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The Truth about the "Tax on Rain"

Stormwater grateA “tax on rain?”   Try: “investments in local health and jobs.”

Local governments across Maryland are voting to create new stormwater pollution control fees, as required by a 2012 state law and EPA pollution limits for the Chesapeake Bay. Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties approved fees yesterday.

Some critics have mocked the fees as a “tax on rain” or a “driveway tax” because they are often based on how many square feet of blacktop and other hard surfaces exist on a property. The more blacktop, the more toxic stormwater rushes off a property during rain storms to pollute nearby streams and Chesapeake Bay.

But instead of only focusing on the costs of stormwater pollution control projects, we should also look at the benefits –- such as better health for fish, oysters, crabs, and even people.  In many areas of Maryland, public health officials warn everyone not to swim 48 hours after a rain, because stormwater flushes bacteria from dog waste, failing septic tanks, and many other sources into local swimming beaches.  With better stormwater pollution control systems, our children won’t risk an upset stomach or trip to the doctor’s office just for playing in the water at the wrong time.

Stormwater control projects also create jobs for construction workers and engineers.  Montgomery Country, for example is using a stormwater fee to invest $305 million in local construction projects, including the rebuilding of urban streams to reduce erosion, and the digging of roadside ditches full of wetlands plants that absorb and filter rainwater. The result is the hiring of 3,300 workers in Montgomery County.  And more than 178,000 full-time equivalent jobs are projected across the Bay region over the next five years as more counties build stormwater control systems to meet EPA pollution limits for the Chesapeake and state Blueprints for cleaning up the Bay.

Moreover, there are easy steps homeowners and businesses can take to reduce their proposed stormwater fees, which range from $39 per year for owners of single family homes in Baltimore County, to $85 for a single-family home in Anne Arundel County, and $15 per 500 square feet of impervious surfaces for commercial properties in Howard County.

The stormwater fee law passed by the Maryland General Assembly in 2012 for the state’s 10 largest municipalities requires local governments to carve out fee reductions that people can earn by following stormwater control strategies on their properties. These include installing rain barrels to catch runoff from roofs; planting gardens with native plants in ditches to absorb and filter stormwater; and constructing driveways and parking lots from materials  that water can pass through.

For example, Howard County will reimburse business owners and homeowners up to 50 percent of the cost of installing porous concrete pavers in the place of blacktop.  The property owner’s annual stormwater fee would also go down, because the fee is based on a rate of $15 per 500 feet of impervious surfaces. So the smaller the hard surface, the lower the annual bill.

To learn more about Howard County’s credits for stormwater management, click here

Each county follows a slightly different system, but the concept is the same in most places:

You can reduce your stormwater fees by greening your property and reducing blacktop.  And the money you do end up paying may put your neighbor to work –- and keep your local swimming beach open.
 
By Tom Pelton

Chesapeake Bay Foundation

(Photo from FDEP)

Comments

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What has happened to the taxes and fees in the past? We keep adding taxes yet the bay is disgusting.

Great article. I have been combing over this new tax from the Obama Executive Order to MD County implementation and reading several blogs/articles online that lack significant information. Many people do not understand the tax credits for low impact development techniques and less pervious surfaces - spread the word!

My understanding is that runoff from one's roof is also subject to this fee. Interesting because my roof runoff is collected at the foundation and pumped into my backyard and never gets to the storm sewer.

Thanks, Alpha. I don't know what county you live in, but in some counties I believe you can get credits against the stormwater fees if you have systems in place that catch stormwater.

In response to your question, Lee:

Maryland passed a "flush tax" a few years back that has been tremendously helpful to the Bay because the money was used to moderize sewage treatment plants across the state. That means tons less nitrogen, phosphorus, and other pollutants in our streams, rivers and the Bay. However, as that pollution from sewage treatment plants has decreased, stormwater runoff pollution (especially from suburban sprawl) has increased, as more parking lots and spread-out developments have been built in forests and on farmland. That's why we need these new stormwater fees, to stop the stormwater pollution that is the only category of pollution that is still increasing in the Chesapeake.

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Taxes are the prices we pay for living in a civilized society, Ed.

Swimming beaches awash with bacteria are not civilized. A Bay with rafts of garbage after a rain is not civilized. Neighborhood streams tainted with human waste from sewage overflows are not civilized.

In America, we pay for what we value. I value clean water. I want to contribute healthy waterways to my fellow citizens and my children. I have no problem paying these modest fees.

I would like to know where every cent of the tax will be spent. I bet it would be easier to follow a single rain drop from Oakland MD, I don't live in the Cheasapeake watershed, to the Gulf of Mexico.

oh ya well Eric, no one cares about you in western Maryland. we will take your money and use it how we see fit. eventually we will tax Virginia and pa because they are in the bay watershed. that's right. va and pa residences will pay a md tax.

Roy, some Virginia local governments already have stormwater pollution control fees of their own. They do not need to follow Maryland -- they are taking their own initiative on the issue of cleaning up the Bay.

Eric, the 2012 Maryland storm water pollution control fee law does not apply to Garrett County, Maryland, or your town of Oakland. The law applies to the 10 largest jurisdictions in the state (such as Baltimore city and county, Anne Arundel County, etc.) There, the local governments set the fees and will keep records about how the money is spent that will be subject to the Maryland Public Information Act.

If I could believe that these taxes will actually be used for this purpose, in perpetuity, I might be on board.

But I don't trust that will happen, just like I don't trust that the State Education Trust Fund [from casino revenue] will actually be used to better educate Maryland's children. It will likely be raided for other purposes, just like the Transportation "Trust" Fund.

I have long thought that the Maryland General Assembly should pass a simple law requiring "dedicated" funds to be actually dedicated to the purpose for which they were established.

This may be a legitimate need, but call a tax a tax. "Fee for service" calculations based on impervious surface areas are bogus without figuring out the ratio to pervious surface areas - all runoff from a house on 2 or 3 acres is likely to be entirely absorbed on the property, whereas the same house on 1/8th acre in a dense neighborhood will produce run-off. Sounds like an expensive program to administer -- handling protests alone will be costly. Why not add a tick to the property tax rate? Would cost nothing extra to produce the funding needed. (But that would be raising taxes...)

Also, "creating jobs" is overused as a reason to do something -- we don't collect taxes to pay people to work on projects that no one needs. If the cost/benefit ratio to society is compelling compared to other initiatives, and if we can afford it, then we probably should do it. This decision process is called "politics". Storm water management and clean bay investment ideas need to stand on their merits, like everything else.

Fair enough, Greg. But often opponents of environmental regulations claim that they kill jobs -- which is usually the opposite of the truth. So pointing out what jobs are actually created by regulations is important to helping people understand the truth about their impact on society. If they are well crafted and based on sound science, they don't just clean up our air and water -- they put construction workers and engineers to work.

why not use the money to build a treatment plant for the runoff water before it hits the bay.that will give you jobs and help to repair the bay.

MD Governor has increased, sales tax, gas tax, property tax, my county, PG has a 30% energy tax, now we have a RAIN TAX!!!!!!!!

While all the time MD Government is contributing to the polluting of the States watersheds.

In addition to one problem I have identified with MDNCPP having placed a Trash Dumpster on the water, the development of a Casino on the Potomac River will add a tremendous amount of pollutants in the river.

And we that tax payers have to pay for that too while the MOB gets rich? Oh and Politicians too.

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