Sunday, August 2, 2015

Snow, rain, taxes

"Rain tax" generates flood of protests in Maryland.

Snow, rain, taxes


We know from experience that weather can be taxing, and for decades, to various degrees U.S. taxpayers have been paying the bills for weather mayhem, accepting them as a cost of doing business with the atmosphere.

Yet we haven’t quite seen the likes of what’s going on in Maryland, where a so-called “rain tax” has set off a storms of protests. For example, see this essay by developer and commentator Blair Lee.

Starting July 1, several Maryland counties will be assessing fees under the state’s Watershed Protection and Restoration Program. Here is the state's fact sheet on the program.

It is a fee charged to property owners based on the amount of impervious cover – driveways, concrete patios, and the like -- on a given real estate parcel.

Since snow, rain, and their variants can’t penetrate hard surfaces, precipitation runs off and flushes pollutants, such as motor oil and pesticides, into waterways. So, theoretically, property owners who interfere with soil percolation should share the costs of cleanups.

Such a fee already is in effect in Maryland's Montgomery County. In fiscal 2012, $17 million was raised, an average of just over $70 per property, according to a county report.

How is the charge computed? As stated in the county's FAQ, through a sophisticated process involving GIS, the county calcuated that counting roofs, driveways, and other surfaces, impervious cover averaged 2,406 square feet per property.

That figure is known as the Equivalent Residential Unit -- or ERU -- the base for calculating the fee.

The amount appears as a line item in the property-tax bill; however, the state points out that this is not part of the bill, but a separate charge.

Thus, churches and other nonprofit institutions that are exempt from property taxes aren't exempt from the rain fee.

What are the chances that such a fee will be coming to a state even nearer to you? New Jersey has no plans for one, according to Department of Environmental Portection spokesman Larry Ragonese. The governor, he says, has no interest in new taxes, crypto or otherwise.

As for Pennsylvania, said DEP spokeswoman Amanda Witman: "We do not have anything like that at the state level in Pennsylvania, nor are we aware of any bills pending that take the approach Maryland did."

One footnote: Montgomery County, Md., is highly developed. Yet the county determined that just 11 percent of all its surface area was covered with the hard stuff. We had thought it would be much more.


Inquirer Weather Columnist
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Tony Wood Inquirer Weather Columnist
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