Proposed per-parcel fee could pay for lake cleanup

VERMONT — Sen. Chris Bray, D-New Haven, has proposed legislation that would fund programs with a per-parcel fee.
The Legislature last spring asked a working group made up of members of Gov. Phil Scott’s cabinet to find a long-term funding source for phosphorus reduction efforts.
In a report released Tuesday, Scott administration officials failed to find a way to pay for Lake Champlain cleanup and suggest that a new revenue source should not be identified until after fiscal year 2021. Scott, a Republican, ran on a no new taxes pledge.
Bray says a long-term funding source needs to be established as soon as possible. He proposes a per-parcel fee that would be administered by the Public Utility Commission. An additional fee on parking lots would take effect in a few years.
Bray, chair of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee, said that finding a way to pay for the state’s growing water pollution problem is the No. 1 issue for his legislative panel this session.
“People have — I think understandably — lost some of their patience with the rate at which we’re making progress,” Bray said.
“I’ve never had a conversation with someone who said, ‘I am really glad to see we’re cleaning up the water,’” Bray said. “I usually hear, ‘I am alarmed that the water quality is getting worse and worse — what’s going on? How come we haven’t figured it out?’ This is well-known. Let’s face up to it.”
Last summer, Burlington beaches on Lake Champlain were closed because of blue-green algae pollution. Lake Carmi in Franklin County was closed for several months this fall because of toxic cyanobacteria.
The $1 per parcel per month charge would be applied to 360,000 properties in Vermont. The fee would raise $4.5 million per year.
“It doesn’t ask much of anybody, but it asks something of everybody,” Bray said.
State Treasurer Beth Pearce has estimated Vermonters will need to pay $20 million to $25 million a year for the next 20 years in order for the state to come into compliance with state and federal clean water laws.
The Scott administration has proposed bonding $22 million a year for clean water projects. Pearce said there is excess bonding capacity of $25 million annually this year and next, but after that the state can’t continue to borrow for phosphorus pollution mitigation efforts at the current rate without increasing debt service payments or delaying state construction projects. She suggests that the state borrow no more than $12.5 million, or half of the current amount now coming out of the capital budget.
The Public Utility Commission would set the rate for the clean water utility Bray’s bill would establish, just as the commission does for every other regulated utility in the state, Bray said.
As mapping data becomes available, the PUC can add an impervious surface fee to the per-parcel fee, Bray said. State officials told legislators earlier this year that Vermont’s geographic information system will be able to identify and measure the size of parking lots in 2020.

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