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What you need to know for 02/24/2017

Open space fund may be restored to Saratoga County budget

Open space fund may be restored to Saratoga County budget

Saratoga County’s popular open space preservation fund could be restored in 2015, three years after

Saratoga County’s popular open space preservation fund could be restored in 2015, three years after it was jettisoned to reduce the county budget.

With the county’s financial outlook improved, open space advocates are calling for restoration, and have the support of Board of Supervisors’ Chairman Paul J. Sausville and other supervisors.

Sausville has sent a letter to colleagues asking that a $500,000 appropriation for farmland preservation and open space be included in next year’s county budget. The Chamber of Southern Saratoga County has also written a letter of support.

The 2015 budget, which will be prepared by County Administrator Spencer P. Hellwig, is in the very early stages of development. A tentative budget will be unveiled in late October, and won’t be voted on until December.

Law and Finance Committee Chairman Matthew Veitch, R-Saratoga Springs, who will oversee the 2015 budget preparations, said he would support restoring the open space fund if it doesn’t require a property tax increase.

“The number one thing I’m hoping to do is not raise taxes at all,” Veitch said Wednesday. “If we can avoid that, I would consider a request like that. If it is on the table, I would be supportive of it.”

Hellwig said decisions won’t be made until September and October.

County property taxes have gone up by small amounts in each of the last three years, though this year it was only by 1 cent per $1,000 of assessed value.

The county open space fund was eliminated in the 2012 budget, as the county struggled with revenue declines blamed on the recession.

In the last year, the county’s finances have improved significantly, and it’s possible the county will finish 2014 with well above $20 million in the bank.

“Our budget is in much better shape than it was,” Sausville said.

The $500,000 figure is the amount the county appropriated for open space spending for several years before it was eliminated, though the number fluctuated during the decade the program was in place. The county spent $4.4 million on open space preservation during the decade. It permanently protected 3,500 acres, with grants awarded through a competitive application process.

Open land throughout Saratoga County remains under significant development pressure, as the county’s population continues to grow faster than anywhere else upstate.

“The conservation accomplishments made possible by county funding in the past, when the land acquisition fund was active, are impressive,” said Maria Trabka, executive director of Saratoga PLAN, a non-profit land conservation organization.

There’s historically been a pattern of growth since the Northway opened in the 1960s, but the arrival of the GlobalFoundries computer chip plant in Malta — bringing thousands of jobs — is now contributing to increased demand for local housing.

The county had an annual open space appropriation in the budget since 2002, using the money to support local land preservation efforts or as part of the local share toward state open space grant applications.

The money was used at times to buy land that later became parks, but was also used to pay for the development rights on farmland, preventing more farms from being purchased and turned into subdivisions.

After a presentation by Saratoga PLAN at a county board meeting Wednesday in Ballston Spa, several supervisors said they would support the restoration, and none spoke in opposition.

“Since we’re going in the right direction, it’s a great thing to do,” said Supervisor Preston Jenkins, D-Moreau.

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