Septic Bill, Flush Tax Hike OK’d

BERLIN — In the midst of the swirling controversy at the end of the General Assembly session this week, state lawmakers did pass a couple of pieces of legislation about how and where sewage goes into the ground and ultimately into the Chesapeake and Coastal Bays and who should pay for it.

The legislature last week approved a watered-down version of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s bill that would limit the use of septic systems in new developments. The measure was largely criticized in rural areas including much of the Eastern Shore because of concerns of limiting growth in areas where public sewer systems are not readily available, and on a larger scale, because the legislation threatened to wrest land-use decisions away from the counties and give them to the state.

This year, the governor introduced a tamer version of the same legislation and state lawmakers watered it down further with amendments. Under the legislation passed, counties must designate areas into a tiered system where septic use is allowed with oversight by state agencies.

However, some state lawmakers, including Delegate Mike McDermott, said the legislation that passed is still onerous for the counties.

“The counties create the tiers and the state can regulate what happens in those tiers,” he said. “So many counties like Worcester already do a great job with land use and planning, but the state is going to take some of that away. In fact, Worcester is always used as an example for the rest of the state because our county chooses to do it the right way. I want the county to always have that ability, but the state wants to take that away.”

In a related move, the General Assembly passed legislation that doubles the so-called “flush tax” from $2.50 per month to $5 per month, or from $30 per year to $60 per year, for most residents in Maryland whose public and private sewer systems drain into the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The tax was created several years ago to provide a funding mechanism to repair and improve railing public wastewater treatment systems.

However, residents in certain parts of the state, including Ocean City and West Ocean City, were exempted from the flush tax hike because the areas don’t drain into the Chesapeake.

“This is a good bill for our district because some of those areas are exempt, but we have four wastewater treatment plants in the district in line for upgrade money,” said Sen. Jim Mathias. “It’s a good bill predicated on the right reason.”