Last April 2012, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed a new law that enacted a “storm water management fee” on ten of 24 local jurisdictions within the state, including mine, Montgomery County. It has been dubbed the “rain tax” by the news media.
The bill was passed in response to a decree by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) formally known as the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, which identified mandatory reductions in nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment that damage the Chesapeake Bay. These pollutants are primarily found in drainage run-off and fertilizers.
Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia must comply with these new environmental standards, but each state is free to find its own way to fund the relief efforts. Maryland is the only state that has instituted a levy to meet the EPA’s standards.
The tax is convoluted and disorganized. It is levied annually on the amount of “impervious surface” that is on a property. According to Maryland’s state legislature, an impervious surface includes any area that prevents drainage from being absorbed into the ground. This means any roofing, driveways, or parking lots are subject to this tax. The thought was the more covered area, the more you pay. It is especially onerous on commercial and public properties such as strip malls and churches with lots of paved parking. Some businesses owe tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars this year if they have lots of impervious surfaces. It has only been assessed of 9 counties and the city of Baltimore, not on the whole state. It leaves how the county comes up with the money up to the county, so the tax rates vary widely.
So we got our property tax bill and noted that we were assessed $132 this year (to rise to $178 next) as a “Water Quality Protection Charge.” We went to the web and saw that if we took certain measures such as installing rain barrels, planting a rain garden, planting a conservation landscape, or planting a green roof, we could reduce our charge by as much as 50%. So we went to work studying the web site, checking out what constituted this area’s “native” plant stock, and taking photos of our yard. The fee reduction application requires photos to show the installation(s) that one is claiming and a Google or similar satellite map of your property showing where the installation(s) are.
The application is due September 30 if you want your charge to be reduced this tax year. If granted the fee reduction, the grant is good for 3 years, so our effort will save us about $200 over the 3 years, if we are successful. Our efforts can also be taken by commercial property owners, so here’s hoping they too are studying their options and making rain gardens, etc. to get their charges reduced.
But only being able to reduce the charge by 50% makes the bite they have to pay still pretty large. So there are many who are predicting that the rain tax will be revisited by the State Legislature at its next session. However, EPA is levying a $14.8 billion fee on Maryland that the state will have to pony up somehow to pay our share of cleaning up the Chesapeake.
My question is how to follow each line item to determine how much these locally assessed fees go forward to pay the EPA assessment and how much of that money actually is used to clean up the Chesapeake and how it is used. Then we should see if what they did is actually successful. Maybe too much to ask for….
Get more great photos, tips and tours by subscribing to my blog! Just leave your email address below: (I will not share it or use it other than to transmit our latest posts. Thanks so much!)