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County Rain Tax Scam Continues

Posted: November 24, 2015 at 9:27 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

PatFenatiBy Patricia Fenati

When you look at your county Real Property Tax Forms, you will see a line item that is called Water Quality Protection Charge. That is the legal term for the “Rain Tax.” This moniker is, of course, not its real name. It got the nickname because it is a tax on all impermeable surfaces on your property from which rainwater may eventually flow into the bay. The state of Maryland supposedly dropped this tax last year. But the bill that was passed was not the bill that Governor Hogan proposed which would simply eliminate this tax. Instead it was a bill that was introduced by Senate President Mike Miller (D) Maryland. Although the bill stipulated that counties would not need to tax rainwater drain off, they were still responsible for the revenue that the tax had produced. Montgomery County, of course, wants to keep the rain tax, and recently held a hearing during which more people testified against the tax than for it.

I ran for state delegate in 2014 and as I was going door-to-door, the number one complaint was the “Rain Tax”. When we would do sign waving on rainy days with “Repeal the Rain Tax” signs, almost every passing car would honk. It is a ridiculous tax. It was passed after people paved driveways, laid patios, put hard (walkable) surfaces on their front walks so that guests would not slip and get hurt, etc.

And what about small businesses which FINALLY get past all the regulations for building a place of business with a small parking lot only to get hit with this tax? When I was going door-to-door, I met someone who was in the business of installing AstroTurf. This artificial surface would logically have to be permeable or it would become a small pond during a rainstorm and would have lots of problem with mold, but this business was fighting the application of the rain tax to their AstroTurf product.

Then there are the churches, some of which can hardly afford to keep up their parking lots, much less get hit with a $3000 or more tax because of the parking lot and roof on their building. (And we all know that a FEE or CHARGE imposed and enforced by the government is a TAX.)

I moved to Montgomery County almost 43 years ago. Not long after we got here, there were people knocking at my door collecting funds to “Save the Bay.” I now pay an environmental surcharge on my electric bill, a bay restoration fee on my water bill and the county also charges 5 cents a bag when people shop here to, all to save the bay. And yet the bay is not saved. As an aside, Montgomery County citizens who live near another county just go out of county when they have a large amount of shopping to do. So the bag tax also causes the county businesses to lose revenue.

When the EPA first imposed the “Rain Tax,” Virginia refused to pay. When Maryland imposed this tax, Frederick County refused to assess the cost per citizen and in order to comply added just a one cent tax to their property tax bills. Why can’t Montgomery County refuse or just impose a token tax to comply?

One woman I spoke with last year told me she did not mind paying taxes. Well, neither do I … when they are sensible and are allocated for the advertised cause. How is this tax imposed on constituents being used? Why is the Bay not fixed? WHY is the sediment behind the Conowingo Dam not being addressed? The Conowingo Dam is the largest source of pollution to the bay. This sediment problem should be addressed and it should be a shared cost between Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland and the US Environmental Protection Administration.

In my testimony before the County Council I asked how much of this tax goes to the state? How much of the money, if it does reach the state, goes into the General Fund?

After the hearing on this tax, a member of the County Council came out to the hallway and talked with a group of us who had testified against the tax. I was surprised to hear that the revenue from this tax does not go to the state, but is used by the county. I was also surprised to hear that revenues from this tax are used for street clearing. Isn’t this something that the county (bay or no bay) had to do before this tax was imposed?

Let’s call this “charge” what it really is … just another tax. After our conversation with the council member, I understand perhaps why the Rain Tax is deemed to be necessary. After all, our elected county officials receive some of the highest salaries in the country and the money to clean the streets would take away from the money needed to pay our county government salaries.

I believe our state and county should concentrate on really fixing the bay which is important to all of Maryland, instead of using the bay as an excuse to continually impose new taxes without addressing the problem.