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Hammond weighs costs of preserving land and loss of taxable income

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HAMMOND – Thousand Island Land Trust Executive Director Jake Tibbles took the opportunity to speak to the Hammond Town Board and the community about the benefits of conserving land in the Thousand Islands region after residents expressed concerns that several acres of land in the community was taken off the tax rolls recently for the purpose of preservation.

Several acres of wooded property on the northeast side of Chippewa Bay along the St. Lawrence River were donated by a local resident in December to the land trust. Combined with 64 acres known as the Baxter property, which already was purchased through the North American Conservation Act fund, the land will become part of the Thousand Island Land Trust’s Chippewa Bay conservation initiative.

The initiative is aimed at protecting fish spawning and wildlife conservation and providing public access to the water. Trails will be created and maintained for public use, according to TILT representatives. The land will also aim to preserve north country landscapes and prevent development.

“It’s a great location for a trail,” Mr. Tibbles said. “It’s within walking distance from the river. It’s already got a portion of the trail system there. It’s within walking distance from the heart of Chippewa Bay, and it’s got a business that is based off outdoor recreation right next to it. We are hoping to start developing that in the near future.”

During the Aug. 13 meeting of the town board, Mr. Tibbles delivered a presentation about the value of not only conserving but enhancing land in the Thousand Islands region for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.

With a slideshow presentation showing TILT’s conserved land throughout the Thousand Islands, Mr. Tibbles explained that TILT is a nonprofit organization that provides benefits to the community by offering recreational opportunities to the public on its trails and waterways, such as hiking, biking, snow-shoeing, cross-country skiing, community gardening, or canoeing free of charge on the areas it preserves.

The land trust partners with other organizations, such as SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, to map out strategic plans to enrich fisheries and create and rebuild wildlife habitats. The land trust also offers numerous educational programs to area children, usually at no cost to the public. To date, 8,200 acres have been preserved since the trust was founded in 1985.

“We’re working to conserve the natural beauty, diverse wildlife habitats, water quality, and outdoor recreational opportunities in the Thousand Islands region in the St. Lawrence River Valley,” Mr. Tibbles said. “The goal of our work is to create a greater quality of life, an improved foundation for the economy and enhanced foundation for the environment.”

Resident Theordore Elk has been outspoken at past board meetings about the loss of taxes particularly what would have been paid to the school and fire district, when property was turned over to the TILT by a private citizen for conservation and maintenance.

All TILT land is not necessarily tax exempt since much of the land is conserved through easements, not the organization’s ownership, and it remains taxable, Mr. Tibbles said.

Mr. Tibbles estimated that the total town taxes lost by TILT owning Hammond parcels are $501. He said that was a small price to pay considering what TILT offers the community in terms of tourism, hiking trials, land and hunting areas.

But while he applauded the project, Town Councilman Howard Demick disputed the amount, calling it “a little disingenuous” as it represents only the town property tax, but not tax that would have been allotted to the fire district or the Hammond Central School District.

“It’s not the whole story because we lose roughly $23,000 total from tax exempt properties here,” Mr. Demick said. “The town’s tax rate is almost insignificant when comparing it to the tax rate of the school and fire district.”

Mr. Tibbles went on to explain that there is value in preservation of trails, which would cost $1,500 per mile if the town were to maintain them. He also said that when the thousands of visitors come to the town to use Crooked Creek Preserve’s Macsherry Trail, possibly as many as 3,000 per year, they end up spending money on food and gas in the area.

Keeping the land untaxable is necessary to “sustain and advance our mission, having that tax burden would not allow us to provide that public benefit,” Mr. Tibbles said. “We were paying taxes on all of those properties, we wouldn’t have the same capacity that we do today to be able to give back to the community and maintain those trails.”

Mr. Tibbles said he would be happy to attend the next town board meeting and provide a more comprehensive breakdown of the impact of preserving nontaxable land in the community.

He also offered to make a copy of the not-for-profit’s charter available at the Hammond Free Library for public viewing. “It’s important that we have the support of the community, the town board and local officials,” Mr. Tibbles said. “We want to be accepted and work with you. We want to help better the community. A lot of what we do is for public benefit ... giving back through land conservation.”

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