There is a sense of urgency in communities across the state to take action to respond and adapt to climate change. Ask any municipal chief elected officer, town manager, planner, or engineer: There is no shortage of ideas or projects. There is, however, a shortage of funds.
With just weeks left in the 2021 legislative session, the Connecticut General Assembly has a pivotal opportunity to address that fiscal issue head-on by approving Governor Lamont’s Act Concerning Climate Adaptation (HB 6441).
HB 6441 provides municipalities with a suite of voluntary, new and better tools to fund climate resilience and other environmental projects at the local level. The bill enables municipalities to establish stormwater authorities, expand the scope of flood and erosion control boards to include climate resiliency, and adopt a local conveyance fee to fund investments in climate-resilient and green infrastructure projects. The bill also expands the scope of the Connecticut Green Bank to establish and manage an Environmental Infrastructure Fund to finance climate adaptation and resilience projects statewide.
Conservation advocates are particularly pleased with Section 4 of the bill, which gives municipalities an option to establish a local conveyance fee program to generate revenue that can then leverage other private and federal dollars for local climate adaptation and resilience projects. Revenue may also be used for land stewardship, urban forestry, tree planting, and other community projects including affordable housing development.
There is widespread support for this municipal option. Here are some of the reasons why:
Section 4 is enabling. It provides the legal opportunity, but not the obligation, for communities to adopt the program. The ultimate decision whether to adopt the program rests with the municipality.
The program is essential for municipalities to leverage matching funds and community partners. With federal dollars for green infrastructure expected to hit the state at unprecedented levels, municipalities that choose to adopt the program may use the fees to match and leverage grants and new programs to implement local resilience and other community projects. Providing municipalities with this local funding option also helps to foster cooperation with the private sector — further leveraging the investment of these local funds.
It makes good economic sense for the state and the participating towns. The legislature Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated that if all 169 municipalities decided to adopt the real estate conveyance fee as written in Section 4, they would generate ~$75.1 million — with no adverse fiscal impact on the state budget.
The program is flexible. The fee and the structure may be tailored by municipalities to meet individual community needs, including for affordable housing and repayment of municipal bonds. The program would not impact the mill rate nor require increased municipal bonding.
Concerns that the fee may deter homebuyers or investors in real estate are unfounded. People and businesses are attracted to communities that have cleaner air and water, recreation options, local food sources, and protected natural beauty. They are also looking for communities that seek to address sea level rise, inland flooding, the proliferation of invasive species, and rising temperatures — just some of the climate change related issues faced by municipalities.
This trend is playing out throughout Connecticut, with a booming real estate market from people flocking to our state during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even pre-pandemic, real estate agents recognized the value of greenspaces to neighboring properties. Based upon our research, since late 2019 over 400 real estate sale listings expressly referenced proximity to land trust property, municipal and state open space, parks and other greenspaces as a selling point in their description of the property.
The program works. The concept of a local conveyance fee program is one that has been tried and tested in neighboring states – and the precedent is quite positive. States including Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and West Virginia have allowed some municipalities to enact a conveyance fee, with the income dedicated to conserving and caring for local natural areas.
The time for HB 6441 is now. The impacts of climate change are being felt in every community across the state. With the clock ticking to take action this legislative session, we implore the members of the Connecticut General Assembly to approve HB 6441 in its entirety, giving municipalities the option to adopt alternative, creative tools to help them to battle the climate crisis and achieve their land conservation, stewardship, and community planning goals.