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City Council bill would slash Baltimore’s ‘rain tax’

(Flickr / Jim Champion / “Raindrops” / CC BY-SA 2.0 / cropped and resized)

(Flickr / Jim Champion / “Raindrops” / CC BY-SA 2.0 / cropped and resized)

Baltimore City Councilman Carl Stokes introduced legislation Monday aimed at cutting the so called “rain tax” charged city residents, and he slammed development incentives in the news release announcing the bill.

Stokes’ plan calls for slashing the Storm Water Remediation fees charged in the city by 50 percent. The fees have been controversial since the Maryland General Assembly approved them in 2012 before allowing jurisdictions to undo them this year. The fees are charged in the state’s 11 largest jurisdictions and are supposed to provide funds to upgrade stormwater management systems cutting pollution from streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.

“I am introducing this legislation for the countless residents whose bills continuously increase but their salaries remain the same,” Stokes, chairman of the Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee and a Democratic Party candidate for mayor, said in a news release. “When I speak with seniors throughout the city the first thing they say to me is: can you please do something about my extraordinary water bills? It is increasingly difficult to keep pace with the additional fees and only receive the same amount of money each month and no overtime.”

The city has the highest remediation fees in the state annually charging $40 for 820 square feet or less of impervious surface; $65 up to 1,500 square feet and $120 for more than 1,500 square feet.  Non-residential properties pay  2,489.11 per acre.

If the bill passed it would go into effect on or after July 1, 2017. But the legislation still would have to be voted out of committee and passed by the City Council. Even if that were to happen the bill already faces a major obstacle. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake doesn’t feel there’s a need to change the remediation fees.

Howard Libit, a spokesman for the mayor, said the bottom line is if the fees are slashed the city would have to pay for that out of the general fund.

The General Assembly and Gov. Larry Hogan in the last session repealed the mandatory stormwater fees, although jurisdictions still have to provide funds for a program to deal with their stormwater runoff. Some jurisdictions have moved to repeal their fees, saying they will finance this cost out of their operating budgets, while others have taken a wait-and-see attitude.

Stokes said if the stormwater tax was cut in half, the city could make up for the loss of those revenues from within its operating budget and from other sources.

In the news release announcing the legislation, Stokes, who has been a vocal critic of the way the city uses development incentives, also blasted the city’s development efforts. In the past Stokes has argued the city should be more judicious about the use of incentives, such as Tax Increment Financing and Payments in Lieu of Taxes.

“It’s unfortunate that Baltimore City has the highest property taxes in the state, while giving hundreds of millions of dollars away in tax credits through sweetheart deals to developers downtown. Our neighborhoods uptown and the working poor throughout this city need relief now,” Stokes said.


About Adam Bednar

Adam Bednar covers real estate and development for The Daily Record.