutrients into the bay and that properties with the most “impervious surface” produce the most runoff.

“Impervious surface” is defined in the state bill as “a surface that does not allow stormwater to infiltrate into the ground” and includes buildings, parking lots, driveways, patios, sidewalks and outdoor athletic courts.

The amount of impervious surface in each jurisdiction has been calculated from a 2011 aerial survey of the state. A county consultant prepared an impervious surface map between July and January.

The impervious surface of each parcel was calculated using a digital map and broken into five separate classifications — urban single-family homes, townhouses, condominiums, rural residential and agricultural.

The average impervious surface for urban homes was calculated at 3,255 square feet, which was set as the base unit — equivalent residential unit — used to calculate the fee for the remaining classifications. For each ERU a property has, $32 will be assessed to its tax bill.

Because the average impervious surface for townhomes came out to 1,654 square feet, each one counts as half an ERU in the proposed ordinance. Condos averaged 1,070 square feet of impervious surface and are each assessed a third of an ERU.

Rural homes averaged 7,237 square feet of impervious surface and are each assessed two ERUs. Farm properties also count as two ERUs, despite averaging 10,003 square feet of impervious surface.

Nonresidential properties, such as commercial, industrial, mixed-use or faith-based institutions and apartment buildings, are allotted ERUs on a case-by-case basis. On average, the county’s commercial properties would be assessed 13 ERUs under the ordinance, while industrial properties would average 18 ERUs, apartment buildings would average 40 and faith-based institutions would average 14.

In addition to Charles, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Frederick, Harford, Howard, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties and Baltimore city also must establish a stormwater management program.

The fees in the proposed ordinance are lower than in several counties that already have established their fee structure. Anne Arundel County will charge $85 for every urban house and $170 for rural homes. In Harford County, all residential units will pay $125. Howard County will charge all properties $15 per 500 square feet.

Though the legislation was passed last year, news of the pending fee, known derisively as the “rain tax,” went viral last week.

Since 1997, Charles County has charged property owners an environmental service fee on their annual tax bills. This year, the fee is $14.

The county also charges a lot recordation fee for each building permit application. The fee this year is $121 per lot.

The new stormwater fee will show up on property tax bills and replace the environmental service fee.

The proposed ordinance includes provisions for an appeals process; a credit program for property owners who install their own stormwater management systems; and exemptions for government property, volunteer fire departments and homeowners who can demonstrate financial hardship.

jnewman@somdnews.com