`Flush tax' charges pile up

Residents with septic systems and private wells will be levied


Anne Arundel County homeowners who have septic systems and private wells will have a $52.50 charge added to next year's property tax system because of a billing glitch related to Maryland's new "flush tax."

The tax, passed by the 2004 state legislature, supports the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Restoration Fund, which will protect the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. The tax called for a $30 annual fee for Maryland homeowners, to be collected by counties and Baltimore City in monthly or quarterly installments on waste and water bills beginning Jan. 1 of this year.

Most Anne Arundel homeowners have been billed $7.50 a quarter when they pay the county for waste, water or both. But for about 30,000 homeowners here who don't get such bills because they have private wells and septic systems, the charge will come in a lump sum in their 2006 property tax bill, said county health spokeswoman Elin Jones.

Come July, these homeowners will pay $22.50 for the period from Oct. 1, 2005, to June 30, 2006, and then $30 in advance for the period between July 1, 2006, and June 30, 2007, Jones said. Because many counties had no inventory of septic users or private well owners, officials had to create an inventory and bill through property taxes. For that reason, these 30,000 users will not have to pay from Jan. 1, 2005, to Sept. 30, 2005, unlike people who use public water or sewer systems.

Don Curtian, deputy director of environmental health in the Anne Arundel County Health Department, said the department compared property tax bills with the county's sewer and water bills to find the private well and septic system users. In most cases, they found users through permit applications, but when none were available, field workers had to visit 100 homes to verify the need for tax collection. Curtian said the Health Department had not received any complaints about the tax but that the homeowners have yet to receive the bill.

"The governor wanted it and got it passed a while back, and it kind of seemed to go away for a while," Curtian said. "Now it's close to reality because people are going to start seeing their fee."

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s original proposal in January 2004 called for the $2.50 per month surcharge to be levied only on users of municipal sewage systems, which would have covered about 84 percent of Marylanders. Septic system owners were added after wrangling between the governor and legislative leaders that lasted nearly the entire 2004 session.

Ehrlich expressed misgivings about the septic provisions of the bill but said at the time the measure was "too important to veto."

The money raised from the flush tax is being used to upgrade sewage treatment plants, replace failing septic systems and fund programs to prevent nutrient runoff from farms.bradley.olson@baltsun.com

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