Stormwater Fees To Increase County Property Tax Bill
While the bulk of the $23 million program will come from commercial properties, county homeowners will see an increase of $18-$36 dollars annually.
UPDATED (5:00 a.m.)—County homeowners can expect to see an increase in their property tax bills due to a mandated state fee on stormwater volume.
Homeowners with a standard townhouse lot of about one-fifth acre will see a flat increase of $18. Owners of a single family detached home can expect to see a flat increase of about $36 annually.
"The county executive directed us to keep this as low as possible" for homeowners," said Vince Gardina, director of the county Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability.
Gardina added that the flat fee for residnetial properties satisfied another directive from Kevin Kamenetz meant to keep the formula "easy to understand."
Commercial properties including large shopping centers and apartment complexes will pay a fee of $69 per 2,000 square-feet of impervious surface. A shopping mall of more than 871,000 square-feet of impervious surface would pay more than $30,000 annually, according to figures released by the county.
Gardina said those commercial properties could reduce their fees with credits for mitigating the amount of stormwater runoff from their properties including ponds that collect storm runoff from the property that reduce sediment from entering the bay.
The bill, which was not available Tuesday, is expected to be introduced in the Baltimore County Council on Monday. A final vote is scheduled for April 15—the same day Kamenetz is expected to introduce his third county budget.
Gardina said that while the nearly 80 percent of the more than 283,000 properties in the county are residential, the bulk of the $23 million in stormwater related fees will come from commercial properties.
The county expects to spend about $10 million in related stormwater projects to help decrease the cost to taxpayers, Gardina said.
Baltimore County is the latest county to develop a plan that is required under legislation passed by the Maryland General Assembly in 2012.
The purpose of the law, Gardina said, is to reduce the impact of stormwater on the quality of the Chesapeak Bay by setting limits for each jurisdiction for the amounts of sediment, phosphorous and other solids that are washed into the estuary.
Baltimore County estimates the total cost for meeting the state requirements will exceed $33 million annually. About $10 million of that will be paid for through a fee already collected on the property tax bill related to transporting water and waste water too and from county properties.
"We'll get double bang for our buck," Gardina said. "We'll be able to fix the stormwater issue at the same time we're fixing sanitary sewer issues."
The remaining $23 million will be offset from the collection of the new residential and commercial fees.
Gardina said "there's no way [Baltimore County] can even get close" to the state pollution reduction goals without the new fees.
Michael Harrison, a lobbyist for the Home Builders Association of Maryland, said the plan seemed to strike a balance between meeting the needs of the new state law and not placing a heavy burden on new development.
"This is a fee the association supports but we'd like to see the whole [county] plan," Harrison said.
Other jurisdictions such as Anne Arundel, Harford and Howard Counties and Baltimore City all have proposals before their respective councils.
Anne Arundel County estimates its plan will collect a total of $26 million in fees. Harford County's plan could collect as much as $10 million while Howard County estimates its fees will total about $7 million in the first year.
Baltimore County's fees to residential property owners is the lowest of the jurisdictions that have submitted plans.
Gardina said part of the way the county was able to keep the residential rates so low was by taking into account every available credit under state law including those for stormwater management ponds around the county.
There are currently more than 2,900 stormwater management ponds in the county. Most of them are private. In order to claim the full credit, the county will be required to inspect them all every three years.
The county is already required to do the inspections once every three years but Gardina said his agency struggles to complete the inspections on time with the 11 employees assigned to the task. The county will need to hire additional staff in order to meet the new requirements, Gardina said.
Based on a lunch-time briefing for the council Tuesday, the bill would most likely not set the actual fees for residential and commercial properties. Instead, the proposed county law would likely enable the county executive to set the fees by executive order—a move allowing councilmembers to claim they did not vote for a fee that could be interpreted as a tax increase.
Baltimore County has not increased its property tax rate on the assessed value of properties in two decades.
Despite the fact that the new fee will increase the total property tax bill, Gardina and other county officials stressed that the new charge is not a property tax increase. Instead, the fee will be collected much in the same way the county collects charges for the Metropolitan District and the so-called state "flush tax."
But officials in other jurisdictions said the public will likely see little distinction between a fee and a property tax increase.
"You can dress it up and call it different things, but at the end of the day a tax is a tax and this is a tax on the environment," said Robert Thomas, a Harford County government spokesman.