Three costly storm sewer options unveiled Task force suggests tripling fees or taxes

November 14, 1996|By Katherine Marks | Katherine Marks,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Howard County residents may have to pay almost three times as much in taxes or fees for storm water management under proposals unveiled at a public hearing Tuesday night at Centennial High School in Ellicott City.

A task force appointed by County Executive Charles I. Ecker last summer came up with three options to pay for upgrading and maintaining the county's aging storm sewer system -- and all call for more money.

Howard County residents were asked to give feedback on the proposals.

There will be three more public hearings on the proposals, including one at 7: 30 p.m. today at the Western Howard County Senior Center on Route 97 in Cooksville.

The task force will make its recommendation to Ecker by December, but the executive said earlier this week that he will not support a plan that will increase taxes or fees.

None of the task force members spoke at the meeting. Their recommendations were presented to the public by Steven Sharar, project engineer for Howard County, and Andy Daneker, chief of the county's Bureau of Highways.

They urged residents to consider two options that would dedicate money specifically for storm sewer maintenance.

Those options call for a flat fee for all county residents, or a variable-rate tax based on property value. Money to maintain the county's storm sewers now comes from the general fund.

The third option would have maintenance and upgrades to the storm sewer system continue to come from the general fund, but it doesn't guarantee an amount to be set aside for the sewers.

About 1.2 cents of the county's $2.59 tax rate on every $100 of assessed property value is now spent on storm sewer maintenance, Daneker said. The task force recommends that 3.2 cents of the tax rate be devoted to storm sewers.

Dividing the county's $1.8 million budget by the current rate and number of taxpayers, the task force estimates that the average taxpayer spends $13 a year on storm sewer maintenance, Daneker said.

If the county were to change the funding of such maintenance from taxes to a flat rate, the task force estimated, each taxpayer would pay $36 a year.

Daneker said that the county needs the additional funding because it is maintaining only 30 percent of its storm sewers properly.

Federal regulations passed in 1990 under the Clean Water Act require local governments to allot money specifically for modern storm water management. The Bureau of Highways must improve the county's storm water management before the Maryland Department of the Environment will renew the county's permit, which is up for review in four years.

Property owners at the meeting were split over which proposal to support.

"It seems to me ridiculous that I'm having to pay for all of this and the developers are reaping the benefits," Ron Perkins of Ellicott City said. He said the fairest way to handle funding would be through a dedicated fund.

Sharar said many of the problems with the county's storm sewer system come not from new development but from such older areas as Allview, Elkridge, Ellicott City and North Laurel. Newer developments use sand filters and drainage ponds that reduce the amount of fertilizer that reaches creeks and streams.

Some residents said they thought the money spent on storm water management should continue to come from the general fund, with the amount determined through the budgetary process.

"There's something that bothers me about playing games with it. What's wrong with the competitive process?" asked Lou Floyd of Ellicott City. He said he doesn't want to see a flat fee. "Our total costs would go up. It's still money out of our pockets."

A few property owners said they were reluctant to pay another fee after the trash fee that was recently levied by the county. "How many other fees are we going to end up with?" one resident asked.

After tonight's hearing in Cooksville, there will be meetings at 7: 30 p.m. Monday at the Elkridge library on Montgomery Road and at 7: 30 p.m. Wednesday at the East Columbia library on Cradlerock Way.

Pub Date: 11/14/96

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