Increase in rooms and meals tax weighed to fund waterway cleanup

Lawmakers are looking to pay for the clean up of the state’s waterways with partial funding from the state’s rooms and meals tax.

The Committee on Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources is wading through an omnibus water quality bill, H.586, designed to restore the state’s water bodies. According to a January 2013 report, the total cost to clean up the state’s rivers, streams, lakes and ponds was estimated at $155 million a year for 10 years.

“We’re not going after that much money,” says Rep. David Deen, D-Putney, who chairs the committee drafting the bill. “Vermont doesn’t have it.”

The committee is proposing an additional 0.25 percent increase in the state’s 9 percent rooms and meals tax (10 percent on alcohol served in restaurants) to help fund the clean up.

The bill would also raise funds from runoff caused by development, such as roads, parking lots and buildings, by creating a per parcel fee. The flat fee is set at $10 for residential property and $20 for commercial.

Together, Deen says, the bill could generate between $3 million and $5 million. The committee will also consider a fee on wholesale fertilizer and rental cars to shore up more funds.

H.586 sets new far-reaching standards for agriculture, forestry and infrastructure – the nonpoint sources of pollution that are considered to be the cause of phosphorus build up in the state’s lakes and ponds.

Deen says state agencies do not have the resources or personnel to administer the cleanup, which includes helping farmers, foresters and towns meet new runoff standards.

“They do not have the resources. They just don’t,” he said. “And it is not necessarily an ongoing expense. But we need to infuse some money into our response at this point.”

By next week, the committee hopes to have a budget to go with the bill, including the costs of administer the program and possible revenue sources. The bill could move out of committee as soon as next week, Deen said.

The Environmental Protection Agency ordered the state to create a new TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) standard to limit phosphorus pollution in Lake Champlain.

The state must meet the new TMDL or face tighter restrictions on Lake Champlain’s wastewater treatment facilities and cuts in federal funding, EPA officials have said.

John Herrick

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