Montgomery County businesses would soon have to start paying a new charge to keep county water quality up to par under legislation the County Council is considering.

A bill in front of the council would slightly change who is required to pay the Water Quality Protection Charge, which helps the county operate storm water management facilities.

Businesses could pay between $34 to $171 a year based on their square footage.

Currently, single-family homeowners pay a $92.60 annual fee, added to their property tax bills, said Steven Shofar, division chief for the Watershed Management Division in the county's Department of Environmental Protection.

But under the legislation -- prompted by state legislation approved this year that changed who was required to pay storm water charges to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay and its waterways -- the flat fee would be changed into a tiered system, businesses would be billed, and more homeowners could ask for waivers.

The tiered fee system would be based on property size, square footage and the amount of impervious surfaces on a property, with fees ranging from $34 to $171 a year.

It also would allow residents who live below the poverty line to get a refund. Residents who treat water in their homes already can get up to 50 percent off their charge, Shofar said.

"We were planning on making these changes anyway," Shofar said. "State legislation just allowed us to do this sooner."

Kevin Sellner, executive director of the Chesapeake Research Consortium, said runoff from suburban and urban areas contributes to poor water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.

According to the Chesapeake Research Consortium data, a majority of Montgomery County has "fair" stream conditions.

Shofar said that if the bill passes the County Council, it will take three years for countywide implementation of the charge.

"Rather than hit [homeowners and businesses] with the charge over one year, it will be phased in over three years," he said.