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May 2013:

Letter to the Editor

May 6, 2013

Posted in: News

When I moved to Anne Arundel County more than two decades ago, it was because of, among other things, the beauty of our county and the Chesapeake Bay. This natural beauty is why many of us are here and why the area attracts tourists from around the globe. Protecting this precious resource is not an option; it is an obligation.

We all must do our part to do the things necessary to keep our waterways healthy and thriving, which brings me to Anne Arundel County Bill No. 2-13: Stormwater Management — Watershed Protection and Restoration Special Revenue Fund and Program.

The impetus for this local legislation was an unfunded state mandate imposed on the 10 largest jurisdictions in Maryland, which includes Anne Arundel County. This state law requires only these 10 jurisdictions in Maryland to adopt and implement local laws necessary to establish a stormwater remediation fee by July 1, with the intent to create a dedicated revenue source for the implementation of local stormwater management practices and stream/wetland restoration activities.

The bill calls for a dedicated, continuous revenue fund for the creation of a Watershed Protection and Restoration Program. Bill No. 2-13 levies a prescribed stormwater remediation fee based on the category of real property; describes the method, frequency and enforcement of the collection of a stormwater remediation fee; specifies a procedure to appeal the imposition of a stormwater remediation fee; provides for certain exceptions; creates a program to exempt certain real properties from paying a stormwater remediation fee; and requires rules and regulations be established for reductions in a stormwater remediation fee.

Prior to my taking office, work was already underway to carry out this state mandated law. County council members had met with a myriad of stakeholders who would be impacted by this new law and I applaud their efforts.

The simplest thing for me to do would be to absolve myself of this issue by simply signing the bill or not signing the bill, and letting it go into effect 10 days later. That’s the easy way out, and that’s not how I will lead this county.

When I took office, I made a promise to the county council and to the residents of Anne Arundel County that I would not shy away from challenges and that the decisions that I make will be above board, transparent and prudent — fiscally and practically — for our county. The simple fact is that our county has been distracted during the last year and we have not done our job informing the public.

Since this statewide law went into effect, I have received hundreds of e-mails on this issue: many asking me to veto the bill and many asking me to sign it. What this signals to me is that I just can’t, in good conscience, sign a bill that will affect generations to come without ensuring that all of our stakeholders are fully educated about this law.

For this reason, I intend to veto this bill — not because I don’t believe in investing in our community, but because I believe more work needs to be done. I have asked members of the county council to revisit the amount of the stormwater remediation fees for commercial property, as well as a slower phase-in for residential properties.

I want the next version of the stormwater management legislation that reaches my desk to include a super-majority vote of the council members; better clarity of the implications to our businesses, including their share of the cost; and more importantly, the cost to homeowners — whether that home is a condo or sprawling farm on many acres.

No one likes added fees or taxes. But if a new tax is to be imposed, the residents of this county have a right to know about it and to understand why it is needed. I look forward to working on a better plan for our county. Getting this right is more important than getting it done fast.

— Laura Neuman, Anne Arundel County Executive

Supporting Cultural Diversity in Howard County

As Howard County becomes more diverse there is great potential to strengthen intercultural awareness and understanding, as well as to celebrate this diversity. Rallying the Howard County community to champion these goals can be challenging, but in this age of globalization, with its economic and political implications, it is essential to undertake this challenge.

Great strength can come through collaboration. Much can be accomplished in promoting intercultural understanding and in celebrating cultural heritages when the nonprofit community, youth groups and business leaders collaborate.

Cultural festivals that celebrate a region, such as the Caribbean, are a fun way to promote cultural awareness.

To stage a Caribbean festival, for example, student volunteers could be coordinated by a youth-serving organization, such as the Howard County International Youth Council, to help with a variety of activities; a nonprofit organization with ties to the Caribbean could use its resources to identify Caribbean cultural features to be showcased; and local businesses, especially those promoting Caribbean products, could help to sponsor the event.

Offering authentic regional food, entertainment and handcrafted items (or commercial products) would help Howard County citizens gain a greater cultural understanding and appreciation of the region.

Another effective way to strengthen cultural awareness is to engage in cultural exchanges, whereby students and adults would travel to different countries and participate with local people on community service projects.

The Howard County-based Build Haiti Foundation, for example, coordinates the Academy for Responsible Citizens, which enables Howard County youth to experience Haitian village life and to join with local Haitians in performing a community service project, and in learning about the present challenges affecting the Haitian people.

The Columbia Association also has its Sister Cities Program, which enables local students to gain an immersion experience in countries such as France, Spain and Ghana. Howard County business leaders could help sponsor the travel expenses for service-minded students, and a youth-serving organization could help to identify the appropriate students to serve as Howard County ambassadors.

Additionally, the Howard County business community also could help to sponsor a delegation of worthy students from another country and allow them to appreciate the quality of life offered in our county. Having these students travel back to their homelands with positive impressions of Howard County might have a ripple effect as they mature into adulthood — and perhaps undertake international business transactions with companies in Howard County.

The county’s future has great promise with youth-serving organizations collaborating with area nonprofits and local businesses to honor cultural diversity and to promote cultural understanding. Such an undertaking will ultimately improve the quality of life for all Howard County citizens in this age of globalization.

— David Weeks, Director, Global Education and Community Service

Glenelg Country School, Ellicott City

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