Hardy Plumbing
January 26, 2011

Adding Discipline To CPF

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Her predecessors were "somewhat sloppy, for lack of a better word," when it came to Community Preservation Fund purchases, Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst opined this week. She agreed that during flush economic times, officials could be compared to compulsive shoppers when it came to using the CPF to buy open space and historic sites: They bought first and figured out how to use or care for a property later.

Throne-Holst believes it's "high time" the town adopts rules and regulations for CPF acquisition and stewardship. Such a measure was on the agenda for yesterday's town board meeting.

Last Friday, state Assemblyman Fred Thiele visited the town board to discuss standardized guidelines for East End towns that administer the CPF. He was accompanied by Kevin McDonald from the Nature Conservancy, as well as members of a regional CPF advisory board.

CPF law establishes a fund with revenue from a two percent tax on most real estate transactions. The original version of the statute permitted a town to use up to 10 percent of annual revenue for so called "stewardship and management" expenses associated with acquisitions.

Several years ago, Thiele reminded, the town board in East Hampton decided to be "very creative and very expansive" in interpreting the 10 percent. "Money that should have gone for land acquisition was appropriated in a way that was not consistent with the law."

Scandal ensued, with disgraced former supervisor Bill McGintee's administration coming under investigation by the state comptroller and the county district attorney. He resigned and his budget officer was arrested.

Concurrently a regional task force was formed to develop additional controls. Amendments to the law "made clear what stewardship is all about," Thiele said. The policy he hopes each town will adopt lays out additional rules relating to stewardship, providing guidance for day-to-day issues. He and the regional advisory board are also hoping to establish a CPF coordinating committee that will review the protection of lands of regional significance.

The guidelines, McDonald offered, are an "attempt to harmonize and consistently apply the law."

One of the most spirited discussions related to how CPF is used in the area of historic preservation. It was agreed the fund could be used to rehab historic structures. But, what about modern aspects of a building, like heating or air conditioning? After discussion, the committee decided that non-preservation related work may be completed , so long as it doesn't exceed 20 percent of the cost of the whole renovation. Normal operating costs and maintenance cannot be charged to CPF.

Clearly supportive of the initiative, Throne-Holst said the move "adds a level of discipline in thinking." The guidelines, she said, give town officials parameters for considering potential purchases "more carefully" than has been done in the past. There has to be an element of planning ahead, she said. Thiele agreed, summarizing "the more buildings you buy, the more stewardship money you're going to use . . . Ever see the Tom Hanks movie The Money Pit?"

While Councilman Chris Nuzzi said he's generally supportive of adopted guidelines, he does have some reservations. He said he'd hate to see the expense of ongoing stewardship become a disincentive to preserving properties.


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