Think of the county’s new stormwater fee as a speeding ticket for stormwater. We’ve been letting stormwater break all the speed limits, and we’re about to get serious about better red lights, speed bumps and stop signs.
Algae-filled ponds, erosion on stream banks and pathways, and muddy streams and rivers of soil after storms are all symptoms of too much stormwater runoff. A fifth of the pollution in the Chesapeake Bay is from stormwater runoff. All that stormwater rushing off of roofs, driveways, sidewalks, roads and parking lots carries oils, pet waste, pesticides, herbicides and debris to the Bay, causing low levels of dissolved oxygen and fish kills. Sometimes beaches have to close for swimmers because of high bacteria levels.
In 2012, the state passed a law requiring the 10 largest jurisdictions in Maryland to create a stormwater protection fee this year. In March, the Howard County Council approved a Watershed Protection and Restoration fee to pay for infrastructure repairs, stormwater ponds, rain gardens and other techniques that slow stormwater, as well as for education, monitoring and incentives. That fee structure was based on the amount of impervious surface on a property and was to start July 1. Days before it was to take effect, however, County Executive Ken Ulman proposed a
“streamlined” fee. Under the revised plan, which requires Council approval, owners of townhouses and condominiums would be charged $15 annually. Owners of single-family homes on lots up to one-quarter acre would pay $45, and residential properties larger than one-quarter acre would be charged $90. Commercial and industrial property owners would pay a $15 fee for each “unit,” 500 square feet, of impervious surface on their property. Nonprofits would be able to get grants to pay for approved remediation plans, and fees for businesses would be capped at 20 percent of the property tax bill. Because of the last-minute revisions, the fee won’t show up as an item on the semiannual property tax
bill until December.
Property owners can reduce the fee by removing impervious surfaces and replacing them with gardens and rain gardens, porous pavers and other stormwater controls. For information on reducing your fee with credits, contact the county Office of Environmental Sustainability at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jim Caldwell at email@example.com.