Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Community Preservation Fund Legislation

At last night's Conservation Board meeting, former environmental planner Debbie Gross brought to our attention legislation pending in the NYS Senate to enable towns to create a Community Preservation Fund and to fund it with a new tax on transfers of real estate above the local median price. Sounds like a good idea to me. So, this morning I started looking for more information and ways we might encourage legislators to act.

First, browsing the New York State site I started to see why it's hard for the legislature to get anything done. More on that in a minute.

There is a bill, S716, apparently introduced in 2005. It is one of about fifty bills sponsored by Senator Neil Breslin, a democrat in his sixth term representing district 46 in Albany County. The bill remained in the Senate Committee on Governmental Operations until January 8, 2007 when it was referred to the Environmental Conservation Committee where it now sits.

Here's the part I find interesting. It is currently possible for a municipality to establish a Community Preservation Fund, as described above, only by seeking state legislation specific to that municipality. In this way, five Long Island towns have established CPFs. But, as the sponsor's memo says, "This can be a difficult and time-consuming process, and in the recent past, several localities have not been able to secure State legislative approval despite local public support for the initiative."

There are 932 towns in the State of New York. Why would it be necessary to pass separate legislation for each and every one? If S716, enabling all towns to establish CPFs, has taken more than a year to make it to its second committee, how long will it take to pass it? How long (and how many man hours) would it take to pass 927 such bills? The web pages for committees only list members and scheduled meeting times, so I have no idea what discussion of the bill may be going on in the Environmental Conservation Committee.

This is the same procedure required for local governments to enact property tax exemptions for volunteer firefighters. Several dozen towns or counties have enacted such exemptions but it looks like there are several hundred to go. And each one is going to require separate state legislation.

[ed. 5/10/07 This morning Debbie sent me a link to a page of Environmental Advocates of New York advocating for another version of this bill. S3836, introduced by Marcellino, Lavalle, Leibell, Little, Morahan and Robach this year (formerly S6949-A in 2004 and S3153 in 2005-2006) was referred to the Environmental Conservation Committee on 3/16/07. While it has a great deal in common with S716, there are substantial differences.]


Anonymous Simon St.Laurent said...

I've been meaning to write a piece on this question for The Albany Project, but haven't had time.

Basically, any time a municipality wants to do something new with taxes, even something that fits with existing forms used by the state, they have to request enabling legislation. This is how, for example, Tompkins County is allowed to have its higher sales tax rate.

I think it started out as a way to keep localities from taxing randomly, but now it feels like a handcuff to the state legislature.

12:58 PM, May 09, 2007  
Anonymous Mary Ann said...

That's a plausible explanation. But it seems to be having the opposite effect. I have yet to detect a pattern in which municipalities are successful in getting laws affecting local taxes through the legislature.

9:01 AM, May 10, 2007  

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