Lawmakers ponder ‘rain tax’ adjustment -- Gazette.Net


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This story was updated at 2:45 p.m. April 30, 2013.

New, local stormwater management fees are set to take effect in several jurisdictions July 1, but some state lawmakers want to revisit those charges, which might be bigger than anticipated.

“Sometimes we do things that we have to go back and look at [again],” said Sen. Nancy J. King (D-Dist. 39) of Montgomery Village. “This could be one of them.”

A law passed by the Maryland General Assembly in the final hours of the 2012 regular session — dubbed the “rain tax” by critics — required nine counties and Baltimore city to adopt stormwater management fees. Those areas are subject to federal regulations for large jurisdictions.

Property owners will be charged based on the amount of impervious surface, such as pavement, but the local governments set their own fees.

Lawmakers are particularly concerned about the impact on businesses and on nonprofit organizations such as churches, but homeowners associations also would be vulnerable, King said, adding that she would be “more than happy” to revisit the issue in the future.

Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer (D-Dist. 12) of Columbia, who chairs the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, said he certainly supported the overall goal of the fees — to support the health of the Chesapeake Bay — but the cost to businesses with large parking lots, for example, could be astronomical.

“There hasn’t been much notice. People are not aware this charge is coming their way,” Kasemeyer said.

This past session, he sought to delay the implementation of the fee by two years, but the measure failed in the House.

With July 1 approaching, Kasemeyer didn’t know if anything else could be done at the state level, but said he hoped the local governments implementing the fees would adopt manageable payment schedules.

Del. Tom Hucker (D-Dist. 20) of Silver Spring, who sponsored the 2012 bill, said there was no need to erode the law, which was important for the protection of the Bay and supported by groups representing numerous churches. He said it was comical to hear people pretending that the bill, which had previously failed three times, had somehow snuck through unnoticed.

Delegate Sheila Ellis Hixson (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said the legislation could certainly be considered again in the next session, and levying large fines against nonprofit groups and churches “was no one’s intent.”

Some jurisdictions are already working to minimize the damage.

In Montgomery County, where the state law requires modification of existing county stormwater laws, the County Council is poised to adopt a complex set of regulations on Tuesday that includes a grant to help offset the fees to homeowners associations with private roads that are open to the public.

The council also is expected to place a cap on the charges to nonprofit organizations. A three-tiered system would let the nonprofits with the largest square footage of impervious surface pay up to about $2,000 per year, or less than 10 percent of what would otherwise be required.

County estimates show the fee could cost Montgomery homeowners as little as $28 and as much as $170 in the coming year.

Anne Arundel County Executive Laura A. Neuman (R) vetoed legislation establishing that county’s stormwater fees, explaining in a written statement that she wanted the county council there to try again to lessen the impact on businesses and slow a phase-in for residential properties.

dleaderman@gazette.net