Political Storm In Baltimore County Over So-Called “Rain Tax”

Nov 16, 2015

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz
Credit John Lee

The Baltimore County Council is expected to vote tonight to phase out the county’s storm water management fee by July 2017. But the repeal of the so-called “rain tax” is proving to be a politically bumpy ride.

The Council’s move puts it at odds with County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who wants to keep the fee so the county has a designated funding source for storm water projects.

Council Chair Cathy Bevins says the administration retaliated against her and other council members by threatening to take away storm water projects already on the books. In her case, it was 48 trees that were to be planted in her district.

"Well, you’re not doing that to me," Bevins says. "First off, this was funded in the budget that we, the County Council, voted on. How can you take away projects that have already been funded?"

Don Mohler, Kamenetz’s chief of staff, says this was the case of an administration official getting angry and going overboard. Mohler says Kamenetz has assured Bevins the trees will be planted.

Kamenetz says he is committed to fully funding projects that control storm water runoff into the Chesapeake Bay. And even if he wasn’t, the county is under a federal mandate to do so. So the 16 million dollars the fee raises annually will have to come from somewhere else in the county budget.

In fact, state law requires the county to explain how it intends to pay for storm water projects if it doesn’t have the fee. But this gets a little tricky. Although the Council is repealing the so-called rain tax, it’s up to Kamenetz to figure out how to make up the money.

Elaine Lutz with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation says that should happen before the council repeals the fee. But it won’t.

"They kind of point a finger at the County Executive’s office and the County Executive’s office points a finger back," Lutz says. "Unfortunately… environmental priorities and issues get caught up in the political fray." Chief of staff Mohler says the state will get the plan by next July, when it’s due.

The Council’s vote tonight to phase out the fee is expected to be unanimous, making it veto proof.