Friday, Dec 18–State Flush Tax Funding Hit Hard

SNOW HILL – Homeowners hoping for state flush tax money to improve their septic systems might be out of luck this year after the state raided the flush tax fund for $5 million to be used to make up budget gaps, county staff reported this week.

Just 15 properties in Worcester County could receive flush tax monies to add enhanced nutrient removal technology to septic systems this year. This technology pre-treats effluent collected in a septic system to a much higher standard than traditional septic systems.

Effectively, there is no flush tax money left, said county Environmental Programs Coordinator Bob Mitchell.

“It’s a shell game,” Worcester County Commissioner Virgil Shockley said of the state’s budget prompted move.

The county currently has funding to handle 12 to 15 failed systems, but those asking for help on a voluntary basis, whose septic systems are functioning, are out of luck. New systems are not eligible for the state flush tax money.

The limited amount of money will only be available for failed systems, Mitchell emphasized.

“If you have a failure, contact us and we’ll beat down the doors and get you funding,” Mitchell said.

Three failed systems are already on that list, leaving at most 12 more slots for Worcester County properties. Each property costs $12,000 to $15,000 for the pre-treatment technology.

About 90 homeowners who would like to add the technology to functioning septic systems would just have to wait, Mitchell said.

Ed Tudor, director of Development Review and Permitting, said Mitchell had worked hard last year to work with properties to get them that funding.

About 100 properties in Worcester County, at a cost of $1.1 million, were able to install the improved technology last year because of the flush tax.

“We did the whole county,” Mitchell said.

“We’re ahead of the curve in that sense,” said Tudor.

Mitchell said there have been a lot of inquiries recently about the flush tax funding for septic systems, resulting in the 90-property waiting list.

Across the state, about 3,000 properties are on waiting lists for flush tax money, Mitchell said. Somerset County alone has 600 properties on its flush tax funding waiting list.

The flush tax funding, no matter what amount of money is available in the fund itself, will soon start assessing eligibility in light of a property owner’s own resources.

“They’re going to put an income ratio on it next year,” said Mitchell.

By state law, another $8.5 million will be funneled into the flush tax fund at the beginning of the next fiscal year, in July, but there is no guarantee that money will be available for its stated purpose.

“The big thing is the next session [of the Maryland General Assembly] if they don’t go into the fund again,” Mitchell said.

A Worcester County law approved a year ago requiring the enhanced nutrient removal technology on all new septic systems in the Atlantic Coastal Bays and Chesapeake Bay Critical Areas has been denied by the state.

A Maryland law requiring the enhanced nutrient pretreatment technology in new and replacement septic systems has superseded the county law, Tudor reported this week.

“It’s covered by state law now. We have to enforce that,” Tudor said.

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