Legislation is awaiting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature that would permit all five East End towns to use up to 20 percent of its Community Preservation Fund dollars for water quality improvement projects. (more…)
The Peconic Bay Community Preservation Fund has never been just about protecting agriculture, farms and open space. At its heart, the program, which took effect in 1999, has always been about protecting a way of life the rest of Long Island lost long ago to intense — and ongoing — suburban sprawl that began after World War II. (more…)
On April 2, East Enders will celebrate an important milestone: The Community Preservation Fund will have generated over $1 billion and preserved more than 10,000 acres of open space and farmland. Approved by voters in 1999, the CPF uses a small tax on real estate purchases to preserve land and protect drinking water.
It is arguably the most successful land preservation program in the country. (more…)
While lawmakers have proposed legislation to deal with deteriorating water quality such as mandating the use of costly wastewater treatment systems, one East End legislator has an idea for how to go about paying for such initiatives.
Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) has proposed using a portion of monies raised in the Community Preservation Fund, a law passed 16 years ago which taxes real estate transfers on the first East End towns.
Revenue from the CPF has been devoted strictly to open space purchases, protecting land from development in the towns.
But Mr. Thiele — the same lawmaker who sponsored the original CPF legislation — said it is time to use some of that money for water treatment systems and other clean water projects.
Last year was a pretty good year for the Peconic Bay Community Preservation Fund.
The fund, which uses money raised through a voter-approved 2 percent real estate transfer tax to buy open space and farmland development rights in the five East End towns, brought in a total for 2013 that was up by 43 percent over the previous year. (more…)
One of the last words any taxpayer wants to hear an elected official say is “bankrupt.”
But that’s how Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter describes the town’s Community Preservation Fund. Luckily, the term is not being used literally in this case, though the difference seems to be semantic: The town will be doing nothing besides paying down debt on a loan for another 16 years until it’s paid off.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo enacted a law last week aimed at protecting and preserving East End coastlines that are at significant risk to climate change and sea level rise.
Proposed by Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), the new law notes rising sea levels as one reason towns can purchase shorefront property using Community Preservation Fund dollars.
While towns could previously purchase undeveloped land on the shore, climate change could not specifically be one reason why towns were paying for them.
“What we wanted to do was to put in the statute that one of the factors towns can consider is the issue of climae change, and sea level rise,” said Thiele. “While there may be disagreement as to their cause, nobody can deny that [climate change] is happening.”
The law, signed last Wednesday, came just days before the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, which damaged shorelines along the North Fork.
Each of the five towns uses a Community Preservation Fund to preserve environmentally sensitive land for open space, farmland preservation, historic preservation and parks for recreational use, but existing law did not specifically include at-risk coastlines, he said.
The fund, approved by referendum of East End voters in 1998, applies a 2 percent tax on all real estate transfers to set aside funds for land preservation purchases.
According to Mr. Thiele, real estate transfer tax revenues for the first nine months of 2013 have raised $1.77 million for Riverhead Town, while Southold Town has taken in $2.98 million. Since the fund’s start, more than 10,000 acres of land have been preserved.
“In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, it was recognized that there was also a need to further ensure that we also protect lands that are at risk of coastal flooding and sea level rise,” Mr. Thiele said. “These sensitive lands are critical to the future of our local coastal communities.”
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, increases in heavier rainfall and projected sea level rise could lead to more frequent damaging floods – along with storm surges of greater intensity in the Northeast.
“It is fitting that we take this step to conserve our beautiful and pristine beaches that not only act as a buffer to protect our coastal communities but also represent an emblematic symbol of Long Island’s East End,” said Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who sponsored the state Senate bill.
Southold Supervisor Scott Russell said the town has been examining areas that may meet the new law’s criteria.
“If it’s undeveloped shoreline – our interests are already there,” Mr. Russell said. The town had been looking into acquiring funding thorough the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service to purchase coastal farmland at a high risk of flooding. The new law gives the town another option to work with, he said.
