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June 24, 2010

DiNapoli: Delays are Compromising EPF Programs

State Agencies Need to do Better Distributing Funds

Nearly 40 percent of the state Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) has been swept to the General Fund since 1993 for budget balance, according to a report issued today by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. Of the $854 million, $347 million was replaced by public authority back-door borrowing. DiNapoli says the sweeps resulted in part due to delays in using the funding for intended programs to protect New York State’s air, land and water.

“When EPF programs work, they work well,” DiNapoli said. “The fund has protected some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. But if there are delays in spending fund dollars, the result is dirtier water, fewer parks and a poorer environment. Sweeps and back door borrowing were not part of the plan when the EPF was implemented. State agencies have to do a better job getting EPF money out the door and into the vital projects across New York.”

EPF programs offset the costs farmers and municipalities face to meet environmental mandates, support key sectors of the state economy, including agriculture, tourism and forestry, and help keep New Yorkers more fit and healthy as well as protecting New York’s water, air and wildlife habitat.  

DiNapoli’s report was based on audits of the Department of Environmental Conservation, the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the Department of State, the Department of Agriculture and Markets, and 10 municipal governments. Auditors examined if agencies employed clear criteria in awarding EPF funds to eligible projects, evaluated the timeliness of agency awards and assessed the agencies’ monitoring of project sponsors.

DiNapoli’s auditors identified weaknesses in agency monitoring of progress toward completion of projects funded by the EPF.  As a result, funds awarded to these projects sat idle, in some cases for several years, while qualified project applicants were denied funding.  Auditors also found significant delays in the implementation of procedures to award and disburse EPF funds.  

Since the EPF was established, more than $2.2 billion has been appropriated to fund environmental programs. A total of $854 million has been swept to the General Fund and used to fill budget holes produced by unsustainable state budget practices. Revenues from bonds issued by state public authorities replaced $347 million of the swept funds.

DiNapoli’s report recommends the state:

  • Establish formal timeframes to meet expedited grant award process milestones and establish and maintain scored lists of qualified projects;
  • Standardize contracts to facilitate compliance with prompt contracting requirements and establish clear guidelines to govern each step in the funding process;
  • Improve communication between implementing agencies and applicants/awardees;
  • Establish a central clearing house for EPF information; and
  • Report annually on the implementation of EPF programs.

Click here for a copy of the report.


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