Saratoga County

$570K in open space grants approved for Saratoga County

Saratoga County supervisors on Tuesday approved $570,000 in 2011 farmland and open space protection

County supervisors on Tuesday approved $570,000 in 2011 farmland and open space protection grants, but only after a spirited debate.

The annual awards of the Land Protection Committee were approved 14-9 at a meeting in Ballston Spa, with Waterford Supervisor John E. Lawler leading those who opposed it as unnecessary spending at a time of financial crisis.

The supervisors are currently considering asking the state Legislature to raise the county sales tax from 3 percent to 4 percent to fill a hole in next year’s county budget. Supervisors are also cutting positions and asking county managers to make do without raises.

“We simply don’t have an extra $570,000 to spend,” Lawler said. “Every dollar we can keep in the surplus contributes to the financial health of the county.”

Backers, however, said it’s too late to kill the preservation grants. Money for the program was included in the 2011 county budget, farmers have applied for the funding in good faith and private and government partners are expecting the county to come through with the funding, they said. “I think it’s our job and our commitment to follow through on it,” said Northumberland Supervisor Bill Peck, who is on the Land Preservation Committee. “I also worry about us damaging our credibility.”

The land preservation program had a $500,000 allocation for 2011, plus $70,000 from a 2009 grant to the town of Clifton Park that was never spent.

The projects approved were:

• A $259,700 award to the town of Stillwater to buy development rights to 70 acres of the Cocozzo farm, which sits next to Saratoga National Historical Park.

• A $240,300 grant to Northumberland for development rights to the 144-acre Foster Sheep Farm. A federal ranchland protection program is providing a matching grant.

• Clifton Park will receive $70,000 to reimburse it for part of the cost of buying 42 acres on the Mohawk River for a future park.

“I’m glad it passed,” Peck said after the vote. “I had great fear it wouldn’t. Supervisor Lawler articulated the great challenges we face.”

Lawler said he didn’t know if he’d challenge any other discretionary spending by the county. “If they won’t cut this, what will they cut? If we can’t stop buying farmland when we’re looking at a tax increase, what will they cut?”

The program, which the county has funded for the past 10 years, has been popular with the public but is currently scheduled for elimination as one of the cuts in the tentative 2012 budget.

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