With the new year approaching, East Hampton Town officials have looked ahead to the $4.6 million they estimate the town will receive annually from the Peconic Bay Region Community Preservation Fund for water quality improvement, or $152 million over the life of the program.
The community preservation fund is derived from a 2-percent transfer tax on most real-estate transactions. Voters in the five East End towns, for which it was established, overwhelmingly approved a referendum last month to extend the fund through 2050, and to allow up to 20 percent of the money to be used for water quality projects.
As a result, beginning in 2017, the revenues the towns receive will be able to be tapped for clean water initiatives as well as preservation of open space and historic or recreational properties. The projects must fall within parameters described in the law voters approved and included in town water quality improvement plans.
The East Hampton Town Board approved such a plan this year, making wastewater treatment systems, pollution prevention, stormwater diversion, aquatic habitat restoration, and similar projects eligible for funding.
With recent Suffolk County approval of two “new-generation” sanitary systems, the town board is expected to design a program that would provide financial assistance or rebates, using the fund, for property owners to install advanced systems. The systems are seen as key to improving and protecting water quality by treating wastewater and removing much of the nitrogen, which is the cause of much of the pollution, before it seeps into the ground and surface waters. Areas around harbors are likely to be targeted, although the details have yet to be discussed.
The five East End towns have derived more than $1 billion since the fund was initiated in 1999. It has enabled East Hampton to preserve more than 2,000 acres of open space as well as historic and recreational properties.
Overall, however, the fund has had an average decline for the year so far of 7.3 percent. In November alone, the five towns collectively received $7.4 million compared to $9.5 million during November 2015, a 22-percent drop.
East Hampton, whose revenue from the fund peaked in 2014, at $32.3 million, shows a small decline so far this year, 2.7 percent, or $25 million in comparison to $25.7 million in the same period last year. Revenue in Southampton Town dropped by over 11 percent in this period, but Riverhead, Shelter Island, and Southold Towns had increases. Southold had the largest increase, 5.82 percent or $5.6 million.
In a press release early this week, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. said the overall decline in the regional fund could “be attributed to the Hamptons, primarily the Town of Southampton, which has seen revenues dip by $6.29 million.”