This is an edited version of Paul’s letter to the editor that was published in the The Frederick News Post.

Maryland’s “Rain Tax” and “Stormwater Permits”

Alison Prost’s May 10th opinion piece supporting the new “rain tax” omits a number of major pieces of information that must be considered in an intelligent discussion of feasible and effective measures to help clean the Chesapeake Bay. A good plan to clean up the Bay must properly address the issues of COST, EFFECTIVENESS and FAIRNESS. Without addressing these considerations, no proposal for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay should be pursued. Some of the current proposals for cleaning our waters have been advanced without proper analysis for cost, effectiveness and fairness, and therefore those proposals have to be challenged. To those who say “We must spend money to clean up the Bay, regardless of the cost and regardless of whether or not these expenditures will have any significant effect in cleaning the Bay”—to those people, I must disagree. Such an approach is neither scientifically supported nor rationally supported—it is fanatical.

Stormwater flows onto streetThe rain tax that Frederick County is being forced to implement in FY 2014 (HB 987) will have minimal impact on either the taxpayers or on Bay cleanup. At this point, the rain tax is mostly a nuisance. Regardless of the monies raised by the rain tax, Frederick County and the other counties are already required to fund stormwater clean-up efforts as a part of the MDE stormwater permitting process, through which Frederick County is already required to spend $4 million in FY2015. Tax monies raised through the “rain tax” can go towards the $4 million/year requirement, but Frederick County must pay the $4 million whether or not it gets any money from the rain tax. In fact the biggest expenditure increase the County is currently facing is the threat from MDE to increase the county permitting requirements from $4 million/year to $22.5 million/year. Such an increase would cause the average property tax bill to increase by $500/year. This is too much!

Thus, it is the enormous COST of Bay clean-up that is requiring us to closely examine the EFFECTIVENESS of the measures being funded and the FAIRNESS of the taxation scheme. Unless and until they are corrected, the current Bay clean-up measures that the State is imposing on the counties fail all three tests: They are too expensive, they would bring only negligible improvement in the water quality, and they are not being equally borne by all residents in either the State of Maryland or in the greater Chesapeake Bay watershed. These serious deficiencies exist because the Bay clean-up effort is being driven by environmentalists who have given no serious consideration of either the cost or the effectiveness of the remedial measures they recommend.

Keep in mind that Maryland waters contribute only 20% of the water in the Chesapeake Bay. Keep in mind that the other states who contribute the other 80% are not attempting to enact the stringent stormwater remediation efforts that Maryland is requiring. Virginia has successfully sued to protect itself from oppressive stormwater retrofit requirements. Absent full cooperation by all states contributing water to the Bay, Maryland’s stringent efforts will be futile. And even within Maryland, the effort to charge residents with the burden of building stormwater filters is not being fairly imposed. The costs for stormwater retrofits are four times greater on Frederick County residents than on both Montgomery County residents and on Anne Arundel County residents. This is not right! Since these costs are being required through MDE permitting requirements, MDE should cap these costs so that Frederick County residents are not required to pay any more per person than residents of any other county.

Paul Smith, Frederick County Commissioner