Auditor Bump Finds Environmental Permitting Law an Unfunded Mandate for Local Communities
BOSTON, MA (May 23, 2011) – In an opinion with potential state-wide impact, State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump today announced that amendments to a 1987 environmental permitting law last year is an unfunded mandate that imposes unreasonable costs on three Massachusetts towns—Athol, Halifax and Leverett. The Auditor’s Division of Local Mandates (DLM) determined that the change in the law required communities to take over state responsibilities for evaluating site assignments for solid waste facilities and permitting small transfer stations, forcing municipalities to spend thousands of dollars on technical and environmental experts.
“Many Massachusetts communities are already on the financial edge as they struggle through another year of local aid cuts,” said Auditor Bump. “This change in the law adds substantial costs to local Boards of Health and will wind up being a disincentive for locating waste management facilities in many communities.”
In their petition to the Auditor’s Office, the three towns said they would have to spend as much as $18,000 on consultants to help determine if each applicant met the mandatory 17 criteria for protecting the public health, safety and environment in a community. Auditor Bump found that the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection charged applicants $8,615 to do the site suitability report, but that local boards are limited by state law from passing on additional consultant costs.
The Local Mandate Law, M.G.L c.29, § 27C, provides that any post-1980 law or regulation that imposes additional costs upon any municipality must either be fully funded by the Commonwealth or be subject to local acceptance. Athol, Halifax, and Leverett may petition Superior Court for an exemption in enforcing the changes in the law. In her opinion, Auditor Bump said that a legislative remedy to repeal the new amendments may be a more expedient move. The House of Representatives has included such an amendment in its FY 2012 state budget.
Auditor Bump’s Division of Local Mandates is responsible for determining the local financial impact of proposed or existing state mandates. DLM also maintains a legislative review program to analyze pending legislation and prepare preliminary cost studies to help lawmakers consider the financial impact of bills on local communities.