Leopold delays runoff proposal

Debate on funding divides council

executive denies politics played role

December 19, 2007|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,Sun Reporter

Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold will hold off until at least January on reintroducing a proposal to fund the cleanup of waterways damaged by storm-water runoff, an apparent sign that he has not won over the County Council.

In fact, some council members said they might hold off until February or longer to take up funding initiatives to combat runoff, as a debate rages over whether to charge levies on future development or to apply a flat fee to most property owners.

Leopold said two weeks ago that he would resubmit his failed SMART fund to the council Monday, but he delayed that move as his staff tries to persuade council members who have labeled the initiative a tax or argue that it would place an undue burden on developers.

The key vote may hinge on Council Chairwoman Cathleen M. Vitale, a Republican who two weeks ago indicated a willingness to charge a flat fee on most property owners. That differs from Leopold's stated approach of charging a fee on most future development.

As the council weighed changes Monday to a complementary bill sponsored by Vitale that would offer tax credit for property owners who limit runoff, the Leopold administration voiced its opposition to her legislation for the first time.

The council, though, rejected by a 6-1 vote a Leopold-backed amendment to her bill that would have tied the tax credit to a funding source, such as the SMART fund.

While acknowledging Leopold's concerns, Democratic Councilman Jamie Benoit voted with the majority. Benoit, who has joined Democrat Josh Cohen and Republican Ronald C. Dillon in support of an "all-payer" utility fund, said he was putting "an extraordinary amount of faith" in Vitale to reach a deal on runoff funding.

An unusual coalition of business leaders, developers, environmentalists and council members had supported a $30 flat fee on most homeowners and a levy on a sliding scale for businesses. This initiative by Benoit, Cohen and Dillon would have raised at least $10 million - twice as much as Leopold's plan to place fees on the creation of new impervious surfaces, such as patios, sidewalks and parking lots.

"It gives me hope that we can make all sides of the debate happy," Benoit said.

Leopold said he changed his position after an amended version of his Stormwater Management and Restoration of Tributaries fund was defeated this month. Leopold said politics played no part in his decision.

"I continue to support the concept of tax credits," Leopold said yesterday. "But because of our pressing financial needs, we have got to insist upon a funding source to pay for a credit that will be enjoyed by just a few people in the county."

The council voted to convert the SMART fund into an "all-payer" system before ultimately defeating it Dec. 3. Leopold has countered that his initiative is more politically acceptable in tax-averse Anne Arundel County than a utility fund.

The lawmakers adjusted the tax credit for both homeowners and businesses to $10,000.

After the meeting, Vitale said she now favors property owners opting in to pay a fee that would be the funding source to combat storm-water runoff.

Leopold also favors an opt-in approach.

"There is a lot of room on compromise," Vitale said.

In other news:

More than 50 people stood in support of a bill by Councilman Edward R. Reilly, a Crofton Republican, to exempt subdivisions of five homes or fewer from the school-capacity test. More than a dozen residents testified that they want to build homes on their properties for family members.

The council amended the bill to prevent properties from being subdivided multiple times and to deny construction of apartments or condominiums.

The council unanimously approved $150,000 in emergency funds that will cover the county's first five months of its lease on the former Naval Academy Dairy Farm in Gambrills.

The council unanimously passed the county's school-utilization chart that determines which areas are closed to homebuilding because of crowded schools.

As part of the legislation, the lawmakers repealed a provision that, beginning March 1, would have indefinitely stopped homebuilding in areas closed by crowded schools.

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

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