Editor, The Spotlight,
Bethlehem is a wonderful mix of residential developments, commercial and industrial centers, farms, and open spaces.
To help keep farms and open spaces here, the town recently offered a new open space protection tool to interested landowners. It’s called a term conservation easement, and it means participating landowners can receive tax reductions of 50 to 90 percent in return for not developing their lands for 15 to 75 years. The Bethlehem Town Board granted these tax benefits for property taxes earlier this year, and the Bethlehem Board of Education is currently considering whether or not to give participating landowners relief from school taxes as well.
Farms and open spaces in Bethlehem absorb storm water (which helps reduce flooding), provide wildlife habitat and furnish beautiful views. The costs for these services are borne by the landowners, but the benefits are reaped by the rest of us.
Town officials project that the average increase in school taxes would be well under $1 for the average household. (This is a far cry from the misleading $93 figure recently cited by Dan Cunningham in his letter to The Spotlight. His figure was based on $86 for a veterans credit, plus $7 for term conservation easements, with the preposterous assumption that every parcel larger than 15 acres would not be developed for at least 50 years.)
School taxes are far higher than property taxes, so tax relief from the school district will be extremely helpful for landowners wanting to keep their lands in agriculture and open space. It’s a good move for our whole town, and I hope the Bethlehem Board of Education hears this message at its public hearing on Dec. 17.
David VanLuven, Delmar