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Comptroller eyes future EPF funding

April 4, 2018
By JUSTIN A. LEVINE - Outdoors Writer (jlevine@adirondackdailyenterprise.com) , Lake Placid News

The man who oversees New York's finances says the Environmental Protection Fund, while in good shape now, needs to be stabilized with more reliable funding streams.

A report issued by Thomas DiNapoli, the state's Comptroller, said in the wake of the EPF's 25th anniversary that projections of shrinking budgets require dedicated funding for the EPF to protect the positive benefits the fund provides.

"The EPF was intended to provide a permanent, dedicated source of funds for addressing the State's conservation funding needs," DiNapoli's report says. "In addition, by providing funds for programs and projects on a pay-as-you-go basis, the State could avoid the expenses for debt service that come with borrowing.

Article Photos


Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks at the Elk Lake Lodge in May of 2016 announcing the state’s purchase of the 20,000-acre Boreas Ponds Tract, which was paid for using money from the state’s Environmental Protection Fund.
News file photo — Justin A. Levine

"Over nearly a quarter-century, the EPF has become one of the most significant sources of funding for State and municipal programs to preserve open space, improve parks and recreation programs, and protect water quality."

The report shows the EPF has received $3.4 billion in funding, and that $2.6 billion of that has been spent on environmental projects and programs, including providing nearly a third of the state Department of Environmental Conservation's capital projects budget. The state budget calls for a second year in a row of record funding, with $300 million slated for the EPF this year.

"In a 2013 report on the 20th anniversary of the EPF, DEC reported that the projects supported by this spending have included more than 1,300 municipal parks improvements, waterfront revitalization in 330 communities, and protection of 650,000 acres of open space along with 72,000 acres of farmland," the report says.

"In addition, the Fund has: supported farm, municipal and nonprofit initiatives to reduce water pollution and otherwise improve water bodies; assisted municipal recycling and waste reduction programs; funded efforts to control invasive species; financed the stewardship of parks and other State lands; and provided aid to zoos, aquaria and botanical gardens."

The EPF receives funding from a number of sources, with the largest being the state's Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT). Other sources include unclaimed bottle deposits, the sale of surplus equipment, and fees from various licenses and conservation-themed license plates. The report says that the EPF typically carries a surplus.

However, other than the RETT revenues, the other sources of funding for the EPF are far more variable, and the fund has received large amounts of money from the state's General Fund as well. With the projected budget issues, DiNapoli argues that the EPF shouldn't count on money from the General Fund in the future.

In the last few years, "General Fund transfers made up 26 percent of total Fund (EPF) revenues, with one-time settlement funds representing well over half that total," the report says. "Such increased reliance on nonrecurring revenues, other General Fund receipts and borrowing could make the EPF more susceptible to unexpected cuts.

"This concern arises given that the General Fund is the State's primary resource for responding to various budgetary pressures including federal funding changes, shortfalls in revenue collections, or new spending needs, and the State's statutory debt capacity is constrained."

DiNapoli says that state law caps the amount of money the EPF can get from RETT and bottle returns, and noted that the state is failing to fully collect bottle return money.

"A recent audit by the Office of the State Comptroller found that the Department of Taxation and Finance (DTF) was not adequately monitoring and enforcing controls over deposit initiators' management and repayment of unclaimed deposits," the report says. "A recent audit by the Office of the State Comptroller found that the Department of Taxation and Finance was not adequately monitoring and enforcing controls over deposit initiators' management and repayment of unclaimed deposits.

"Improved efforts to collect the State's share of unclaimed bottle deposits by DTF could provide additional resources to support the EPF as well as other State priorities."

DiNaploi's department wrote in a report from Dec. 2017 on the bottle returns that DTF, while accurately processing income, failed to properly assess fines against bottle return sites that did not file required reports. The Comptroller recommended steps to ensure greater compliance, accountability and more accurate assessment of fines.

The EPF report says that since fiscal year 2009-10, the state took in more than $807 million dollars, about 10 percent - $88 million has been transferred to the EPF. Presumably, with the improvements in bottle deposit income, the state would take in more money, some of which would likely go to the EPF.

"In the 24 years since its enactment, billions in funding for environmental programs have been authorized and spent from the EPF. By establishing a permanent fund with a dedicated revenue stream, the State has been able to meet a wide variety of environmental protection and recreation needs for the State and its local governments.

"Through direct purchase and conservation easement programs, EPF funding has allowed for the protection of incomparable open spaces in the Adirondacks and throughout the State, providing unique recreational opportunities, keeping farmland in production and preserving important ecosystems.

"DEC could further improve the Fund's programmatic value by publicly providing annual, comprehensive assessments on the status of and the need for programs and projects that may be supported by the EPF over a multi-year planning period. It's also important that DEC consistently meet statutory reporting requirements related to the Fund.

"The many State and local projects that have been funded through the EPF over the past 25 years have served to preserve and promote environmental and recreational resources for current and future generations of New Yorkers. Ensuring the preservation of this important dedicated funding stream will allow such critical investments to continue into the future."

In recent years, the EPF has been used to complete state land purchases in the Adirondacks, notably the Boreas Ponds Tract, which, when combined with the Dix Mountain and High Peaks wilderness areas, will create the largest wilderness area in the northeast.

To read the full report, go to www.osc.state.ny.us/press/releases/mar18/030518.htm.

 
 

 

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