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Throwing Pennies to Protest Stormwater Fee

Penny photoFrederick County has decided to launch a penny protest of Maryland’s new stormwater pollution control law. Sadly, the protest will prove costly to county residents over the long term, in  contaminated streams, flooded basements, lost recreational opportunities, and reduced property values.

Forced by a 2012 state law that requires the state’s 10 largest jurisdictions to create stormwater control fees, the Frederick County Board of Commissioners recently decided to start charging eligible properties one cent per year.  That will generate a grand total of $487.81 for the county annually -– hardly enough to meet its legal obligations to clean up its own local streams and protect the health of its citizens from water pollution.

Blaine Young, President of the Frederick County Board of Commissioners, said of the stormwater fee mandate: “It’s absolutely absurd.”

Not really. Residients in Frederick County, as well as across the Chesapeake Bay region, want to fish, swim, and wade in local streams that are now polluted by stormwater.  Investments in modern stormwater pollution control systems help people enjoy their streams more, and can prevent fish kills, which have hurt the Monocacy River in Frederick County.  But investments, of course, require money.

Frederick County cannot ignore EPA pollution limits and the related science-based plan for reducing pollution, called the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint.  This plan requires all of the state and local governments in the Bay region -- including Frederick County -– to do their fair shares to control  and filter stormwater.

“One penny is not going to cut it,” Maryland’s Secretary of the Environment, Dr. Robert Summers, said of Frederick County’s one-cent plan.   “This is a federal Clean Water Act requirement. There are certainly provisions in both federal and state law that require us to properly deal with our storm water. So there definitely is an enforcement provision there.”

Harford, Howard and Baltimore counties all recently approved stormwater control fees. They range from $39 per year for an average house in Baltimore County, to $125 in Harford County, with more for businesses.   On June 17, Anne Arundel County will consider an $85 annual fee for an average home  (after a three-year phase-in).

After Montgomery County passed a stormwater pollution control fee of $70.50 a year for an average home a few years back, county officials found they had created about 3,300 construction and engineering jobs.  The fees paid for $305 million in local construction projects.

That is real income from clean water, not pennies thrown in protest.

By Tom Pelton

Chesapeake Bay Foundation

(Photo of penny from iStockphoto)


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I have no problem with the stormwater fees, IF those funds are earmarked to be exclusively used for stormwater and clean water infrastructure projects. Sometime state governments will impose a new tax, and then use it for other purposes not originally intended.

Great point, Bruce. It would be a tragedy if this stormwater pollution control money were hijacked for unintended purposes. Dedicated funds should be truly dedicated to the purposes taxpayers are told they are being collected for.

Unfortunately the O'Malley administration has given me zero confidence in their ability to manage funds as they are intended. I fully support the "Penny Protest".

All of the dollars raised through these programs stay with the local governments in dedicated funds. They do not go to the state.

A penny just gets the foot in the door. It will quickly skyrocket just like any other tax. Why should the citizens have to pay for the sins of developers and the government agencies that approved their plans? What about those who have no stormwater leaving their property? Why should we be taxed? I just read today that the Farm Bill is 80% Food Stamps. Go figure, more socialism.

Well, Paul, if we citizens use roofs and driveways, and roads to drive to work, then we all contribute to stormwater runoff. So we should all contribute our fair share to solving the problem.

Erik raises a good point: These funds will be managed by the counties and Baltimore City, not by the state government. So if you don't like how your county or city deals with this issue, you can raise your concerns at council meetings and (ultimately) by using the ballot box.

Since I live in Frederick County, I applaud the 1 cent protest over a tax(!) that hits the people with minimal runoff with a higher rate. I have 6.5 acres and my driveway is about 200 feet. Neighbors in a adjoining community have .25 acre lots and driveways of 50 feet. Dwelling square footage is comparable but I pay 4X more than each of them though their combined area consists of more impervious surface on less land?? Plus they require more roads and sidewalks. It's an idiotic fee/tax/waste on rural homeowners and this county did the right thing.

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