Clarification of open space fund

To the editor,

Reading the letters to the editor in the Jan. 19 Yorktown News, I came across a letter from Michael Angley in regard to the town’s “open space” fund. In 2005, the town created a special district known as the “Open Space” district. Its purpose was to allow for the purchase of land to be held in perpetuity as open space. To finance the purchase of open space, the town obtained permission from New York State to levy up to a $30 per parcel annual tax. The restriction on this tax levy was that it can only be used to purchase land. The money raised by this tax cannot be used to maintain the land. That cost is borne by taxes raised in the general fund tax levy.

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That being said, the town did not vote to eliminate the open space district nor the ability to levy the district per parcel tax. We actually do not have the power to disband the tax by simple vote as it was formed by a public referendum. What we instead chose to do, AFTER listening to the taxpayers of Yorktown, was to not levy or collect the tax THIS year, and to look at it on an annual basis as we do our budget. It is within the board’s discretion to levy the tax and how much to levy to a present maximum of $30 per parcel. The board shifted the amount we would have collected, not raising taxes, so that we could use it for critical infrastructure projects that the taxpayers would like to see completed.

The reason for not collecting a levy that could only be used to purchase property is that the town is incurring significant ongoing expenses in preserving the space already purchased. Most if not all of the space previously purchased, has either sat in disrepair, or has cost the taxpayers for rehabilitation and general maintenance. If you tour the majority of these properties, you will find that the former is more the case as our parks and recreation department is stretched thin with their everyday duties.

This past year, we made the last payment on the bond used to purchase open space over the past 16 years, and in addition the town holds a fund balance for purchases of around $200,000. If we collected the levy again this year again, we would only be adding to fund balance restricted to the purchase of land, without an intended purchase. While there are some parcels that have been brought to the town’s attention, there is a difference between “ignoring,” as Mr. Angley expresses, and in choosing not to purchase. Right now, none of the parcels brought to the town’s attention would be prioritized as needed for the preservation of open space as none are in the queue to be developed.  

As a member of the town board, is my duty to make the best decisions for the taxpayers of the entire town. It is a common bond held by all that sit up at the board table. At this time, I feel the right decision is to address the identified infrastructure problems needing our investment with this year’s available funds under the tax cap, and not to squirrel away precious tax dollars to be restricted for a hypothetical purchase that is not on our horizon at this point. When we do the budget for next year, we will readdress the Open Space Fund and see where the best decisions for the town lie at that time.