Huntington’s efforts to stay green over the past two decades have built 19 new parks in the town and protected more than 1,100 acres of open space, town officials announced.
From a spray park at Elwood Park to sports facilities at Breezy Park in Huntington Station, the town since 1998 has built and expanded parks and fields under its dedicated Environmental Open Space and Park Fund, a tax that voters have approved three times.
The fund this year "has allowed us to beautify our streetscapes and increase energy efficiency at local parks," said Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci in a statement.
The fund was established by ballot proposition in 1998 for an initial 10-year, $15 million program that allocated $1 million each year for open space acquisition and another $500,000 yearly for park improvements.
In 2003, Huntington voters approved a second decade for the fund and another $30 million, of which $20 million was dedicated to acquisitions, $7 million for park improvements and $3 million for neighborhood enhancements. The third wave of funding was approved by voters in 2008, with $5 million for acquisition, $5 million for park improvements, $4 million for enhancements, and $1 million for green and energy-efficient projects, according to a 20-year progress report issued by the fund's volunteer committee in October.
As of July, the fund had $8.8 million left.
Herb McGrail of Northport, a retired Grumman engineer who said he became interested in conservation as a volunteer with the Boy Scouts and has served on the committee since the beginning, cited its careful use of funds, saying it has "done a fine job within the fiscal limits."
Projects grew beyond simple green space and became more ambitious over the years. The town this year opened New Harborfields Community Playground in Greenlawn for children of all physical abilities. The playground cost was shared with the Harborfields school district. The town's first spray park, named in memory of Sgt. Paul Tuozzolo, opened this summer in Elwood Park.
Open spaces, whether preservation areas with hiking trails or more elaborate sports fields "have been transformative" for the town, said Huntington councilman Mark Cuthbertson, citing playing fields in Huntington Station and South Huntington.
But Cuthbertson said this kind of town fund will be harder to institute in the future because of the state tax cap that limits the town's ability to raise taxes.
"It will be very difficult going forward to do those types of things without the ability to go back out to the voters for referendum," he said. "We may have to go back to the drawing board with the governor and lobby for an exemption to the tax cap because that's the only way we're going to be able to do something like that."
McGrail said he hoped the fund will continue under careful financial management, "particularly for the youth, because they’re our tomorrow taxpayers," he said.
Recent parks and open space built with Huntington Environmental Open Space and Park Fund money:
Sweet Hollow Park in Melville
Carpenter Farm, Huntington
Erb Property, Dix Hills
Kiruv/Park Avenue Dairy, Huntington
Tanenbaum Property/Surrey Ridge Park, Fort Salonga
Gateway Park Addition, Huntington Station
Kruse Property/Surrey Ridge Park, Fort Salonga