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Am I safe in saying there are no boat dealers that believe taxes won’t go up in the months ahead?

It seems certain new taxes will come at us from all levels -- federal, state and local. Why, it brings to mind that old joke punch line: “If it moves, tax it!” So, when a new tax scheme comes to our attention, we shouldn’t be surprised. right? Not necessarily.

How about one that’s tantamount to taxing the rain. No, that’s not a typo . . . I mean rain! In essence, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has started putting limits on storm water pollution. This, in turn, will force local governments to spend large amounts of money they don’t have. For the first time, the EPA is placing specific limits on how much storm water pollution is allowed to flow into the nation's streams, rivers, lakes and bays.

Interestingly, for us in boating, this is a textbook approach-avoidance situation. We approach clean water with enthusiasm. After all, it’s good for our business. But it’s all avoidance when we talk about higher taxes, especially when economic recovery is still more of a hope than a reality for our industry.

In a recent article in USA Today entitled “Cities slap fees on storm runoff,” by Dennis Cauchon, he reported new environmental regulations from EPA are prompting cities to impose fees on property owners for the cost of managing storm water runoff. It’s considered the leading cause of water pollution in most of the nation. Storm water from roofs, roads, parking lots and farms, for example, carries oil, sediments, manure, chemicals and more. It’s claimed that areas like those labeled “dead zones” in Lake Erie or the Gulf of Mexico are the direct results of storm water.

Traditionally, most local governments have paid for storm water programs from general tax revenue. But, with the budget gaps brought on by this great recession, cities and counties are thinking storm water fees on all properties based on how much rainwater flows off a property. Where fees now have been implemented, they’re typically ranging from $2 to $10 a month for an average home based on how much area is involved with roof, driveway and other surfaces. But, fees go up into the thousands of dollars a month for large retail stores, malls, factories, schools, airports, you name it.

These fees are gaining increased notice and opposition. For example, in Seminole County, Fla., some 500 people stormed a county commissioners’ meeting demanding they vote to reject a fee. They did. Over in Colorado Springs, voters repealed a storm water fee. In the Cleveland area, the regional sewer district is being sued by business groups for trying to impose a monthly fee, while Maryland is reportedly considering requiring cities and counties to charge storm water fees.

Certainly none of us in the boating industry would say clean water isn’t important. And, perhaps, storm water fees may ultimately be determined the best way to finance water improvement. However, there are three legs to this stool – costs, benefits and timing. Specifically to the latter, there clearly couldn’t be a worse time to be adding thousands of dollars in storm water fees (taxes) to our industry’s dealerships, marinas and manufacturing facilities. Wherever such fees are being proposed, dealers must pause to determine what level to become engaged in the issue.?

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