Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed a pair of new state laws that will allow the five East End towns to use Community Preservation Fund money for water quality improvements for the first time.
CPF, which is funded through a 2 percent tax on certain real estate transfers, was created in 1999 to protect farmland, open space and community character. Since its inception, it has raised more than $1.3 billion in revenue, including $90.3 million in the first 11 months of 2018. In 2016, East End voters overwhelmingly approved a measure permitting 20 percent of annual CPF revenue to be used for water quality improvement projects.
The first measure allows towns to use CPF funding to construct public water mains and connections for residents “whose drinking water has been contaminated by toxic chemicals, hazardous substances or emerging contaminants.” The second allows residents to borrow from the fund to replace septic systems. Officials said the loans could be given in addition to grants available for new septic systems under existing state and county programs.
In order to qualify for the loan, candidates must own property located in an environmental “priority area” designated by the town under the CPF project plan and must be installing an approved septic system under county health department regulations.
The loans would be repaid through property owners’ tax bills, officials said.
“With growing threats to our water supply in the Peconic Bay region, we must do everything possible to protect and insure the quality of our drinking water,” said state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who co-sponsored the legislation with Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor). “This legislation gives localities the ability to participate in providing clean, healthy water to areas impacted by emerging contaminants and gives access to needed funds for clean water initiatives.”
Mr. Thiele said degrading water quality is “one of the most serious threats” to East End residents. “In addition, by combining grants with loans for upgraded septic systems and permitting the loans to be repaid over a 10-year period on the tax bill [we] will encourage more property owners to take the initiative to upgrade their septic system,” he said.
Riverhead Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith said she looks forward to the funding being used for water quality projects.
“The town’s aggressive approach to preserving land in the past has limited the town’s access to CPF money currently,” she said. “As funding becomes available in the future, this new initiative would be a great tool to fund projects for our residents’ benefit.”