December 02, 2007

LAST WEEK'S ISSUE: -- The Anne Arundel County Council will take up a bill that would charge most homeowners a flat fee of $30 a year to help fund repairs to damaged waterways.

Several council members last week pushed through this proposal as an amendment to a bill by County Executive John R. Leopold, whose plan called for levying fees mainly on future development. It would charge property owners based on the creation of most new impervious surfaces, such as patios, homes and parking lots. Leopold estimates his SMART Fund proposal would raise over $5 million a year, while backers of the amended plan say theirs would bring in $10 million annually.

Which of the two proposals do you prefer? Should the county be charging property owners to raise money to restore the county's eroded or polluted creeks and rivers?

SMART Fund is the smart way to go

My administration is committed to spending more than $160 million during the next 10 years to meet the challenge of managing the stormwater runoff that is a major contributor to our unhealthy rivers and streams. These funds will implement capital projects and best practices that can improve our water quality.

I have proposed increasing our capital construction program to save our waters through creation of the Stormwater Management and Restoration of Tributaries, or SMART, Fund. The SMART Fund would supplement, not supplant, county funding for stormwater management capital projects. Revenues from it could also be used as matching funds for any federal, state or private grant for funding stormwater management programs.

The fund would consist of revenue from fees imposed on building and grading permits. No fee would be required if the activity required a permit but did not involve an increase in existing impervious surface. An example of this: replacement of a free-standing garage with a new garage on the same "footprint." No fee would be required if the activity did not require a grading or building permit. (Certain small projects are currently exempted from these requirements.) And no fee would be required if the impervious surface added consisted only of a retaining wall. Small homeowner projects adding less than 150 square feet of impervious surface would be exempt and pay no fee.

The SMART Fund fees would be focused on added impervious surface, as opposed to the current charge, which is imposed on "gross area of disturbance, including grading." The SMART Fund is rationally related to the problem we are working to address. We must do everything we can to discourage the addition of impervious surface in our construction and building activities.

Current property owners are already carrying a funding burden for stormwater management through their property and income taxes. Since the county budgets between $11 million and $12 million for stormwater management, an all-payer system already exists. It should also be noted that many homeowners already pay for stormwater management measures such as water management ponds through their homeowners' associations and should not be taxed twice by imposing a new property tax for stormwater management.

I will continue to fight for a fee tied to an increase in impervious surfaces as the most practicable and fairest way to begin the effort to improve the county's watersheds.

John R. Leopold County executive

Properties not equal; tax shouldn't be

I live in a West County townhouse, and my community has two rainwater management ponds to control all stormwater runoff. I doubt a single drop of rain that falls in my neighborhood ever finds its way to the Chesapeake Bay or any of its tributaries unless you include evaporation. My home, and all of my neighbors' homes, have lawns and flower beds and each home has about 800 square feet of impervious surface area.

The single-family homes up the street are on a public sewer system, and their rainwater runoff that doesn't get absorbed into lawns and flower beds eventually gets dumped into the bay or processed by the local sewage treatment plant. Those homes average about 2,400 square feet of impervious surface area, in some cases more because of their two-car driveways.

My point is that it is grossly unfair that I might have to pay the same $30-per-year stormwater management (rain) tax as my neighbors with the single-family homes. Why am I being tasked to carry three times the burden as they when they are more responsible for the runoff problem than I am? It doesn't make sense to punish me for not being wealthy enough to own a home with four exterior walls and a garage or for living in a well-planned, green, and ecologically balanced community.

On principle, I'm against the management fee because there are plenty of homes in the county that do not contribute to the problems the county is trying to address with this tax. However, five of the seven council members represent districts with shorelines, and politics is politics.

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