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Unfunded mandates further burden local governments

Local governments are often facing with unfunded mandates from federal and state governments that require them to carry out specific actions but does not appropriate any funds for that purpose. Often caught off guard, local governments that encounter these mandates have to struggle to bridge the budget shortfall, which may extend for several fiscal years before the budget is fully adjusted.

The Chicago Tribune (1/10) reported that Iowa town's "efforts to comply with the federal Clean Water Act could mean big increases in the cost of sewage treatment for many small towns." Iowa "officials estimate that more than 330 wastewater treatment facilities will be required to meet the stricter discharge standards, at a cost ranging from $790 million to $956 million," while, according to Mike Wade, a state environmental specialist, "Most cities and towns don't have funds set aside to replace or upgrade their systems." The solution is to raise service fees: in Elkader sewer bills "are climbing $2 per month during each month this year;" in Manchester, monthly sewer rates went up by $10 last year and will go up another $10 this year.

Likewise, Florida's Boca Raton News (1/14, King) reported on the common dilemma for cities accommodate mandates from the state without any extra money to pay for them. In Boca Raton, the "Utility Services Department (water, wastewater, recycled water) pays nearly $11 million for water treatment, quality control, reclaimed water and other costs required by the state" without corresponding funding. A "records retention requirement" costs $430,200 of local taxpayers' dollars. And, "publishing bilingual-election information...runs her $12,000." The list goes on, eventually reaching the multi-million-dollar figure.


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Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs