In August, The Bay Journal asked officials at the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Attorney General’s office what, if anything, they planned to do about the counties that declined to create a stormwater utility and establish a fee for it. The answer: We’ll get back to you.
Now comes word that both departments are preparing to take action against one county that declined to charge a fee, one that only charged a symbolic one, and a third that is thinking of repealing its fee altogether.
The A.G.’s office sent letters to all three counties last month.
Caroll County declined to establish a fee because officials there said they were spending $20 million of general fund money for improvements. Douglas Gansler’s office said that was not sufficient and threatened both legal action and fines of $10,000 a day if the county did not comply with the law. It said it would be looking to take legal action if Carroll officials did not respond within 10 days of receiving the letter (which was dated Oct. 25.)
(The law, passed in 2012, required Maryland’s nine largest counties and Baltimore City to establish the fee and set up the utility by 2012.)
Frederick County decided to establish a fee of one penny. Officials there said they did not want to further tax residents and they resented the top-down interference from Annapolis. Gansler’s office said the county risked fines of $32,500 a day. It urged Frederick to come up with a plan and submit it, and it warned that its next stormwater permit hinged on getting that information.
Harford County set a fee of $125 per home, but then voted to defer all but 10 percent of it. That means residents of towns like Bel Air and Fallston will only be paying $12.50 this year for stormwater, while those one county over in Towson and Parkville will be paying close to $40. Gansler’s office was not pleased with the delay, but said that a repeal would be even more egregious and would result in legal action. Harford, like Frederick, still owes the MDE a stormwater plan.
The stormwater debate was always political, but it’s gotten even more so. Harford County Executive David Craig is running for the Republican nomination for governor of Maryland. So is Blaine Young, president of the Frederick County Board of Commissioners. And Gansler is running for the Democratic nomination. Young and Craig have been vocal about their opposition to the stormwater tax, and Craig has even questioned the science of impervious surface contributing to pollution.
We still don’t know if the state is planning on taking any action against Anne Arundel County, which voted this week to reduce its fee to just $1 for nonprofits. It’s been political there, too, with a new county executive initially vetoing the fee, the council overriding her veto, and then intense negotiations that resulted in substantial reductions.
How will it all play out? We’ll have to see. Check back here for updates.