CBF: Pollution diet for Bay can reduce tax burden

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By Kim Coble

Spend our money more wisely.

I think that’s what the average person wants from government. We’re not extremists. We don’t want government spending indiscriminately on programs that don’t work, nor do we want government indiscriminately slashing spending in a way that only makes our problems worse. We want smart government, leaders who are good with money, our money.

That’s why we’re so disappointed with some in Frederick County government who are condemning a plan to put the Chesapeake Bay region under a “pollution diet.” All six Bay states have agreed the diet is important, and have laid out plans for meeting it. It is now up to local governments to decide how they can help. If county leaders choose wisely from a menu of diet options, rather than rejecting a diet completely, they can actually save us significant amounts of money. That bears repeating. They can reduce our tax burden, not increase it.

Here’s one example. Currently, we spend more on taxes than we should or need to in order to accommodate sprawl growth. Our current policies allow indiscriminate building in our rural areas far from existing roads, schools, sewer connections and other facilities. Those policies cost taxpayers big time, about 20 percent more than if growth were closer to town. Who do you think pays for those new roads to the remote homes and businesses? Marylanders would save $15 billion over the next 25 years on roadway costs alone if the state grew more efficiently, according to a study by The University of Maryland National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education.
Smart growth is on the diet menu.

And what does it cost us long-term if we simply ignore problems, insisting that it is our right to do so? How much do homeowners around the state pay for flooded basements each year simply because their local governments have neglected to invest sufficiently to maintain and improve drainage systems like stormwater ponds, culverts and other infrastructure?

Stormwater management is on the diet menu.

Without a doubt there will be short-term costs in Frederick and every county to meet the diet. The heart- healthy section of a menu is not free. The exact costs for the diet plan must still be determined. The range of estimates reported in the media in Frederick is so wide as to be nearly worthless. The important thing to remember is Frederick’s elected officials will make those choices. No one will dictate their strategies. They can, and should, select cost-effective pollution reduction measures.

We’ve made significant progress in improving the water quality in our rivers and streams. We’re more than half way to the goals we set 20 years ago for a restored Chesapeake Bay. But lifeless streams, dead zones, beach closings, sewage overflows and other problems that dominated the headlines this summer demonstrate we have a long way to go. The pollution diet is a solid plan to finish this important work.

Obviously, nobody should be told they have to diet in their personal life. But government has the responsibility to protect our health and welfare. State and county governments throughout the region have agreed safeguarding our water is a critical government function. A commitment to clean water will produce jobs in the seafood, tourism, construction, and recreational fishing industries. Most importantly, it will pay off in healthy families.

Kim Coble is acting vice president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
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