Considering the effects of a “flush tax” in Maryland

Officials in Maryland are discussing a different way of finding revenue: raising the “flush tax.”

Maryland’s already got a flush tax, it runs about $2.50 a month for sewer customers, and $30 a year for homes on septic systems. The money raised goes to help clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

Citing the continued damage to the watershed, Md. Governor Martin O’Malley told reporters he’d consider doubling or tripling the tax…

“Right now, there’s a flat flush tax, such that a senior citizen living in the 1600 block of North Avenue pays the same flush fee as a single person living in a giant McMansion.”…

“The Governor dropped a bomb last year in his State of the State address where he proposed banning developments of five or more homes on septic systems,” says Michael Harrison, Director of Government Affairs for the Homebuilder’s Association of Maryland. Harrison says such a ban wouldn’t hurt the big national builders, but local, small scale developers who work in rural areas.

This is not an uncommon situation: a government official suggests raising or enacting a new fee tied to growth and builders respond negatively. While I can understand how raising the fee might impact future building, it seems like it would be difficult to argue that bigger houses shouldn’t have to pay a higher “flush tax.” As the tax currently stands, it is more about paying a fee per lot of development rather than for the usage of the sewers.

The talk of septic systems in suburbia reminds me of the possible problems as laid out in Adam Rome’s book The Bulldozer in the Countryside. Despite the issues with septic systems, building sewers out to more rural areas can be quite expensive for smaller communities so septic systems can seem cheaper in the short-term.

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