Strategies for Self -Funding Your Programs

Most urban forestry programs will probably always rely heavily on general fund allocations, but other options exist that can provide a revenue stream more clearly dedicated to the stewardship and management of urban forests.

– “Planning the Urban Forest,” American Planning Association (2009)

Municipal budgets can shrink. Demands may grow, not just for planting but for maintenance and response to extraordinary threats from natural disasters or forest pests and disease. In this respect, financing green infrastructure is no different than for any other type of capital project: cover development costs; budget for maintenance over time; and plan for resilience.

Very few communities, if any, can allocate general funds for these immediate and long-term, sometimes speculative needs. So dozens have created a variety of revenue streams to finance green infrastructure and urban forestry. Some reflect the benefits green infrastructure provide to users, and tap their resources to help sustain it. Others recognize that recognize that residents and institutions themselves play a role in improving or degrading the local environment; they reward those who improve, and penalize those who don’t.

Pittsburgh’s Urban Forestry Master Plan catalogues some of these strategies. While it’s not complete, it may spark some other ways to help finance your community’s green infrastructure and urban forestry programs.

Special Assessments: Some cities levy a special assessment for street tree maintenance based on per-foot road frontage. Others impose stormwater fees calculated by the percentage of impervious surface on the property.

Neighborhood and Business Improvement Districts: BIDs in many central cities assess their members for the costs of sidewalk and street-side amenities, including trees and green space.

Taxes: Some communities apportion a small percentage of land use development and transfer fees to support maintenance of community forests.

Capital Improvement Projects: A few cities have successfully integrated tree and green infrastructure into their capital budgets. But many others report that rules set by the Government Accounting Standards Board aren’t fully compatible with capitalizing “living” assets – like trees – that grow, mature and die.

Fees: Communities often collect fees for permits, plan review, developments – even for leaf collection. A portion of these fees can logically be allocated to support urban forestry and green infrastructure projects.

Fines and Compensatory Payments: Compensatory payments for damaging street and park trees – public property – are small, but collectively could cover part of an urban forest program’s budget. With many cities operating under EPA decrees, private owners whose stormwater run-off contributes disproportionately to poor water quality can face significant fines. By working with regulatory bodies, a portion of these funds can be directed to community programs that mitigate non-point pollution through green infrastructure and urban forestry.

Some Community Trees can Pay for Others: Too many downed trees are simply chipped and mulched. Some communities have found markets for these trees among artisans and small sawmills seeking reclaimed or recycled wood. A few have created markets by incubating small local industry devoted to use of reclaimed urban trees. Some tree care companies will work with developers to determine whether any trees slated for removal might be diverted to some other productive use. Monies earned could be mandated for mitigation by the developer, or diverted to the community’s urban forestry budget. – providing the funds for mandated replacement and mitigation.