- It was not your typical anniversary party. The Community Preservation Fund (CPF) neared its 10th anniversary as New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele
and fellow lawmaker New York State Senator Ken LaValle
presided over an invitation only meeting of municipal leaders while friendly protesters picketed outside the Westhampton Village Hall chanting "LaValle is not our pal," in the bright afternoon sunshine.
The mood outside was exuberant as protesters marched armed with homemade signs, chanting slogans demonstrating their objections to the use of the CPF fund to aid school districts with payments in lieu of taxes known under PILOT programs designed to off-set overburdened school districts resulting from open space expenditures.
Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot confers with New York State Senator Ken
LaValle and Assemblyman Fred Thiele regarding interpretations of the CPF law.
Thiele, the drafter and chief architect of the groundbreaking legislation that created the fund, also authored several modifications to the original 1998 law enabling town governments to use CPF funds to aid fire and ambulance districts, as well as school districts in addition to preserving open space. The theory
behind the PILOT made to these districts was based on the tax loss sustained in these areas by removing large tracts of land from the tax rolls.
Inside, the mood was somber and businesslike as the group comprised of East End mayors, supervisors, land preservationists and environmentalists, gathered to discuss the past, present and future of the fund which is in effect until 2030, having been extended by popular vote with the electorate overwhelmingly indicating their support of the program from 2010 to 2020, and then to 2030.
The five East End towns have spent over $500 million and acquired more than 10,000 acres of preserved open space and farmland since the well received program was instituted on June 22, 1998.
The entire Southampton Town Board attended the meeting, arriving late following their regularly schedule board meeting Friday. "The board must have had a long work session," Thiele said knowingly when the board members, along with Supervisor Linda Kabot, began to arrive and take their seats. Supervisor Kabot presides over the largest of the five East End towns CPF's with an estimated $55 million in anticipated revenue now predicted for 2008.
As the meeting progressed, Thiele turned his attention to the creation of a 14 member policy task force. The task force will consist of one representative from each of the five East End towns to be selected by each town supervisor. In addition, Thiele will staff the new task force with two representatives of the villages on the East End and one representative from The Peconic Land Trust
, The Long Island Pine Barrens, the Group for the East End
and the Nature Conservancy
. The task force will elect a chairman.
"We should have the task force in place by the end of the week," Thiele said noting he is expecting a report from the group by April 1, 2008.
"When we start talking about diversified uses of the CPF," Thiele said as he commented on the evolution of the fund over the last 10 years, " we have to ask ourselves once we start that, where do we stop?"
Many of the attendees agreed as they relayed issues concerning the use of CPF funds to buy bowling alleys, preserve historic structures, and in the case of Southampton Town to pay to bury high tension lines.
East End dignitaries attend the invitation only meeting comprised of Supervisors, Mayors, land preservationists and environmentalists. Shown here among the assemblage are Southampton Town Board members Christopher Nuzzi, Dan Russo, Southampton Mayor Mark Epley, and to the rear, Councilpersons Nancy Graboski and Anna Throne-Holst.
According to the latest figures released by Thiele at the Friday afternoon meeting, the Town of Southampton has collected $3,480,326.85 for the month of January 2008, East Hampton town has taken in $2,098,783.73 while Southold, Riverhead and Shelter Island towns trailed significantly in revenue collected which is garnered at the closing table via the Peconic Tax - a two percent transfer tax on real estate purchases. The figures for these three towns indicated Southold collected $660,253.92, while Riverhead took in $287,778.97 and Shelter Island trailed with reported transfer tax revenues of $144,456.68 for the month.
Thiele received high praise from many in the group. "You are to be commended for creating one of the most effective and progressive preservation funds in the country," Larry Cantwell, the East Hampton Village Administrator said.
Fine Tuning The Specifics
The assembled group discussed issues centered on the stewardship and management of the fund as well as the use of the fund to acquire park lands which once purchased, involve other expenses that the municipality must assume along with title to the property.
In comparison, the preservation of open space often involves little if any stewardship or management. If the development rights are purchased on farmland, for example, the owner retains title to the land, and forgoes the right to develop the land, opting instead to keep large tracts of land in private ownership and in agricultural production.
"Should this money come from the CPF or from the town budget?" Kabot said to Thiele as she relayed the on-going expenses associated with maintaining parks and recreational areas once they are taken off the tax rolls and placed under town ownership. "We have to install lighting and that's a $250,000 expense," Kabot told the assembled group.
In addition to stewardship and management issues, the governmental assemblage also discussed the movement now taking shape in the five East End towns to exempt first time home buyers from the two percent Peconic transfer tax. The tax, which funds the CPF, adds an added crunch at closing, making it more difficult for first-time home buyers to manage their initial home purchase.
In Southampton, East Hampton and Shelter Island Towns, the first $250,000 is exempt from the two percent Peconic Tax on home purchases. The tax is levied on unimproved property with a $150,000 base exemption. In Southold and Riverhead, the tax applies on improved property with the first $150,000 exempt and is levied on unimproved land with a $75,000 exemption.
"It's an issue in Riverhead," Councilwoman Barbara Blass said. "We need to do everything we can to help first time home buyers." Blass also noted she would like to see more CPF funds used to preserve the Peconic Estuary as well.
"Our journey is not done yet," New York State Senator Ken LaValle said, "we are getting close to the end of the road, but we are not there yet.'
LaValle has been in the forefront of educational issues for most of his political career. The issue of the day, as witnessed by the protesters outside, was the highly controversial use of the CPF fund to provide tax relief to school districts. Neither LaValle or Thiele addressed that issue.
"We have to consider this carefully," Kabot said, "because it has given the CPF a black eye."
Many in attendance agreed, citing the outstanding achievements of the land preservationists and the five East End towns over the last 10 years.
"This has been an outstanding program," Kabot said, "that is being used as a model all over the country now as communities move to preserve open space. We do not want to destroy that with bad will from the community."
The town of Southampton has yet to adopt the law on a local level, having engaged in debate for months as the board tried to decide how to make PILOT payments to the three school districts in town that now qualify for the tax relief according to a state established guideline. The three districts that received PILOT from the 2008 town budget under the existing state law enacted in August 2007 were Riverhead, Hampton Bays and Eastport-South Manor.
Among the protesters outside were Carl Iacone, president of the Bayview Pines-Flanders Civic Association. Iacone has been an outspoken critic of the new law, which he contends should have been subject to a local referendum. "Why doesn't Thiele come out and talk to us," Iacone asked.
"We did not convene today to discuss the PILOT programs," Theile said, addressing the attendees who entered the building by crossing a picket line of protesters circulating in the front of the building. Instead, Thiele will form a committee to continue the discussion concerning the future of the CPF.
"We also have to discuss our plans for the Anniversary Party
on June 22," Thiele said before adjourning the meeting.
The protesters were gone as the group left the building shortly after 5 p.m.