Editor, The Spotlight,
I am writing to voice my opinion on the proposed conservation easement for large-parcel landowners in the Town of Bethlehem. Allow me to make some points about this proposal:
We have the Agricultural Assessment Program to support our local farmers and land that has been in their families for years. This program is in place to help the farmers in our community continue to keep and farm their land. I feel it is a necessary and prudent program.
The conservation easement, therefore, is not necessary for the farmers — so, who is it helping? This is land that most of the current owners have inherited. A number of them did not have to pay for that land. They are keeping it vacant for their own personal reasons: sentimental, privacy, future home site, future profit, etc. Why should the taxpayers of this community foot the bill for this? Of course, one can’t argue with the drive to preserve open, green land, but this easement is a very temporary solution with no guaranteed outcome.
If NYS Conservation was issuing this easement with a grant to the town which would cover the loss of taxes from these properties, then I think everyone would support keeping this land undeveloped and declared “conservation land.” However, the burden of this “conservation” label falls on the rest of the taxpayers who reap very little benefit.
After helping to pay the taxes on these properties for 15 years, what benefit do we, the taxpayers, receive when the owners sell it for hundreds of thousands of dollars at the end of the contract term? We’ve essentially paid the taxes while their property appreciates, as open land becomes more of a commodity. They sell to the highest bidder — be it a contractor, developer or large corporation — and the taxes we paid for 15 years do nothing for us, our children or our grandchildren.
Most everyone in this town just saw a tax hike, some to the tune of 30 percent. Another 0.5-1 percent is sizeable. These kinds of property/school taxes are going to price people out of this community and drive home prices down because people can’t afford the taxes along with their mortgage.
In closing, I hope the Board of Education, to the benefit of all of the taxpayers in the town, will vote down this conservation easement proposal and seek alternative options for preserving open land space in the Town of Bethlehem.
Charles H. Radliff Sr., Bethlehem