The Community Preservation Fund (CPF) was created in 1998 by a referendum in the five East End towns establishing a real estate transfer tax.
The basic plan is the imposition of a one-time, 2-percent tax paid by the buyer. The first $250,000 of the purchase price in East Hampton, Southampton and Shelter Island is exempt for the tax, and $150,000 in Riverhead and Southold. The state collects the tax and each town receives its 2-percent money to purchase open space to preserve.
The plan has removed more than 10,000 acres from the East End real estate market, which most likely would have been paved over. In addition to saving pieces of the rural character of our region, it has, in the long run, kept taxes down, since undeveloped property doesn’t demand municipal services.
But most importantly, it has helped protect the quality of water, since no development means no septic systems that send unsafe amounts of nitrogen into aquifers, the sole source of our fresh water.
Helped is the operative word, but not nearly enough to protect our most precious natural resource from pollution, which officials on the state, county and local levels have described as a crisis.
Again, the CPF has come to the rescue. Behind the leadership of Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) — who was at the forefront of passing the original CPF legislation — the five towns in 2016, by referendum, were allowed to take up to 20 percent of the transfer tax funds collected and put them toward water quality improvement projects.
One stipulation was that each town had to come up with goals and specific plans to achieve them. The Shelter Island Town Board formed a new committee to do just that, given a name that would make an old Soviet Union official proud — The Water Quality Improvement Projects Advisory Board. The committee’s name in abbreviated form —WQIPAB — is so similar to an eye test that the Reporter has used “the Water Quality Board” instead.
Any new organization experiences growing pains, and the Water Quality Board is no different, as it began to set up a process to identify and vet proposals to be passed on to the Town Board.
There have been long meetings to examine companies specializing in nitrogen reducing septic systems for approval so grants can be given to homeowners seeking to switch to the safer systems. And there’s been debate and confusion over who has approval rights, the town or the county.
Recently there was again, confusion, over whether money allocated to spend on water quality from the CPF sunsets every year if it’s not used, or if it can be rolled over to the next year (see story, page 1). Also thrown into the muddy mix was exactly how much money is available this year for water improvement.
Town officials and the public should be patient as the new committee of volunteers, who work only to serve our community, finds its feet. We applaud their work and dedication, not only to protect the safety of the water we drink here, but for doing Shelter Island’s part in protecting our region.