Hospital Seeking Exemption In Court From Stormwater Fees

Hospital Seeking Exemption In Court From Stormwater Fees

BERLIN — Frustrated by Berlin’s adoption of an ordinance to create a stormwater utility to help stem chronic flooding problems, along with the associated cost for non-residential property owners to help foot the bill, Atlantic General Hospital (AGH) will seek the assistance of the court system to gain an exemption.
Earlier this year, Berlin officials adopted an ordinance creating a stormwater utility for the town to help stem its chronic flooding problems. Under the ordinance, all property owners in the town, both residential and commercial, are being required to pay a prorated share of the cost of establishing the new stormwater utility.
For residential property owners, a flat annual fee of $50 is assessed to help pay for the cost of setting up the utility. For non-residential property owners, a formula has been established based on the amount of impervious surface a particular property includes. During spirited public hearings over the ordinance earlier this year, several non-residential property owners cried foul over the proposal they deemed inequitable to the commercial properties.
For the larger commercial properties in Berlin, the formula has been onerous. For example, AGH’s estimated annual cost came in at around $5,025, while Worcester Preparatory School’s will be $3,750. The four public schools in Berlin are taking the biggest hit at a combined estimate of $14,825 annually.
AGH has been particularly vocal about its displeasure with the ordinance and has tried on different occasions to seek an exemption from the annual fee to no avail. In a letter to the Berlin Chamber of Commerce earlier this month, AGH President and CEO Michael Franklin said the hospital has filed a Declaratory Judgment Complaint in the Worcester County Circuit Court against the town of Berlin seeking the judicial system’s help in gaining an exemption.
“We firmly maintain that it is not fair and equitable, as required by the purpose of the proposed statute, to require AGH to pay an excessive annual fee when we have already been required to design, permit and construct a stormwater management facility on our campus, which complies with all regulations,” Franklin wrote.
AGH was established in 1993 and owns roughly 24 acres along Healthway Drive with a campus that is not contiguous to the town of Berlin. Over the ensuing years, the hospital has expanded at different times, and each time has complied with and obtained all of the required stormwater management permits and has constructed stormwater management facilities on site in accordance with all approved plans and specifications.
According to the AGH letter, the most recent State of Maryland stormwater legislation encourages environmental site design to the maximum extent practicable, so that stormwater runoff is handled and treated closer to its source. According to best management practices, smaller plans are easier to maintain on site. However, the AGH letter suggests Berlin’s plan for a town-wide stormwater utility flies in the face of the state’s intent for smaller, in-house runoff management plans.
Berlin officials have said from the beginning that no properties will be exempt from the stormwater utility fee. Town officials have said if exemptions started to be made for non-profit organizations, government buildings or religious organizations, the cost of getting the utility up and running would fall on a smaller group of residential and commercial property owners.
Town officials have also said from the beginning the plan in the future is to at least offer some kind of discount or incentive program for property owners who are proactive with their own systems. However, anything like that would be further down the road and up until now, the town’s focus has been on getting the stormwater utility in place. Earlier this year, a church came before the council requesting an exemption and its spirited request was denied. AGH feels its own stormwater efforts make it different.
“The ordinance does not provide any credits for environmental site design,” AGH’s letter reads. “We maintain that in-fill and redevelopment inside an existing developed area such as AGH should be promoted and incentivized to make these systems more attractive. The town’s statute seems to discourage these practices, which are the intent of the state legislation, in favor of larger scale, more costly initiatives.”
Franklin’s letter suggests the money AGH will be required to spend would be better put to use on its healthcare mission for the community.
“As a not-for-profit organization, we are obligated to invest all of our efforts and contributions into providing quality healthcare and expanding services for the citizens of the town of Berlin and other neighboring communities,” the letter reads. “To protect the interests of those we serve, we have discussed our concerns and opposition to this ordinance and formally requested an exemption from the town of Berlin on several occasions, which were denied.”