Saratoga County

Open space funding source fails

County supervisors have rejected endorsing a new real estate transfer tax as a way to pay for open s

County supervisors have rejected endorsing a new real estate transfer tax as a way to pay for open space protection measures.

They voted 12-7 this week against a resolution that would have endorsed a state bill that has been approved in the state Assembly but not the Senate.

“The objective I don’t have any problem with. My concern is this is an open-ended source of revenue for buying property that is then taken off the tax roll,” said Supervisor John E. Lawler, R-Waterford, who argued against the measure.

“It won’t be brought up by me again for a couple of years,” said Malta Supervisor Paul Sausville, who has been the most vocal county-level supporter of the Community Reinvestment Act legislation.

“I think the people will eventually see the merit of this,” he said after the vote, taken at the monthly board meeting in Ballston Spa.

Sausville had urged endorsement of the legislation, which would allow local communities to place a new real estate transfer tax on property to pay for buying land for parks, undeveloped open space or for buying the development rights to open land.

The tax could be up to 2 percent but would only be imposed on transactions above the county median sales price, Sausville said.

The resolution defeated by supervisors would have said the county endorses the concept and would have informed the local state legislators of that support. It was approved earlier this month by the county supervisors’ legislative and research committee, which Sausville chairs.

The tax has been adopted by some communities in the lower Hudson Valley under special bills, and the bill supported by Sausville would let any community in the state do it at the community’s option and after approval in a local voter referendum.

Saratoga County’s open land is under significant development pressure and municipal leaders have taken measures to preserve open space, but Sausville and others have argued those efforts are underfunded.

Taxing transactions that end up developing land makes sense, Sausville said.

“At the end of the day, it consumes our open space and it affects our quality of life,” Sausville said.

But opponents, led by Lawler, said spending funded by the tax would take land off the tax rolls and that would push people’s tax bills higher.

“If the town acquires property it is removed from the tax roll. I’m concerned this is an open-ended process,” Lawler said. “The taxes no longer paid on that parcel will be shifted to every other county taxpayer.”

Supervisor Anita Daly, R-Clifton Park, said people are already angry about their property tax burden.

“This isn’t the time, I don’t believe, when we want to engage in this kind of regulation,” she said.

Supporter Joanne Yepsen, D-Saratoga Springs, said the green infrastructure plan approved in 2006 calls for measures to preserve open space, create recreational opportunities and preserve historic and culturally significant sites — all of which, she noted, costs money.

“Let’s let the people decide what they want to spend their tax dollars on,” she said.

The county has been spending $500,000 on open space and farmland protection measures, and increased that to $750,000 this year. Preservation advocates argue those amounts are not adequate.

Categories: Schenectady County

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