Friday, June 21, 2013

Rain Tax Redux

Blair Ames with The Flier tells us that County Executive Ken Ulman has submitted a revised rain tax structure that would normalize rates amongst town-homes, single family (small lot), and single family (big lot) residences:

Under Ulman's plan, owners of townhouses and condominiums would be charged $15 annually. Owners of single-family homes on lots up to one-quarter acre in size would pay $45 and residential properties larger than a quarter-acre would be charged $90.

As also noted in the piece, under the previous (i.e., current) stormwater management fee structure, property owners would be charged $15 per 500 square feet of impervious surface, with the average "rain tax" bill being about $105 per year.  Square footage was determined via GPS and you may find an "Impervious Surface Estimator" offered by the Howard County Government here.  By way of the earlier scheme, those in the west, with larger properties, would pay more than the average of $105 with those in the east paying less.

It is not entirely clear to me how the Ulman Administration was able to go from the average payment being $105 to no residential property owners paying more than $90, but it would seem that it spreads the tax more evenly between the east and the west by standardization, to the benefit of the west and additional tax burden on the east. 

The new proposal also takes care of nonprofits and religious institutions indirectly by providing subsidies for "county approved treatment plans", such as rain gardens and other stormwater mitigation:

Ulman has also proposed a fee relief for non-profits and hardship provisions for businesses, as required by county and state legislation.

Non-profits will have the ability to eliminate the full amount of their fee after implementing a county approved treatment plan and the county will offer grant funding to assist with treatments. Relief will also be offered to businesses who qualify for hardship relief because of disproportionately large assessments.

I think this is a fair solution and one I hope the Council accepts.  While the tax is divided up by parcel, this is a jurisdiction-wide problem.  It makes sense to have some stratification for property size, but not so much as to throw off the balance sheets for those property owners who make their living off of "space" when the alternative is to normalize the tax across Howard County.  We should also be aware of the indirect "penalty" a square-footage standard puts on large parcels that are otherwise treasured as a part of Howard County's geographic diversity (and recently codified in Growth Tier legislation).

As much attention as may be placed on the Council, the root problems of this bill are at the State level.  Just as I believe the stormwater management fee should be spread amongst the County, I also believe the burden should be shared throughout the State.  I understand that the watershed is limited in geography and mitigation projects will be necessary within the 10 counties upon which this burden has been placed, but the health and protection of our Bay is a state-wide interest meriting state-wide contribution. 

This is a serious problem for our State and one that requires address.  Action at the EPA level has forced Maryland's hand to act on something that legislators and local jurisdictions would most likely have preferred to put off for another day...decade...or generation.  You live in a County that has actively pursued making stormwater mitigation solutions part of its offerings for citizen services and I encourage you to take advantage of that.  With the right leadership, we can look beyond the tax and make this a solution-based effort to ease the pollution burden on one of our State's largest and most productive engines for business, recreation, and pride - The Chesapeake Bay.

Have a great Friday doing what you love.  Rock on.