Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has signed a law that would extend the life of the region’s Community Preservation Fund tax—and also making it possible to tap the CPF for water quality programs in addition to land preservation.
The law made it through both houses of the State Legislature over the summer, and the governor’s signature on Friday brings it one step closer to final adoption. The next step will be to gain approval from the five East End towns covered by the CPF, in referendums in each town.
“The Community Preservation Fund has been a tremendous success in preserving land,” State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., who co-authored the legislation with State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, said this week. “This legislation would allow the program to potentially last for 20 more years.”
First pitched last fall, the bill would extend the tax for an additional 20 years, from a previously approved extension to 2030, all the way to 2050. It also would permit as much as 20 percent of CPF revenue to be used for water quality protection—such as upgrading septic systems and addressing the levels of nitrogen found in local waters.
A decision will now shift over to the five East End towns that collect revenue from the CPF—Southampton, East Hampton, Southold, Shelter Island and Riverhead. Those municipalities will have to pass local laws mirroring the extension and the use of revenue for water quality protection.
Upon passage, each town will have to devise a plan for water quality protection; East Hampton Town has already done so, and Southampton Town is currently in the process of approving a plan.
Once these steps are completed, voters in each town will be presented with a referendum as well as an explanation of how the towns would spend the CPF money. Mr. Thiele noted, though, that townships set their own priorities for the CPF, meaning that each town would decide on its own whether to use the fund for water protection. “I would hope that every town would at least take advantage of having that opportunity,” he added.
Initiated in 1999, the CPF collects revenue through a 2-percent tax on most real estate transfers. Its proceeds have protected more than 10,000 acres of land, with more than $1 billion generated in the five towns since its creation, according to Mr. Thiele and Mr. LaValle. They noted that while it had once been assumed “protected land” meant clear waters, development and land use have nonetheless increased nitrogen loading in East End waters.
“Prior to this new law, the CPF was a mechanism that enabled us to preserve important lands, and now I am hopeful it will have the same success protecting our water,” Mr. LaValle said in a release.
Staff writer Alyssa Melillo contributed to this story.