Your needs will change, along with your budgets
Don’t begin an urban forestry program without thinking carefully about the future. Even a small program represents a long-term investment in assets that require management for decades and more. And your budget won’t automatically grow as your trees do.
Lenexa, Kansas began its award-winning “Rain to Recreation” program with a long-term funding strategy that balanced multiple revenue streams over time.
Consider long-term funding strategies to sustain your program over time
Even as you put together your initial forest management plan, you’ll need to anticipate how you’ll pay for maintenance and staffing needs down the road. And it doesn’t pay to rely solely on steadily increasing municipal budgets. That never happens. Instead, explore what others have done and learn what might fit in your own community.
- Staffing. Assemble a team at the outset that blends your staff with contractors, nonprofit groups and volunteers. If municipal budgets shrink, your allies can pick up some of the slack; they may even be able to supply equipment you’d otherwise carry on your own budget.
- Endowments. While few municipalities can create a permanent endowment to support urban forests, many non-profits do just that. Whether it’s called a “tree preservation fund” or a long-term commitment from organizations like the Nature Conservancy, they can become a dependable multi-year [but rarely forever] source of funds. A few organizations have created their own endowments; others have developed dedicated funding from community foundations.
- Dedicated allocation from existing taxes and fees. Even a small sliver of large tax proceeds or fees can provide a solid foundation for urban forestry activities over time: real estate taxes, utility taxes, stormwater fees, motor fuel taxes, development and permitting fees. Requires investment of political energy, but if your coalition is strong enough and your residents receptive, it’s well worth the effort.
- Ecosystem service revenue. In California, the cap-and-trade system directs funds accrued from companies that exceed pollution limits to state-wide and local urban forestry programs. Other municipalities are exploring how to grow dollars from the carbon dioxide absorbed by their trees. Markets are just emerging, but this unusual revenue source bears watching.
- Wood utilization. Don’t just chip it; sell it. While healthy standing trees are your most valuable asset, there’s value in wood waste. From biomass plants to lumber mills, you can find buyers who will defray the cost of removal — and even add heft to your budget.
- Fines. Tack on a tree replacement fee to traffic fines for motorists who mow down street trees. Likewise, some communities may dedicate a small proportion of large environmental fines to urban forestry needs.
- Mitigation. Owners who choose to remove trees from their own property can mitigate the loss by paying a sum equal to the benefits forgone from those trees. Funds can be used to plant new trees or as part of the general municipal forestry budget.
- Tax increment financing (TIF). For 50-plus years, municipalities have used this public financing method as a subsidy for redevelopment, infrastructure, and other community-improvement projects. Through the use of TIF, municipalities typically sell bonds backed by a development’s future taxes, with the bond money helping to pay for public space enhancement, and development costs.
- Business improvement districts (BID) are defined areas within which businesses elect to pay a levy – a “self-imposed-tax” – to provides services and programs to the entire BID, beyond what the city provides. The aim of these public-private partnerships is to attract and retain businesses, increase sales and taxes, generate jobs and enhance the quality of life in the neighborhood. BIDs exist in almost every one of the top 50 largest cities in the United States and in many smaller communities.
DC’s Golden Triangle Business Improvement District brought property owners and the city together to fund and build state-of-the-art stormwater management installations, including trees, advanced drainage, curb cuts and public art.