A proposed Montgomery County bill would cost churches and nonprofit organizations thousands of dollars a year in taxes to improve the county's water quality, raising ire among residents and lawmakers.

A proposed expansion of the Water Quality Protection Charge -- dubbed the "rain tax" by residents -- would require commercial businesses and nonresidential property owners to pay an annual fee based on the amount of impervious surface on their lots.

The new charge could cost each of the county's 8,000 nonprofits and 370 churches as much as $14,000 annually. The charge already costs homeowners about $100 annually, bringing in about $22 million each year for the county's Watershed Management Division to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. A recently passed state law requires the county to extend its charge to commercial properties as soon as July 1.

Delinquent Montgomery?
Rockville City Councilman Tom Moore says the county hasn't paid its stormwater utility fee for county buildings in Rockville. Moore pointed out the county owes the fee -- which is comparable to the water quality protection charge -- back to fiscal 2009 and owes the city a total of $329,249. County officials did not respond to the charge.

Since the bill was introduced in the County Council, lawmakers said they have been inundated with angry mail.

Council members say they are frustrated by the lack of clarity about which properties would be exempt from the charge and which could receive partial credits -- and how much it would cost each property owner.

Bob Hoyt, director of the county's Department of Environmental Protection, said officials were working with nonprofits and churches to determine the rules.

Councilman George Leventhal, D-at large, said he was particularly frustrated that there was no data on how much the charge would cost property owners.

Councilwoman Nancy Floreen, D-at large, agreed: The financial stakes for businesses and organizations are in the thousands, and the council should be briefed on cost calculations.

"You will notice that there are no numbers in here," Floreen said, pointing to the report prepared for council that contained the bill. "There are significant dollars associated with this, [but] we don't know what they are because calculations haven't been made."

The Archdiocese of Washington, which submitted written testimony against the charge, said it was frustrated that solid numbers had not been presented on how much it would cost for each of its parishes in the county. One estimate done for St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring puts the cost at $15,000 annually.

Other residents, such as Bernadette Englert, of Germantown, said the extra expense could hurt nonprofits and churches.

"Given the tight budgetary constraints under which most nonprofits operate, an unanticipated and significant fee or tax could seriously jeopardize their ability to maintain their services."