CONSERVATION MEASURES BUCK ‘JUST SAY NO’ TO SPENDING TREND
29 Towns Vote on 30 Land Conservation Appropriations this Year
Land Use Change Tax Allocations on ballots in 18 towns
According to a survey conducted by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, 80 percent of land conservation appropriations voted on at Town Meeting this year passed. In all, 28 New Hampshire towns voted on 30 warrant articles for land conservation bonds or appropriations at Town Meeting this year. Of the $4.7 million in proposed appropriations, 25 towns approved $2.4 million.
The proposed conservation appropriations continued to be concentrated in towns in the southern tier of the state, where more development has occurred and opportunities to conserve significant land are increasingly rare. The overall number of towns with land conservation measures on their warrants has been consistent over the last five years. In 2007 35 towns voted on $8 million in conservation-related appropriations, with 27 of those approved. In 2006, there were 33 such towns, and 30 of those passed. In 2005, 29 of 35 towns approved conservation appropriations. In 2004, 23 of 32 towns approved, and in 2003, 28 of 34 towns approved conservation appropriations.
While the number of towns voting on conservation articles this year remains fairly high, total appropriations continue a downward trend from their peak in 2003. In that year, Town Meeting voters approved more than $35 million for land conservation. In 2004 the total dropped to $25.9 million, 2005 to $24 million, $8.2 million in 2006, and just $3.8 million in 2007.
“In addition to the newly appropriated funds, we are also seeing towns continue to spend funds they appropriated in past years,” said Chris Wells, director of policy for the Forest Society. “Of course, it’s often the case that public funds are being matched or supplemented with dollars from other sources, such as the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP) to complete given conservation projects.”
In Kingston voters appropriated not only $75,000 to be added to the conservation fund, but approved the expenditure of $600,000 from the existing conservation fund to go toward the purchase 200 acres in the northwest corner of town. Kingston is working with the Southeast land Trust of New Hampshire on the conservation project. The property features a large beaver pond, other wildlife habit, and a historic mill site, as well as recreational trails for hiking, biking and snowmobile trails. The balance of the $910,000 purchase price will be raised from other sources.
In Sandown voters approved a $1 million bond and authorized the expenditure of an additional $600,000 from the existing conservation fund to purchase 138 acres that abut and will be incorporated into the existing Town Forest. With a three-fifths majority required, the measure passed 773 to 507, and subsequently survived a recount.
In Mont Vernon voters approved a bond for $445,000 to acquire the Wah Lum (Glorious Forest) Reserve consisting of two parcels totaling 248 acres in the Purgatory Watershed, long a priority for conservation in the area.
Among the largest appropriations in the state, a $2 million bond in Goffstown to acquire conservation easements as well as land for recreational fields, failed to pass in a relatively close vote. Needing three-fifths, or 60 percent, for approval, only 55.7 percent voted in favor.
Land Use Change Tax This year 18 towns considered articles to increase or reduce the amount of the Land Use Change Tax (LUCT) that will be used for conservation purposes. The LUCT is assessed when land is taken out of “current use” status—typically subdivided for development. Towns may elect to have some or all of that one-time LUCT tax put into the town’s conservation fund.
Voters in five towns were considering allocating LUCT to their conservation fund for the first time. Four passed, one failed.
Six towns considered articles to increase the percentage of LUCT or keep the percentage at 100 percent. Four passed, two failed.
Another four towns considered articles to reduce the amount of LUCT going to the conservation fund, or eliminate the funding altogether. All of those measures failed.
In Jaffrey, a measure to cut in half (from 100 to 50 percent) the amount of timber revenues from town lands going to the conservation fund did pass.
Each year the Forest Society, the state’s largest land conservation organization, surveys all 234 New Hampshire towns to collect land conservation appropriation data. Since 2001, New Hampshire communities have approved more than $130 million for land conservation.