ROCKVILLE — A potential compromise is on its way to resolve the split on the County Council about the future of contracting for stormwater-management projects – but not before more debate.
While on Tuesday, the County Council unanimously approved the introduction of an amendment to the capital budget to fund stormwater-management projects in a compromise between members of the Council and the County Executive, the debate over the County Executive’s authority, and the future of how the Department of Environmental Protection manages its stormwater projects is still not decided.
The vote Tuesday only approved the introduction of an amendment to the capital budget, meaning that the Council will still have to seek public input before it makes a final decision on the proposed compromise.
“People are acting like it’s a deal. Well, it’s not a deal; it’s an introduction of something, so let’s treat it as that,” said Council member Nancy Floreen (D-at large).
The Council also voted 7-2 to overturn a June 1 line-item veto by County Executive Ike Leggett, which some members of the Council felt was unnecessary.
In January, County Executive Ike Leggett proposed reforming the way the County Department of Environmental Protection awards stormwater-management contracts.
Currently, the County offers separate contracts for different companies to plan, design, and build stormwater-management projects. Leggett proposed putting the entire process – the planning, designing, and building – of a stormwater-management contract into one contract for a company to bid on, saying it would make the process more efficient and save taxpayers money.
Some members of the Council worried that Leggett’s proposal could lead to the County de-emphasizing environmental concerns for stormwater projects through the proposed contracting process.
The compromise introduced Tuesday would go forward with a proposed reform by Leggett, which would allow stormwater-management projects to be built, designed, and maintained by one contractor rather than separate contractors.
In return, the Council will get greater oversight over stormwater-management projects through quarterly reports from DEP, the ability to add additional funding for projects, and a requirement that officials from DEP consult advisory groups on the project.
“I am pleased that the County Council signaled its intent to approve the reform of our stormwater-management-construction program, which will enhance our ability to meet important environmental goals and will support projects designed to meet our State-mandated MS4 (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System) permit,” Leggett said in a statement.
While Leggett said his proposal would create more efficiency in how the County deals with stormwater-management projects, some member of the Council – Tom Hucker (D-5), Nancy Navarro (D-4), Hans Riemer (D-at large), Roger Berliner (D-1) and Marc Elrich (D-at large) – expressed concern that the County Executive’s proposed change could lead to a private-public partnership over stormwater-management projects with little regard to their environmental impact.
However, while some Council members and the County Executive have called Tuesday’s vote for the introduction to additions to the Capital budget a compromise, some members of the Council stressed that the deal is not done yet, as it still has to go through the process of public hearings and meetings like any proposed amendment to the capital budget.
The issue started in January and came to a head when Leggett issued the first line-item veto by any County Executive in 25 years. Leggett’s line-item veto blocked the status quo on how the County currently awarded contracts by vetoing stormwater projects in the capital budget.
The line-item veto was seen as an aggressive move by some members of the Council, and potentially one that the County Executive did not have the power to make, according to some members on the Council.
Riemer, who serves as Council president, told reporters during his weekly press conference on June 11 that he was unsure whether Leggett even had the authority to issue the line-item veto that he used – a discussion that continued during Tuesday’s Council meeting with no definitive answer.
Tuesday’s veto override came with some debate. Council members Floreen and Leventhal objected to the veto override, saying it was mostly a meaningless gesture that the Council used to exercise its authority over the County Executive.
“If we are uniting around a new approach to contracting, then I don’t understand why it is necessary to put Mr. Leggett in his place,” Leventhal said. “I just don’t see what is accomplished.”
The environmental groups that came out against Leggett’s veto and proposal backed the Council’s veto override. Stormwater Partners Network, a coalition of environmental groups, released a statement praising the Council’s veto, but said the compromise the Council has proposed does not meet their concerns with Leggett’s plan.
“However, the veto override is not enough to maintain the progress that’s necessary to better protect county residents and streams from stormwater pollution,” the group said in a joint statement. “Stormwater pollution and flooding will only get worse as the climate continues to change, so we intend to keep fighting.”