C.P.F. Purchases Brisk

Flush fund has 8 deals done, 29 more in the pipe

East Hampton Town’s community preservation fund, which receives the 2-percent tax on most real estate transfers, is flush and being well managed, according to a report given to the town board on Tuesday.

Purchases of land with the fund, which was established in 1999 in the five East End towns for open space, farmland, and historic preservation, have been brisk this year, with 8 completed and almost 30 more pending.

Income to the preservation fund “has been trending upwards over the last four years,” Len Bernard, the town budget officer, said at a board work session earlier this week.

Mr. Bernard said that, by a conservative estimate, factoring in the revenue that is expected during 2014 and the purchases that are planned, the town would likely end the year with a cash balance of over $40 million in its C.P.F. account.

“Over all, C.P.F. is in very sound shape, financially,” he said. “It’s being managed properly. . . .”

So far this year, Scott Wilson, the town’s director of land acquisition and management, told the board, the town has made 8 purchases, of 15 parcels of land totaling 39 acres, at a cost of $14.6 million. Of that, he said, $365,000 was contributed by neighboring property owners.

Thirteen more purchases, of 55 acres in all, for a cost of $13.9 million, are in contract. The town’s offers to purchase 16 more parcels, totaling 30 acres at a cost of $18.2 million, have been accepted. The lands are in all of the hamlets of the town.

Since the inception in 1999 of the Peconic Bay Region Community Pre­servation Fund, Mr. Wilson said, East Hampton has acquired 1,877 acres with the fund, at a total of $303 million.

According to a recent audit, between 1999 and 2013 the preservation fund received $260 million in revenues, between the 2-percent transfer tax, interest, and donations.

The town spent $221 million on property purchases, and $36 million on debt service, after borrowing against future expected tax income in order to make purchases before lands were developed.

At the end of 2013, there was $55.7 million available for purchases. Income to the fund so far this year has been $12 million.

There are more than 40 properties on a list of sites targeted for acquisition. After a hearing tonight, the town board has proposed adding 166 more, all in the Lake Montauk watershed area, where all vacant sites have been targeted for preservation.

Properties are selected, Mr. Wilson said, by an advisory committee through “a remarkably efficient evaluation process that is unique to East Hampton.”

Using the 14 criteria outlined in the state law that created the fund — things like the preservation of historic places, greenbelts, and farmland, elements considered key to maintaining “community character” — the committee gives each property an A through D grade, and then a ranking among the other properties under consideration for purchase.