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Assemblyman seeks state audit for land preservation fund

While proud of the achievements of the Peconic Bay Region Community Preservation Fund, the sponsor of the original legislation that created it in 1998 is requesting a state audit of the program.

Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor), in a letter to State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, noted that the fund has generated more than $1.73 billion to preserve farmland, open spaces, parkland and historic sites and, since 2015, money for water quality projects in the five East End towns.

A state audit was done in 2008, resulting in recommendations and legislative action that “markedly improved” the administration and operation of the fund, Mr. Thiele said.

“The best of programs require review and oversight to ensure they are maximizing their stated goals effectively and efficiently,” the legislator said. He noted he had intended to request the audit in 2020 but the COVID pandemic slowed many state functions.

The pandemic resulted in “dramatic growth” of funds because of a hot real estate market, since the money is raised from a 2% tax paid by property buyers in the five towns. That makes the audit more critical than ever, Mr. Thiele said.

He has requested a comprehensive review that includes determining:

• Non-deed transfers of property are being taxed as they should under the law and whether exemptions under the law are properly administered

• Funds are being used only for purposes designated by the law

• Purchases of sites to be preserved are providing fair market prices to owners

• Purchases fit within each municipality’s overall plan

• Stewardship and management plans are in place for acquired properties

• Acquired properties are used only as defined under the law

• Municipalities are providing audits of their CPF programs as required

• Money for water quality projects is being limited to 20% allowed and proof that projects carried out with that money are improving water quality standards

• Municipalities have sufficient revenues to cover any indebtedness incurred under the CPF program

• Municipalities are meeting procedural compliance with preservation or water quality projects carried out with CPF funds.