New real estate fee proposed to fund open space

A bill being considered by the General Assembly would allow towns to place a fee of up to 1 percent on new real estate transactions to help fund acquisition and preservation of open space. (Peter Marteka)

Creating a new real estate fee to fund open space programs, cracking down on leaky gas pipelines, and stopping free ad flyers from being thrown on lawns and driveways were among the issues debated at a legislative hearing Monday.

The first big hearing before the Environment Committee of the 2019 General Assembly session drew a standing-room-only crowd in Hartford. Here’s a look at some of the proposed bills that drew often conflicting testimony from citizens, lawmakers and special interest groups.

Environmental groups and local officials urged lawmakers to support a plan that would allow cities and towns to voluntarily set new fees on real estate transactions of up to 1 percent of the value of sales more than $150,000. The municipalities could then use that money to buy or maintain open space, clean up old industrial “brownfields, and other environmental projects.

“This would really help us,” Derrylyn Gorsky, first selectwoman of Bethany, told the committee. She acknowledged that her local real estate agents are opposed to any added fee, but added that “certainly any residents I spoke with are in support.”

John Elsessor, Coventry’s town manager, said such a fee would help communities like his that are “feeling constrained by state budget cuts” in their efforts to preserve open space. He said the buyer’s fee for a house purchase valued at $250,000 would only amount to $100 if the fee was set at one-tenth of one percent.

But Jim Perras, chief executive officer of the Homebuilders & Remodelers Association of Connecticut, warned that charging an additional real estate transaction fee would “act as a barrier to many who aspire to home ownership.”

Perras said the result of the new fees would also make it more difficult for communities to build affordable housing by taking more open space off the market. He said the combined effects could increase “outward migration” from Connecticut.

Joe Scozzafava, of the Connecticut Association of Realtors, said the proposed legislation “would create an additional impediment” for this state’s “still fragile real estate market.”

Rep. Tom Delnicki, R-South Windsor, testified in support of a bill to reduce the amount of natural gas that state law allows to leak from pipelines from the current from 3 percent down to 1 percent.

“It doesn’t make sense” for energy companies to be allowed to charge consumers for gas that never reaches their homes or businesses, Delnicki said. He said the issue “touches safety, it touches the environment, and it touches consumers.”

Delnicki argued that forbidding energy companies from passing along the costs of leaked gas to customers would give those companies a strong economic incentive to stop such leaks.

Vincent Pace, a lawyer for Eversource Energy, told lawmakers that the “most effective and proven method of achieving leak reductions” is to continue with ongoing programs to “proactively repair and replace leak-prone natural gas infrastructure” under state supervision. He and other energy industry spokesmen opposed the bill.

Pace also said the 3 percent figure relates to “lost and unaccounted for” natural gas in the system, and doesn’t really accurately measure the amount of natural gas or methane leaking into the atmosphere.

Pia said such deliveries are usually wrapped in plastic and can pile up on lawns, driveways and along streets, causing problems for homeowners and added pollution. He said “pretty much everyone” in his community is supporting a proposed local ordinance to designate such unsolicited deliveries as litter.

The proposed ban drew strong opposition from spokesmen for the Connecticut Daily Newspaper Association, who said prohibiting such deliveries would prevent consumers from receiving many valuable coupons and hurt businesses seeking to advertise sales.

Andrew Julien, editor and publisher of the Hartford Courant, testified that such a ban “could have a chilling effect” on newspapers because it might allow local officials to restrict the distribution of information. Julien said many types of publications include both news and advertising, from community newsletters to free weekly newspapers.

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