Communities are struggling to balance exploding development with the desire to protect their unique local character. As development increases, municipalities find they do not have the resources to protect farmland, natural areas, and historic buildings that have defined their communities for generations.
State funds for assisting these efforts are not sufficient, and local options for raising funds are restricted to raising property taxes or bonding. Under this legislation, the town of Bethlehem is enabled to create a Community Preservation Fund through revenues from a real estate transfer tax. The community preservation fund allows the town to preserve open space, farmlands, wetlands, aquifer recharge areas, unique or threatened ecological areas, and more. After a recent property reassessment, many local owners sold off farm and forested areas in the town and there has been increases of development on, heretofore, open space.
Many other communities in the state have supported and benefited from their own Community Preservation Funds, including counties in the Hudson Valley, and several communities on Long Island: Southampton, East Hampton, Southold and Riverhead.
Towns that seek the authority to protect community character through local funding and local control should be granted such power. Passage of this bill benefits Bethlehem’s residents by giving them the choice to decide how and when to preserve their community’s heritage, while also more effectively guiding the town’s development.
This bill gives the town of Bethlehem the authority to impose a real estate transfer tax with revenues to be deposited in a Community Preservation Fund.