“Currently only a limited number of New York State municipalities have authority granted by the State Legislature to create funds—known as Community Preservation Funds—to protect open space. To expand the availability of such funds, legislation could be enacted by the State to authorize any municipality to create a community preservation fund, rather than the current practice of requiring a separate, special legislative act for each municipality.”
~ From report by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.
For a copy of the Economic Benefits of Open Space report, click here.
Open Space protection has long been a cornerstone to land use planning and policy across the U.S. As the population of our area increases, more development will consume our farmland and change the rural landscape which is what draws so many people to live and visit here. Land use tools like zoning are no longer enough to safeguard important natural resources that are vital to the quality of life of residents.
In Orange County, only the Town of Warwick has a transfer tax of .75% for the sale of real property, which was approved by public referendum in 2006. On improved real property there is an exemption for the first $100,000 and on unimproved real property there is an exemption on the first $50,000. When a house or land is sold in Warwick, the buyer pays the fee, which is generally less than the amount charged for title fees in a mortgage’s closing costs. The seller pays nothing. This fee is added to a dedicated escrow fund that can only be used for projects identified in the Town’s adopted Community Preservation Plan to preserve the community character of Warwick. Unlike other closing costs, this money goes directly back into the community, and you can point to what was preserved, right down the road. Warwick’s Purchase of Development Rights program has been a great success, preserving thousands of acres of farmland and undeveloped land in all sections of the town.
Several communities in Orange County would like to follow suit and they have recently completed a Community Preservation Plan (CPP). Attempts have been made to get legislation passed by the State in order to vote on Community Preservation funding like the Town of Warwick. In addition, Orange County government moved forward a Home Rule Request for the New York State Legislature to amend general municipal law and the tax law to include Orange County as a “designated community” within the Hudson Valley Community Preservation Act of 2007. Note, this act already allows municipalities in Ulster, Westchester, Putnam, and Dutchess counties to institute property tax transfers of up to 2 percent to fill community preservation funds.
Community Preservation Fund legislation is crucial in order to give options to the residents of Orange County on how best to protect valuable resources. However, the State is holding back municipalities from the opportunity to vote on a funding mechanism that is allowed in nearby Counties. Orange County municipalities are struggling for a long term revenue source solution to further their preservation planning goals to save natural resources, creating parks, protecting active farmland and preserving historic and cultural resources. In addition, willing landowners would like the option to participate in a municipal purchase of development rights program to save lands with priority preservation values. Once created, a purchase of development rights program is eligible for matching grants from other sources to help communities reach their goals.
There are still economically important lands out there like watersheds and farmlands, historic and scenic areas of significance – all at risk of being lost forever. Thanks go out to organizations and conservation groups that have been assisting in these preservation efforts for years but we recognize it is getting increasingly difficult to fund. Orange County is feeling the pressure to protect important natural resources, which are essential to the health and well-being of its residents into the future. As new development increases, municipalities need to continually identify areas that should be protected AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, communities NEED TO HAVE THE MEANS TO PROTECT THEM.
Of course, there are many steps in the law-making process with a CPF with the Senate and Assembly passing a Bill and eventually getting signed by the Governor. And if legislation does pass, then a vote is still needed at the local level.
What can you do?
You can talk with your neighbors, public officials and state representatives about preservation funding. You are all in this together! Long-time residents can choose to protect the investment they already made in their community and new residents can contribute to a shared future in preserving the quality of life in Orange County.
Open space conservation is often the cheapest way to safeguard drinking water, clean the air, and achieve other environmental goals.