The following are CLCC executive director Amy Blaymore Paterson’s remarks from the 2021 CT League of Conservation Voters Environmental Summit (1/21/21).
As crucial as CT DEEP’s Open Space and Watershed Land Acquisition Grant Program (OSWA) and the Community Investment Act are to community land conservation, these and other state programs are not going to be enough to accelerate the pace of land conservation and address climate change at the local level. Municipalities need new and sustainable sources of funding for local land conservation efforts that will not impact the municipal mill rate or require additional bonding.
The Municipal Funding Option is enabling legislation to allow (but not require) municipalities to adopt a small and limited buyer’s conveyance fee on the transfer of real estate. As proposed this dedicated fee, with a proposed cap of up to 1% of the purchase price, could be used by municipalities to fund land conservation and stewardship, farmland preservation, urban forestry, climate resilience projects, protection of water resources, and other local environmental projects.
The first $150,000 of the purchase price would be exempt from the fee. That amount may be higher at the discretion of the municipality.
In addition to these purposes, and at the discretion of the municipality, the funds may be used to:
- Fulfill match requirements for OSWA and other state, or federal grant programs.
- Cover the costly expenses associated with acquiring land (appraisals, surveys, environmental assessments, etc.).
- Repay existing or future municipal bonds used for conservation purposes.
- Fund other environmental projects such as dealing with aquatic invasives, and brownfields remediation.
Nearby states (MA, NY, RI, PA, WV) have allowed some municipalities to enact a buyers’ conveyance fee, with the income dedicated to conserving and caring for local natural areas. These programs have proven remarkably successful, resulting in the protection of thousands of acres of open space, forests, meadows, and farms. With your help we can provide Connecticut towns with an opportunity to replicate those successes in their own communities.
Representative Joe Gresko (D.Stratford), Vice-Chair of the Environment Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly, has introduced a concept bill for the municipal funding option, HB 5100. We thank him for his leadership in doing so and urge his colleagues on the Environment Committee to raise the bill for a public hearing, and vote to approve it.
The time has come for this legislation. At the CTLCV Summit opener on January 19, Governor Lamont and CT DEEP Commissioner Dykes reminded us of the importance of open space to all communities in CT. As Governor Lamont said, open spaces and farmland enhance our quality of life—allowing us to stay healthy physically and mentally—benefits that have been underscored by the pandemic and the public’s need for access to the outdoors.
As emphasized by Commissioner Dykes, land conservation also plays an essential role in addressing the impacts of climate change. Forests and trees, as well as wetlands, soils, and other natural resources not only absorb greenhouse gases but also prevent the release of significant levels of carbon emissions that would be caused by deforestation and conversion of open lands to active development. They filter pollutants from the air and provide local cooling and flood prevention, among other ecosystem services.
There has arguably never been a more important time to invest in land conservation.
To reiterate, the Municipal Funding Option legislation is enabling—it authorizes, but does not require municipalities to establish the program. Doing so is a matter of community choice. And, it costs the state nothing.
Governor Lamont and Commissioner Dyke’s comments regarding the importance of land conservation and other nature-based solutions to the climate crisis are captured as part of the GC3 Phase I Report. The recommendation to authorize a municipal buyer’s conveyance fee program to fund climate resilience and other local environmental projects is included in three sections (31a, 41b, 56d). We were heartened to hear Commissioner Dykes expressly call out the use of conveyance fees as a funding mechanism for green and grey infrastructure projects.
On behalf of the land conservation community and all of us dedicated to addressing the climate crisis, I want to thank them for their leadership. We are hopeful that this recognition will help to propel the municipal funding option legislation forward to enactment this year.
For more information contact CLCC executive director Amy Blaymore Paterson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (860) 852-5512 (o) or (860) 614-8537 (c).