County GOP attacks Olszewskis on “Rain Tax” votes
Wednesday, 30 October 2013 11:12

Officials say they’re following federal mandate

by Ben Boehl

    Local Republicans appear ready to use the “Rain Tax” controversy to their advantage for the 2014 election. Toward that end, the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee (BCRCC) purchased a billboard on Holabird Avenue near the Baltimore City line.
    The billboard reads, “Who Voted For The Rain Tax?” Underneath was the GOP’s answer: the name “Olszewski” in the middle with the name “Johnny, Sr.” on the left and “Johnny, Jr.” on the right, referring to County Councilman John Olszewski Sr. and his son, state Del. John Olszewski Jr., who is running for state Senate in 2014.
    “The Olszewski support [of the “Rain Tax”)]reveals a disconnect with residents and small businesses in southeast Baltimore County,” BCRCC Chairman John Fiastro Jr. said at an Oct. 24 press conference at the site of the billboard.
    Fiastro invited Republican gubernatorial candidate David Craig’s running mate, Del. Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, to the event. Holding a “Repeal the Rain Tax” bumper sticker, she said that she and Craig intend to make the stormwater management fee an issue in the upcoming election.
  

House of Delegates candidates Bob Long, Ric Metzgar, Robin Grammer and Roger Zajdel, state Senate candidate Johnny Salling and County Council candidate Todd Crandell were among the local Republicans hopefuls at the event.
    “We are here to present the candidates to defeat the Olszewski dynasty,” Fiastro said.
    Both Del. Olszewski and Councilman Olszewski heard about the billboard and the GOP attack. Delegate Olszewski called it “a cheap partisan shot.”
    Councilman Olszewski added the Republicans are criticizing his vote on a federal mandate and not a state of local government policy.
    “This is a ploy. They want to take away from  all that has happened,” Councilman Olszewski said.
    “They don’t want to focus on the new high schools, the St. Helena dog park or any other development. They want to distract from what we have done as a community.”
    The controversial “Rain Tax” is a new stormwater management fee that went into effect on July 1.
    The Maryland General Assembly adopted the Stormwater Management — Watershed Protection and Restoration Program (known as the “Rain Tax”) requiring local governments to establish and fund watershed protection and restoration programs in April 2012.
    Local Republicans have blasted     Del. John Olszewski Jr. for voting in favor of the bill.
    Once the state bill was enacted, the next step fell to local jurisdictions. The Baltimore County Council later approved the local version of the “Rain Tax,” called the Stormwater Remediation Fee, in April by a vote of 5-2.
    Councilman John Olszewski Sr. voted for the bill and defended his vote by saying that the program is federally mandated.
    “Do they know that we can lose our MS4 permit?” Councilman Olszewski said, referring to the  federal stormwater  discharge permit.
    The councilman explained that ignoring the federal mandate could cause local jurisdictions to lose funding for such projects as road construction and schools.
    Del. Olszewski said that the state did not set the rates and that the decision was made independently by each local jurisdiction, but he said he understands why Baltimore County set rates as it did.
    Del. Olszewski added that it might sound easy to ignore the requirement, but asked if Republicans were willing to give up the federal money they take for granted. He cited the recent announcement by Amazon.com that they will be building a warehouse at the former General Motors plant.
    “I don’t want to be shortchanged from the funding that goes to our schools, our senior centers and rec councils. Without a federal permit, we could not build the Amazon warehouse.”
    Vincent Gardina, director of the county Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability, explained that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was sued in 2010 by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation for the Total Maximum Daily Load for Nitrogen (TMDL), Phosphorus and Sediment found in the Chesapeake Bay.
    According to Gardina, a federal court order is forcing the EPA to act to reduce the levels of TDMLs in the Chesapeake Bay.
    As a result of the court ruling, Gardina said, the EPA is requiring the six states in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed (including Maryland) to take action to reduce TDMLs.
    Once the General Assembly passed the necessary bill, local jurisdictions were required to create their own plans to reduce TDMLs.
    “We had to find $33 million per year to reduce TDMLs in our local waterways,” Gardina said.
    According to Gardina, the county was able to find $10 million from the Metropolitan District Financing and Petitions funding, but still needed to find $23 million, and turned to a stormwater management fee.
    Councilman Olszewski added that Baltimore County has one of the lowest stormwater fee rates in the county as single-family homes are charged $39 per year, townhome or duplexes pay $21 per year and condominiums are charged $32 per year.
    Republicans have noted that the fees hit businesses with annual charges of nearly $1,500 per acre of impervious surface.
    Fiastro said that Dundalk-area businesses such as Eastpoint Mall have to pay over $76,000 annually, with a small business such as Squire’s paying $700 and Mars Supermarkets being charged almost $3,000.
    Councilman Olszewski agreed that the fees on the businesses are higher than he would have liked.
    “We are going to have to revisit that, and [we] could follow a course taken by Howard County. We can’t take a look at that (until next year’s budget),” he stated.
    Gardina said another option was to raise property taxes, but said he believes that would have been unpopular, too.
    “There has been criticism of elected officials, but they had to support this,” Gardina noted.
    “If we did nothing, we could lose our MS4 permit. If that happened, that would result in no more funding for our roads and schools and it could lead to no more development by Baltimore County.”
    Haddaway-Riccio responded that not all states have complied with this EPA requirement — she cited Pennsylvania as an example — and that Republicans question if Maryland really needs to be worried about the federal mandate.
    Crandell said he has “heard the excuses” as to why politicians have voted for this bill and said using the federal mandate as a justification is unacceptable.
    “The federal government is not a monarchy. The federal government answers to the people. [Councilman Olszewski] did not stand by and support his people,” Crandell said.
    “When an elected official votes for something that they don’t think is a good bill, they should step down.”
    Long said he understands the Olszewski’s concern over losing federal funding, but said he would like to have seen other avenues taken to reduce the amount of TDMLs without hurting businesses’ finances.
    “[The county] could have set up a voluntary program such as planting trees to reduce runoff, or could have changed the zoning to regulate the amount of parking spaces,” Long said.
    “That would reduce the amount of impervious surfaces,” Crandell said.