On Election Day, Tuesday, November 8, 2022, Town of Gardiner residents will be asked to flip over their ballots and vote on two local referenda (in addition to one statewide question). One of those ballot questions will read as follows:
Shall Local Law No. 1 of 2022 entitled “a local law to protect the water quality of rivers, lakes, and streams, including the Wallkill River; protect the water quality of Gardiner’s drinking water; preserve working farms; establish parks and recreational areas; and protect historic resources and natural areas by creating a one and one quarter percent Real Estate Transfer Tax on the conveyance of interests in real property in the Town, with revenues from this tax to be deposited in the Town of Gardiner Community Preservation Fund, which may be matched by State and federal funding and which will require full public disclosure of all spending” be approved?
This is the long-awaited proposition to establish a Community Preservation Fund (CPF) and the fiscal structure needed to supply it with regular funding. The Town adopted its Community Preservation Plan (CPP) – decades in the making, incorporating data gathered in more than 30 plans and studies – this past July, setting out the criteria whereby Gardiner can prioritize critical parcels of land and bodies of water that particularly need environmental protection. The Fund is required to put those criteria into practical use, by purchasing development rights or conservation easements on the most threatened properties, or in rare cases acquiring them altogether. The CPP sets out in detail best practices for targeting critical parcels, including maps created during the Town’s Natural Resources Inventory process. You can see the whole Plan and supporting documents at www.townofgardiner.org/community-preservation-plan.
But to make all this careful planning work, there needs to be a source of funds – preferably one that doesn’t boost property taxes for all Gardiner residents. The solution used by municipalities that have adopted CPPs (locally, including Red Hook, Warwick and New Paltz) is a Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT). Proponents are quick to point out that this new tax will put no strain on anyone already residing in the Town, unless they buy a new home at a price above the previous year’s median sales price in Ulster County (in 2021, $320,000). The idea is to challenge people from elsewhere who are attracted to Gardiner’s abundant natural assets, and the quality of life they provide, to make an investment in the Town’s future as they buy in (and put upward pressure on the cost of housing in the process).
If the ballot measure to create a CPF and RETT is approved by voters, people moving into Gardiner will be required to pay a one-time closing fee amounting to 1.25 percent of the amount by which the sales price exceeds the Ulster County median. (This rate is about the midrange of RETTs imposed by other municipalities in the region, which range from .75 percent to two percent.) The median sales price for a house in Gardiner in 2021 was $519,000, so a purchaser of a property at that price would be assessed a tax of 1.25 percent of $519,000 minus $320,000, or $2,487.50. This structure is designed to shield first-time homebuyers, downsizers and others shopping for homes on the lower end of the housing market from increased costs in the form of an extra fee.
How much of a fund is such a tax likely to create? That’s impossible to predict, given the vagaries of the housing market, although real estate prices in Gardiner have certainly been trending steadily upward – especially with many New York City residents seeking a country refuge within commuting distance during COVID. Other municipalities that have enacted comparable laws have reported good success with replenishing their CPFs at a rate that enables them to spend wisely, with due diligence, to preserve critical open space, forests, farmland, wetlands, viewsheds and wildlife habitat. It should be noted that all such acquisition of land, development rights or easements would take place only with willing sellers; no exercise of “eminent domain” on the Town’s part would be authorized under the new law.
Proponents cite an extra benefit of creating a CPF: According David Dukler, a former Gardiner Town Board member and currently co-chair for the Vote Yes Gardiner Committee for Open Space, Farmland & Clean Water, “It will also allow us to be more competitive in applying for State and federal funding, as monies from the CPF may be matched by New York State and the federal government. This is an opportunity for us to create a fund and leverage it to attract even larger resources to our Town.” To learn more about the case for passing this local law, visit www.voteyesgardiner.org.