Senate: Watershed Protection and Restoration Programs – Revisions

SB 863, Support

The Maryland Catholic Conference represents the mutual public policy interests of the three (arch)dioceses with territory in the state of Maryland, including the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.  We offer this testimony in SUPPORT of Senate Bill 863.

The Catholic Church joins many in the religious and environmental communities in supporting the goal of protecting the Chesapeake Bay from harmful runoff pollution, and recognizes the laudable intent of the 2012 state law requiring 10 local jurisdictions to impose stormwater fees on homeowners, businesses, and religious and nonprofit institutions. 

However, Senate Bill 863 addresses a number of concerns that have been raised since those jurisdictions began to implement the 2012 state law.  Of particular concern to the Church was the impact the implementation of the legislation had on Church properties in certain local jurisdictions where our institutions can ill afford the fees imposed on them.  As religious nonprofits, our churches, schools and charities, particularly in Baltimore City, struggle to raise the funds needed to maintain their ministries and to meet critical needs in their communities.  Because the rate set for imposing fees in Baltimore City was higher than any other jurisdiction, many institutions have been required to pay fees that have significantly reduced the resources that would otherwise have been available for programs serving local communities. 

SB 863 includes a provision that would provide a reasonable solution to this concern, by capping fees on nonprofits at $15 per 1000 square feet of impervious surface.  The bill also includes a provision that would allow a nonprofit that demonstrates financial hardship to implement an alternate compliance plan in lieu of paying a stormwater remediation fee.  Finally, the bill permits the use of funds collected for the Bay Restoration Fund to be used to provide grants to nonprofits to assist them in implementing alternative compliance plans. 

These provisions acknowledge the responsibility of all institutions to contribute to efforts to reduce stormwater runoff, while also accommodating nonprofits that cannot afford to pay high fees without negatively impacting the vital services they provide to their communities.

Based on calculations provided by Baltimore City in February 2012 indicating the total fees that would be imposed on churches, schools and other religious properties owned by the Archdiocese of Baltimore (not including fees imposed on Catholic Charities, hospitals, or universities), the cap included in SB 863 would provide a savings of more than $100,000, reducing total fees from $188,000 to approximately $69,000.  These are significant savings for institutions that operate on extremely limited budgets.

SB 863 offers a balanced and innovative approach to addressing many of the concerns that have been raised since legislation was first introduced in 2012 regarding stormwater runoff.  We urge a favorable report on SB 863.