“The land preservation committee will look at the new law and see how we can make it work for Southold,” he said.
Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said the town has “attempted to buy wetlands in coastal areas since the inception of the fund, but now this gives us the absolute authority where as before it was more of a general authority as open space.
“It’s a good thing, unfortunately for the Town of Riverhead; we don’t have much CPF money left – but it’s a good tool to have for the future,” he said.
In the early 2000s, Riverhead Town leaders started borrowing against future CPF revenues to buy open land before an anticipated rise in real estate values. But when real estate market stalled, revenues to pay off the debt did not come in as expected, leaving an annual shortfall of nearly $4 million, according to a News-Review report.
Should the town find the appropriate funds, Mr. Walter said the coastal area off Creek Road in Wading River is an example of a space the town might be interested in.
“The houses along Creek Road are always at risk because it is a bit of barrier road that protects the wetlands,” Mr. Walter said.
Long Island Pine Barrens Society executive director Richard Amper said “the key word in this legislation is ‘undeveloped’ lands.”
“This is what the original act intended, so this particular bill makes clear that vulnerable coastal areas will be a priority for CPF finding in the years ahead,” Mr. Amper said. “Sea level rise will affect Long Island Sound and it will affect the Peconic bays.”
Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) said towns could gain waterfront access while protecting sensitive marshland that needs to be preserved – actions that many towns are already invested in.
“It’s not really a departure from what we’re doing now,” said Mr. Krupski. “The areas you’re talking about, they are areas already important to the program.”
Adding coastline into the mix with already sought-after farmland and open space means “each town really has to do their due diligence and prioritize,” Mr. Krupski said. “How do they want to spend their money?”
While Riverhead Town officials are primarily concerned with overcoming a deficit in the town’s general fund next year – which will be closed with $3.5 million in reserves – they say a deficit in the Community Preservation Fund looms even larger.
Auditors contracted by the town, along with members of the town’s independent audit committee, found that about $19 million remains in the CPF, according to findings presented at last Thursday’s Town Board work session.
The CPF, approved by referendum among East End voters in 1999, taxes real estate transfers to set aside funds for land preservation purchases.
In the early 2000s, town leaders started borrowing against future CPF revenues to buy open land before an anticipated rise in real estate values. But the real estate market then stalled, and revenues to pay off the debt have not come in as expected, leaving an annual shortfall of nearly $4 million. The town owes about $6 million each year to pay down the principal and interest on money borrowed for the land purchases.
Supervisor Sean Walter said the real estate market has to improve, or else.
“In 2018, if things don’t turn around … we’d run out of money [in the CPF],” he said in an interview. “The picture’s not very bright.”
While a deficit remains in the CPF fund, the real estate market does seem to be rebounding, suggested by this year’s rising CPF revenues, according to numbers provided by Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor).
Riverhead has brought in $1.62 million through August, an increase of 45 percent over last year’s $1.11 million. Across the entire East End, CPF funds are up to $58.5 million, up from $39.2 million in 2012.
Despite the improvement, Mr. Walter described the CPF debt as a “structural deficit problem.”
“They ran the town like it was a giant credit card,” Mr. Walter said, referring to the previous administration under Democrat Phil Cardinale. “Here’s the key: they never went to anybody … to determine if the revenue would ever support the amount financed.”
Since the town’s CPF debt far exceeds the amount of CPF money taken in, Mr. Walter predicted the town will have to start using general fund money to refill the CPF funding in 2019. The town will then have to use reserves from its general fund for eight years, until the CPF is expected to bring back in enough to pay its debt, he said.
Though Mr. Walter blamed the Cardinale administration for the bleak outlook, Long Island Pine Barrens Society executive director Richard Amper said the town “did the CPF right.”
Mr. Amper said the town hasn’t received the funding they expected from taxes due to the recession, adding the town accomplished what it set out to do by preserving land and preventing over-development.
“The likelihood that the town will have to underwrite the cost of payment from the general fund is slim to none,” Mr. Amper said, noting he last calculated his figures in 2010.