Capitol Connection: The Fight Against “Unfunded Mandates” – Let the Towns be Heard!

January 2, 2015

One of the most dreaded phrases for any city or town has got to be “unfunded mandate.” This term refers to any statute or regulation that requires a local government to do something, without allocating any money to cover the costs associated with the requirements.

Here in Connecticut, we have over 1,200 mandates on cities and towns, a vast majority of which are unfunded. These unfunded mandates are controversial because they are often very well intentioned, but they can also create huge problems for cities and towns that cannot afford the added associated costs.

Take storm water regulations and leaf collection requirements for example, mandates that have been widely publicized over the last few weeks as agency heads in Connecticut strive to meet federal requests and update state requirements. More specifically, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) is in the process of updating their “MS4 General Permit” – a big permit that places many requirements on cities and towns to help keep our environment clean. For some larger towns, these requirements are already being met. But in many smaller towns, some of DEEP’s proposed mandates are posing huge problems that could force towns to raise taxes or make cuts to other key services.

Some of the proposed requirements many municipalities are opposed to include:

  • Requiring towns to have a municipal leaf collection program
  • Increasing screening, testing and tracking for storm water systems
  • Increasing requirements for local street sweeping schedules, including sweeping main roads, business districts and municipal parking lots once a month between April and October.

All these requirements may sound like good ideas at first, until you start thinking about the burden they can place on towns and cities already strapped for cash and struggling to pay for necessities. The current proposal would impose more than $100 million in new and unfunded state mandates on municipalities, burdens that would eventually fall on taxpayers. Current municipal estimates, according to a survey by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM), show that such changes could cost each town in the state anywhere from $100,000 to over $6 million! Some requirements, such as the increased street sweeping, could also severely strain delicate street-sweeping equipment. Some of the proposed changes also exceed the federal requirements. And, in some cases, these new requirements would be nearly impossible. Can you imagine a rural town surrounded by woods instituting a leaf collection program? It just wouldn’t work.

These grievances are valid for many towns, and earlier this month town officials and residents from across the state were able to make their voices heard at a public hearing. As a result, DEEP is reconsidering their proposal and working on a compromise.

Connecticut, like all states, must strive to reach an important balance between expanding regulations for the good of the community and overburdening towns that are already facing tough economic times and limited budgets. It’s great that our municipalities are empowered to speak up when they feel burdened, and equally great that our state agencies are actually listening.

A revised permit proposal is expected to be released by DEEP by January 26 and will consider the feedback provided by towns and taxpayers. If you and your town want to join the conversation, written comments are still being accepted by DEEP until 5:00pm on January 9, 2015, and can be submitted to Brendan Schain at [email protected] Hearing Officer Office of Adjudications, DEEP; and the Honorable Robert Klee, DEEP Commissioner at [email protected]v.