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Suffolk open-space fund falls below $400G

Suffolk County's dedicated open-space protection fund continues to be depleted, with officials saying that less than $400,000 now remains for new acquisitions.

Sarah Lansdale, director of the county's Division of Planning and Environment, told the county legislature's environment committee Monday that the program -- long funded by a quarter-cent sales tax -- had a $20.3 million balance as of Aug. 31. All but $380,526 of that total, however, is already committed to 560 acres of parcels in contract, in negotiation or with accepted offers.

"That's a bleak picture," said Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), the committee chairwoman, who this spring sponsored a measure to better prioritize potential open-space purchases to maximize the shrinking fund.

When Hahn introduced her plan in February, $3.1 million remained for future land purchases. Fund totals have been steadily dropping since 2012, when Suffolk could no longer borrow against future sales tax revenue for its open space deals.

Lansdale told the committee Monday that quarter-cent sales-tax revenue from 2012 has yet to be added to the account. Lawmakers have said it's unlikely to boost the fund balance by more than $4 million to $5 million.

Even if Suffolk spends $25 million this year on open-space preservation, it won't reach half of its totals in recent years, including $56 million in 2012 and $60 million in 2011.

Environmentalists have said that the legislature's efforts to revise the current parcel ranking system may help a little, but that finding new revenue for open-space purchases is the only true long-term solution.

"I don't think it's a question of the system we have in place," said Citizens Campaign for the Environment executive director Adrienne Esposito, a leading advocate for municipal open-space preservation. "We just don't have enough money."

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