C.P.F. Income Is Up

On East End, over $55 million is expected in 2010

Though recent daily news reports about economic indicators — the stock market is up, but unemployment is, too; long-term unemployment trends down, while the next day the market takes a dive — could send people reeling from an optimistic outlook to a fatalistic funk, one local indicator is ending the year way up: the community preservation fund.

The money that flows in to the Peconic Bay Region Community Preservation Fund comes from a 2-percent transfer tax on most real estate sales and provides money for the five East End towns to purchase and preserve land.

When the real estate market tanked, so did the balance in the fund. But this year, according to a press release from Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., in the first nine months of 2010, $48.31 million was raised for the fund — a 61-percent increase over the total during the same period last year, when just over $30 million was collected from January through September.

Based on recent activity, preservation fund revenues for 2010 are projected to be in the $55 million to $60 million range, according to Assemblyman Thiele. Revenues for 2009 totaled $40.3 million.

Money from real estate sales in the individual municipalities goes into separate funds for each township.

The news is particularly good in East Hampton, where the transfer taxes collected on 8,778 sales through October yielded slightly more than $15 million for the preservation fund this year, an 89-percent increase from the 2009 revenues during the same time, which were $7.9 million.

The year’s total for East Hampton’s preservation fund in 2009 reached only $10.1 million — compared to a high of just over $30 million that was collected in 2007.

Scott Wilson, the town’s director of land acquisition and preservation, said yesterday that this year’s income so far is “beyond expectations.” The town had projected a 30-percent increase over last year, he said. “I’m actually quite surprised that the revenues are as strong as they are,” he said.

Income to East Hampton’s fund spiked in August to $1.9 million before dropping to $676,288 in September. Last month’s total again topped $1 million dollars, at $1.1 million.

Property sales were apparently slow in all five towns during September, as the cumulative preservation fund revenue was $2.8 million.

However, in October, the transfer tax produced $4.6 million for the five towns’ preservation funds, compared with $4.2 million last year.

In his press release, Mr. Thiele said that “no conclusions can be drawn from a single month’s revenues. However, it appears that the one-month decline in September may be an aberration due to a very late Labor Day holiday weekend and the threat of a hurricane that may have temporarily depressed real estate activity in the short term.”

“In addition, anecdotally, it appears that real estate activity in recent weeks has been healthy,” he said in the release. “Nonetheless, the Peconic Bay towns need to closely follow revenues over the next few months to determine if there are any changing trends in the real estate market. I continue to believe that the current climate presents preservation opportunities for local government.”

Preservation fund revenues for Shelter Island Town were up to $1.1 million through October this year, a 68-percent increase over last year. In Southampton Town, preservation fund revenues jumped by 52 percent over the same period last year, to $27.2 million. In Riverhead, they jumped by 49 percent, to $1.9 million, and in Southold by 33 percent, to $2.9 million.

Mr. Wilson of East Hampton said that, after money owed that town’s preservation fund from other areas of the town budget is repaid, there will be about $30 million in the coffer, with approximately $10 million earmarked for debt repayment and purchases already in contract.

With an effort under way to address budget deficits and general financial disarray, East Hampton’s community preservation fund land acquisitions essentially came to a halt from the latter part of 2009 until August.

Since then, Mr. Wilson said, appraisals have been ordered on a number of properties and several purchases have been completed or are in progress. A hearing will be held tonight on one, the purchase of development rights on acreage at the Iacono farm.

Since its inception in 1999, the Peconic Bay Region Community Preservation Fund has generated $653.14 million. The program, which was reapproved by voters after its initial period, expires in 2030.