A new fee designed to clean up the Chesapeake Bay is the focus of a heated debate among Maryland taxpayers, environmentalists, and business groups.
As of July 1, Marylanders in ten counties will begin paying a storm management fee, between $20 and $200 in most cases.
"This all costs money and the fee is to help equally distribute the burden," says Elaine Lutz, an attorney with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "We depend on everyone to contribute a little bit so we can keep the resources we really appreciate."
The idea of a fee to exclusively pay for storm water projects comes from the state. Now the counties must decide a fee structure and how residents should pay for it.
On Monday, the Anne Arundel County Council approved a fee plan. Residents in condo or townhomes should expect to pay about $34. Those in single family homes would pay about $85. Rural or agriculture-related residents would pay about $170.
"I'm all in favor of a clean bay," says Fred Mason of Baltimore. "Everything has a cost to it. Highways have a cost, water has a cost, so we have to pay for it."
The idea is to help fund wetlands restoration and prevent storm water runoff with projects like rooftop gardens and porous driveways and parking lots.
"The hard surfaces in our cities and towns are really dirty," Lutz says. "After a rain event, all the chemicals, pollutant, and trash washes right from the streets and gutters into the bay."
For some folks, however, this fee has another name: The "rain tax."
"Cleaning up the bay is really important," says Trish Dunn, a Kent Island resident who says she contributes to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
But she's not happy about the fee plan.
"If you're forcing people to pay $200 to $300 to clean up the bay then that's taxation in my view."
The fee is measured by the surface area of properties. Some fear small businesses will suffer, required to pay bills worth thousands of dollars.
"So for many, they're going to receive this bill, along with a real estate tax bill July 1, and it's going to be sticker shock for a lot," says Baltimore Washington Corridor Chamber of Commerce President Walt Townshend.
The county says residents can get a credit and even cut their fee in half by showing proof they're trying to mitigate runoff on their properties. Some examples? Installing a gravel lot in lieu of a paved driveway or by planting a roof or ground level garden to reduce runoff.
Those supporting the fee say one way or another, the bay needs to be cleaned and someone has to pay for it.
"The Chesapeake Bay is a national treasure," Mason says. "We should do everything we can to protect it."