Though the governor officially signed the legislation into law over a week ago, the Southampton Town Board is concerned with two new bills relating to the Community Preservation Fund. At a town board work session last Friday, board members seemed most at odds with an aspect of the legislation that states exactly what the CPF fund can be used for in terms of maintenance and stewardship of properties.
The town’s CPF manager Mary Wilson explained the law’s language, which does not allow the fund to be used for particular services to CPF properties, namely grass cutting and utilities costs. Instead such services will now have to be charged to the town’s general fund. Supervisor Linda Kabot described the maintenance issue as one of “practicality” since the acquisition of a property, by nature, entails upkeep. Though she mentioned the state’s need to mandate particular services.
“Other towns took it a major step, in cutting grass, paying council persons’ salaries, doing things that were all overt the map,” she said. “The state saw it better to control. So when you buy something, you have to know, eyes wide open, there might be a general fund impact. There will be parks department costs to cut the grass.”
She pointed out that currently the town’s fund is being used to maintain a Girl Scout camp off Red Creek Road in Hampton Bays purchased with the fund years ago.
“That will now have to be absorbed by the general fund,” she said. “That’s the law.”
Councilman Chris Nuzzi said he was under the impression that language was to be amended before the bill was signed. Kabot said there was discussion, but that an amendment never happened.
“I hope that in the future that’s something that can remain open,” said Nuzzi. “I think that is something that has to happen. It will get unwieldy for the general fund.”
He said the purpose of the law was to purchase land, maintain it and steward it.
“After a property is purchased, it doesn’t just disappear,” he said.
Nuzzi said there was real need to be cautious because the language could be a “disincentive to purchasing property.”
Kabot brought up the “divergent interests” of the five East End towns that benefit from the fund. She said in Southampton, there are more opportunities to use the fund for parks and recreation related properties and mentioned the town’s purchase of the Conscience Point Marina in North Sea.
“For a time, we were paying off things out of [the CPF fund] and now we have to transfer [those costs] to the general fund,” said the supervisor, who also said in the future those type of acquisitions could be less common.
The other bill that went into effect on July 23 has to do with a tax-exemption for first time homebuyers. The board took issue with the bill’s allowable income limits, which are defined by State of New York Mortgage Agency. The law as written sets a ceiling for a household’s income at $97,100 in order to be qualified for the exemption when purchasing a home.
“The state has not addressed fact that the average price of a home in Southampton or East Hampton is higher than in the town of Southold,” said councilwoman Nancy Graboski. “The exemption ought to reflect that.”
The board discussed the improbability of a family, whose income meets the threshold and who’s granted the exemption, ever being able to afford a property when the area median home price is roughly $800,000.
“At some point in the future this has to be addressed again,” said Nuzzi.