US

Maryland County To Churches: Preach Environmentalism And Get A Tax Break

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley made national news last year when he fought to pass and signed a tax bill that levied a tax on Marylanders, businesses and churches for the amount of “impervious surface” they have on their property.

Roofs, driveways, sidewalks, and parking lots qualify for the “rainwater remediation fee” to “protect the Chesapeake Bay.”

Though the O’Malley administration calls it a “fee,” it is commonly called the “rain tax” throughout the state. It is wildly unpopular and the promise to fight to repeal the tax was a large factor in Maryland electing Republican Larry Hogan governor this month.

Now Prince George’s Country is offering a way for churches to avoid paying the tax, which is estimated to be an average of $744 per year for them — preach “green” to their parishioners.

So far 30 pastors have agreed to begin “‘green’ ministries to maintain the improvements at their churches, and to preach environmentally focused sermons to educate their congregations” to avoid being hit with the tax, The Washington Post reports.

Prince George’s County’s Department of Environment director Adam Ortiz told WBAL Radio churches “don’t have to preach, per se,” that they could avoid the tax if they “provide educational programs to teach them (parishioners) about how to be more sustainable. And to help them engage in grant programs and other way that they can control the runoff from their property.”

Asked about the concern of government telling churches what to preach to their members, Ortiz said he had no concern over that. “It’s an opt-in. It’s up to them, if they want to help participate and help clean up the bay, they can opt-in to this program and we can all work together to clean up the bay.”

“All of us are part of the problem,” Ortiz said, “and we can also be part of the solution.”

Between 30 and 40 additional churches have filed applications to avoid the tax and participate in the program, according to Ortiz. “It’s completely voluntary,” he said, “and paying this fee is state law.”

Asked if businesses and private property owners could avail themselves of this program to avoid paying the tax, Ortiz said, “For businesses and private property owners the most important thing is the help control the pollution (rain water), keep it from going into the storm drain, cuz that goes directly into the rivers. So we have a series of grant programs that we’re happy to work with private owners on.”

Ortiz said those programs, particularly for businesses, do not involve talking to employees like churches are required to talk to congregants.