By Maria Wiering
State-mandated stormwater remediation fees were implemented July 1 in nine Maryland counties and Baltimore City, costing some parishes thousands, and others nothing.
The wide range of fees is a result of a state law requiring each of the state’s 10 largest jurisdictions to set its own fees, which fund efforts to comply with federal environmental regulations.
Baltimore City’s fees are among the highest in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, costing religious non-profits $12 per 1,050 square feet of impervious surface annually. Baltimore County is charging $20 per 2,000 square feet for institutional properties, including nonprofit organizations.
At the other end of the spectrum, Carroll County plans to cover the fees with grants and county dollars instead of charging property owners. Frederick County plans to assess all affected properties a flat fee of 1 cent.
In most jurisdictions, the fees are based on a property’s impervious surface area, including paved parking lots, sidewalks and rooftops. Some jurisdictions plan to assess residences and commercial properties at different rates, and most are assessing churches and other nonprofits at lower rates than commercial or residential properties.
Still, the fees pose an extra burden for some parishes, say Catholic leaders, including Conventual Franciscan Father Donald Grzymski, pastor of St. Clement Mary Hofbauer in Rosedale. Baltimore County charged his parish $1,691 for stormwater remediation for fiscal year 2014. An increase in other utility fees, including a $3,300 hike in sewer service costs, boosted the county tax bill by $5,000 for the 1,000-family parish.
The $8,600 total bill almost equals an average weekend collection, Father Grzymski said.
“Our budget is tight – there’s not a whole lot left over,” he said. “Our staffing is not exorbitant. I’m even worrying about can we keep staffing as it is, if our other bills keep going up.”
The parish is exploring the costs to replace its paved parking lot with gravel, but that would also be costly, he said.
The Maryland Catholic Conference, which advocates for public policy on behalf of the state’s bishops, and the Archdiocese of Baltimore were among religious organizations that urged the jurisdictions to exempt church properties from the fees because of their nonprofit statuses. Catholic leaders voiced concerns about how the fees – which some call a “rain tax” – could affect the work of schools, parishes and outreaches, including Catholic Charities.
Maryland’s General Assembly passed legislation in 2012 requiring Baltimore City and nine counties – Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Charles, Frederick, Harford, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s – to assess stormwater remediation fees. The funds are to be appropriated for efforts to improve the quality of runoff into the state’s waterways, including the Chesapeake Bay, helping the state meet requirements set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Water Act.
The state law exempted properties owned by state and local governments.
William J. Baird III, archdiocesan chief financial director and executive director of management services, called the fees “a constantly moving target” and hopes the Legislature revises them. Not only do the fees vary, but in some jurisdictions, it is unclear how the waterways will benefit, he said.
Baird expects church properties in Baltimore City to bear the heaviest financial burden. The city is home to 49 Catholic churches, the most of any affected jurisdiction in the archdiocese. It also hosts many schools and Catholic Charities properties.
“Any increases in fees take away from our ability to provide the other services we provide in the community,” he said. “Every dollar we have is raised and reinvested in communities that they’re raised in.”
Opposition of the fees does not mean the church opposes environmental stewardship, Baird said.
“We’ve become more environmentally friendly in the way we construct, manage and operate our facilities,” he said. “It’s a very, very difficult issue, because obviously the Chesapeake Bay and our stormwater systems are of significant contribution and concern, but at the same time, we have to have a thoughtful approach about how we’re going to move forward on these things.”
Annual stormwater fees for churches in Archdiocese of Baltimore
Anne Arundel County – $1 (flat fee)
Baltimore City – $12 per 1,050 sq. ft. of impervious surface area (Equivalent to $11.43 per 1,000 square feet)
Baltimore County – $20 per 2,000 sq. ft. of impervious surface area (Equivalent to $10 per 1,000 square feet)
Carroll County – $0 (County is not charging property owners)
Frederick County – $0.01 (flat fee)
Harford County – $12.50 this year, $125 beginning next year
Howard County – $15 per 500 sq. ft. of impervious surface area; runoff-reduction efforts could reduce or eliminate fees (Equivalent to $30 per 1,000 sq. ft.)