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Jan 26, 2011 10:42 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Thiele Proposes CPF Advisory Committee Be Formed For Five East End Towns

Jan 26, 2011 10:42 AM

New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. gets a lot of questions about the Community Preservation Fund.

It’s not surprising that officials from the five East End towns participating in the preservation program call him up regularly to ask him specific questions about what can be done legally under the program. After all, he is one of the original authors of the state legislation that created the plan more than a decade ago. But he can’t go on answering questions forever, local officials have realized.

“You can’t rely on Fred Thiele,” said Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter, the head of one of the municipalities that participates in the CPF program. “You don’t know if he’ll be an assemblyman forever.”

In response, in part, to those concerns, and also in light of a multimillion-dollar deficit created by CPF misappropriations in East Hampton Town last year, local lawmakers and officials from the five East End towns have worked together for the past nine months to create a regional advisory committee that will be designed to interpret and offer advice on any aspect of CPF law. The lawmakers are also floating a set of guidelines to help municipalities more easily determine whether CPF proceeds can be spent on stewardship and land acquisition needs.

The fund, which is generated by a 2-percent tax on most real estate transfers, is used by the towns of Southampton, East Hampton, Riverhead, Southold and Shelter Island to pay for open space and farmland preservation acquisitions. It is also used to fund historic preservation.

The initiative is twofold—to create the committee and to set up the guidelines. These latest measures would not be actual amendments to the state legislation, but rather local initiatives to help sharpen and more clearly identify what’s permitted within the law. They are being proposed by a group of representatives that include Mr. Thiele, State Senator Kenneth P. Lavalle, CPF officials from the individual towns and community members.

“We all know what happened in East Hampton,” Mr. Thiele said in his opening comments to the Southampton Town Board at a work session on Friday, while introducing the new measures. “I’m not going to beat that to death again today.”

The proposal includes creating the Peconic Bay Joint Town Coordinating Committee, which will serve two important functions, Mr. Thiele said. One will be to review and make recommendations on lands of regional significance that could be purchased jointly by two or more towns.

The more important role of the committee, he said, would be to issue opinions and interpretations that will provide transparency and uniformity in interpreting the law. Issues the committee would interpret include whether a transaction is taxable or whether a particular use is permitted on CPF land.

The committee is also being created to ensure consistency among the five towns. To that end, the group has drafted a list of proposed guidelines for CPF acquisition and stewardship, which clearly spells out examples of what constitutes an appropriate CPF expenditure.

One of the more significant points within those guidelines is a clearer depiction of what counts as a valid expense for properties purchased as historic preservation. According to a draft of the guidelines, appropriate stewardship costs include restoration and rehabilitation of historic buildings and structures, including infrastructure costs like roof, foundation and flooring repairs.

But what is not covered by the fund—and what is essentially what the new guidelines attempt to clarify—is a long list of costs like appliances, fencing, furniture, landscaping, parking lots, pavings, demolitions, and other related expenses.

Stewardship costs for non-historic preservation, like open space and farmland, are less of an issue since those kinds of acquisitions typically don’t have buildings that come with maintenance costs.

On Tuesday, the Southampton Town Board adopted the guidelines, the first town to do so, according to Mary Wilson, the town’s CPF manager. Ms. Wilson has been credited with authoring the guidelines. She commended the Town Board for moving forward on the initiative: “You’re out in front, sending a very strong message of commitment to the CPF program, its integrity, its future success and the efficient administration of our CPF program.”

The creation of the committee would be subject to an intermunicipal agreement, which would need to be approved by all five towns. The guidelines would not be required to be a part of that agreement, and could be adopted locally and independently of each town, Mr. Thiele said.

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Gee, responsible, quantitative government action.

What a novel concept...
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jan 28, 11 10:11 PM
Hey what ever happened to all that cpf $ that ended up in cahills bank acct????
By Biba (566), East Hampton on Jan 29, 11 1:55 PM
i think you would have to ask the "Poor me, I knew nothing about that" Honorable Democrat Catherine Cahill if that law suite (which she has no knowledge of - or interest in - of course) has been settled yet. It's probably a matter of public record . . . haven't looked it up but I would be interested Biba --
By Board Watcher (534), East Hampton on Jan 29, 11 11:19 PM
As an aside - it would be refreshing if this editor and the newspaper was interested in following up on this story wouldn't it?? Like watching a snowball in hell given its politically-connected advertisers threaten to pull their ads . . . as they did the last time around - readers beware . . .
By Board Watcher (534), East Hampton on Jan 29, 11 11:27 PM
I just dont understand how she got away with it????? a follow up investigation is necessary
By Biba (566), East Hampton on Mar 22, 11 5:06 PM