City moving on stormwater fee

Written by on February 27, 2013 in Featured, Neighborhood News - No comments

Baltimore’s proposed stormwater fee is the local result of a state initiative to clean up Chesapeake Bay. Photo by Erik Zygmont

A stormwater fee—which the city says will be used to mitigate the negative environmental effects of stormwater—may soon be appearing on property owners’ water bills.

City Council Bill 12-0155 would require that property owners pay a fee based on the amount of impervious surface—concrete, asphalt, and other surface areas that prevent stormwater absorption—on their properties.

For less than 820 square feet of impervious surface, a single-family residential property owner would pay $12 per quarter or $48 per year. For 820-1,500 square feet, the fee jumps to $72 annually; above that, property owners pay $36 per quarter or $144 per year.

For non-residential properties such as businesses, impervious surface is measured and divided into Equivalent Residential Units of 1,050 square feet. For every 1,050-square-foot ERU of impervious surface on the property, the owner would be charged $72 per year. Fractions of ERUs are rounded to the nearest whole number.

Shonte Eldridge, Chief of Communications for the Baltimore City Department of Public Works, said that the city would use satellite photos to calculate impervious surfaces on individual properties.

“They’re taking an aerial view that shows the impervious area of your property,” Eldridge said, adding that property owners will have the opportunity to contest the city’s assessments.

The stormwater fee would appear on water bills as a separate line item. If there is no water service to the property, then the owner will receive a bill exclusively for the stormwater fee.

The impetus for this fee comes from the state. Last May, Governor Martin O’Malley signed into law a bill that requires Baltimore City plus Maryland’s 9 largest counties to implement a watershed protection and restoration program by July 1 of this year. The program would, by state law, include a stormwater remediation fee and a local watershed protection and restoration fund.

Last November, Baltimore City voters approved a Charter amendment that established a stormwater utility, administratively similar to the city’s water and sewer utilities, but dealing exclusively with stormwater. The DPW manages the three utilities. Eldridge said that while the department has always been tasked with stormwater management, the separate utility and stormwater fee “will allow us to be a lot more proactive than how it was before.”

All stormwater fees collected by the city will go to the stormwater utility, which will implement watershed and stream restoration, street sweeping, repairing and replacing infrastructure, and “other steps to reduce polluted runoff from streets, parking lots, and buildings,” according to Clean Water Baltimore, a city agency launched last fall.
According to Clean Water Baltimore, Baltimore CIty has 1,100 miles of stormwater pipes, fed by 50,000 storm drain inlets. Necessary infrastructure repairs, according to Clean Water Baltimore, are currently estimated at over $2 billion.

Eldridge said that senior citizens and low-income residents already receiving discounts on their water and sewer bills will also get a discount on the stormwater fee. Property owners can also reduce their fee by reducing the amount of impermeable surface on their property.

Discussions are underway regarding “stormwater credits.” Eldridge said that a “stakeholders group” including community association representatives, business owners, non-profit representatives, environmental group people, and city employees is trying to decide what property owners can do, besides decreasing impervious surface, to get a break on their stormwater fee.

by Erik Zygmont

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