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Board to help on preserving East End land

Kenneth LaValle, Smithtown Republican candidate for re-election to

Kenneth LaValle, Smithtown Republican candidate for re-election to the N.Y. State Senate 1st District. (May 24, 2012) Credit: David Pokress

An advisory board will be formed to counsel East End towns on how to efficiently and legally administer their community preservation funds.

The Peconic Bay Region Community Preservation Fund Advisory Opinions Bureau was created by Assemb. Fred W. Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Habor) and Sen. Kenneth P. LaValle (R-Port Jefferson). It will have 11 members, who will issue opinions and interpret law regarding the fund. The members will include a representative from each of the five East End towns, one person chosen by the mayors of the Peconic Bay region villages and five representatives selected by Thiele and LaValle. No time frame for the appointments has been announced.

"The biggest reason for this is to ensure consistency," Thiele said. "We have one law but five towns administering that law."

The preservation fund uses money generated from a 2 percent real estate tax that exempts the first $250,000 of a home sale. All five East End towns participate in the fund, which was voted in by a 1998 referendum and will expire in 2030.

Money in the fund, in the millions of dollars each year, is required to be used to buy land for environmental conservation and open space, or for the purchase of development rights on land.

A portion of the money can be used for some ancillary purposes, such as maintaining the land.

There have been issues with misuse of the money. In 2010, former East Hampton Town budget official Ted Hults pleaded guilty to taking $8 million from the fund to pay off other town expenses. More recently, the Town of Southampton had to reimburse the fund for money used illegally to make payments to compensate for lost taxes to school districts.

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