ROCKVILLE — Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton is asking federal legislators to help the city fund its stormwater management priorities, including requiring the state and county to chip in with fees the federal government would later reimburse.
The point is to mitigate the cost to Rockville residents and business owners who currently shoulder the cost of stormwater management, according to the mayor.
“They’re not paying their fair share,” said Newton about the state government and Montgomery County.
However, representatives from the Maryland Association of Counties in March called similar moves “redundant” for state and local governments.
“The county-owned properties are already subject to mitigation,” said Natasha Mehu, a MACO policy analyst, during a state Senate committee hearing.
Rockville is the County seat, so about 50 percent of downtown includes government buildings, said Newton.
“But why should the property owners have to make up for the lack of sharing and responsibility from the County and state partners?” she added.
Her trip to the U.S. Capitol last Thursday came after two bills regarding stormwater management requirements died for the year in the General Assembly.
Newton visited Sen. Ben Cardin (D) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-8) Thursday, specifically asking Cardin for help with the stormwater issue.
“He promised to have his staff research it and come up with a suggestion,” she said.
The mayor and other city officials are also asking federal legislators for money to help the city pay for fixes to the city’s stormwater management system so Rockville complies with Chesapeake Bay protections mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Acting City Manager Craig Simoneau included in the city’s 2016 Federal Priority Project request $2.8 million for renovations throughout the system.
Newton said the municipal governments in Rockville, Gaithersburg and Takoma Park “are on board” with asking for federal aid.
It’s not the first time this year Newton has asked legislators outside for help regulating the issue.
In March, she traveled to the General Assembly to submit testimony in favor of Senate Bill 719.
That bill would have allowed a municipality “to charge a stormwater remediation fee to property owned by the State, a unit of State government, a county, or an institution of higher education that is located within the municipality under specified circumstances,” according to a summary of the bill.
However, Newton ran into opposition from the Maryland Association of Counties, which successfully lobbied against SB 719 as well as a similar bill introduced to the House of Delegates, HB 1108.
“The state didn’t do anything,” she said, adding the city is losing “a half million dollar and growing every year” on the issue.
Newton left before the Senate hearing but in prepared remarks said Rockville “is especially hard hit by this lack of equity as we are the County seat, home to lots of government-owned buildings, numerous school properties,” including the Montgomery County Public Schools headquarters and a Montgomery College campus.
“The negative impact to Rockville’s stormwater management program is substantial – revenue losses in FY 16 are projected to be $509,000 – and $535,000 for FY 17 – and the difference is being made up by our private property owners – clearly an unfair burden.”
Opponents of the bill called it “redundant” and noted public systems are “fiscally dependent” on tax revenue.
In submitted testimony, Mehu and MACO legal and policy counsel Leslie Knapp, Jr. said county-owned properties that would be subject to municipal stormwater fees “are already subject to federal and state mitigation requirements.
“The fee as the ‘compliance tool’ is redundant at best, and a double burden on county properties at worst,” said Mehu and Knapp.
The total cost for watershed improvements in the city during the next fiscal year amounts to $13.8 million, according to Simoneau’s federal request document, with the city covering 45 percent of the cost ($6.21 million).
Simoneau noted federal requirements, including Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load standard, “have a profound fiscal impact on the City, despite our existing significant investment in watershed health.”
His document included several capital improvement projects included in the proposed Fiscal Year 2017 budget:
- Stream restoration, including Croydon Creek and Calvin Park, as well as spot repairs;
- storm drain rehabilitation and improvements
- stormwater management facility improvements, including Hungerford Stoneridge, Mt. Vernon, Redgate, Fallsgrove 2 and Maryvale Ponds; and
- Watts Branch-Upper Stream restoration.
According to the proposed budget, the city council is planning to spend $1.7 million for two storm drain rehabilitation and improvements, $3.4 million for stream restoration, $3.68 million for stormwater management facility improvements, and nearly $2.7 million for Watts Branch-Upper Stream restoration.