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Conservation Financing

An important step in implementing a local open space plan is to establish an adequate and stable land protection fund.

View of the Rondout Creek, surrounding forested slopes, and Rosendale trestle in Spring. By L Heady
Communities have a range of options for financing open space protection. By L. Heady

Local governments are authorized to spend public funding on the acquisition and maintenance of open space lands under Section 247 of the NYS General Municipal Law. Funding options for municipalities include grants, private donations, fees, taxes, bonding, and appropriation of general town funds, and are described in detail in the Local Open Space Planning Guide (2004) and in Open Lands Acquisition: Local Financing Techniques Under New York State Law (LeJava et al. 2000).

Conservation Finance Ballot Measures

According to the Trust for Public Land's LandVote Database, 90% of local conservation finance measures in New York successfully passed between 1990 and 2022.

New York Conservation Finance Ballot Measures, 1990-2022
Source: The Trust for Public Land's LandVote Database
Finance Mechanism Number of Measures Measures Passed % Passed Conservation Funds Approved
Bond 67 58 87% $744,890,000
Property Tax 6 6 100% $17,732,018
Real Estate Transfer Tax 26 25 96% $2,683,150,246
Sales Tax 3 3 100% $767,000,000
Other 3 2 67% $6,675,872
Total 105 94 90%


Community Preservation Fund

There has been growing interest in Hudson Valley municipalities to use Community Preservation Funds (CPFs) as a dedicated account for local land conservation. The ability to create a CPF requires authorization by the NYS Legislature and has been used for 20 years in eastern Long Island. As of 2020 in the Hudson Valley, authority has been requested and granted to all towns in Putnam, Ulster, and Westchester counties through the Hudson Valley Community Preservation Act (CPA) of 2007 (amended in 2019 to add Ulster); and to the towns of Chatham in Columbia County; Fishkill, Northeast, and Red Hook in Dutchess County; and Warwick in Orange County through Section 64 of the NYS Town Law.

View of meadow under cloudy sky - Photo by L Heady
CPFs can be used to finance the conservation of community priorities, such as scenic views, farmland, and wildlife habitat. Photo by L. Heady

CPFs provide municipalities with the opportunity to generate open space funding without exceeding the real estate property tax cap, by implementing a modest real estate transfer tax. This one-time tax represents a small percentage of the purchase price to be paid by the buyer. The Hudson Valley CPA allows for the fee to apply only to property above the median sale price in the county, not to exceed two percent of the sale price, and towns have the ability to specify the rate and types of transfers included.

Towns with CPF authorization must create a Community Preservation Project (CPP) Plan, which is similar to an open space inventory and plan. The CPP plan must be adopted by the town and the transfer tax must be approved by voters through a public referendum.

Community Preservation Fund in Practice

The towns of Red Hook (together with the villages of Red Hook and Tivoli) and Warwick have both used real estate transfer taxes, along with purchase of development rights (PDR), to fund the conservation of thousands of acres that were identified as priorities in their plans.

Cover of Gardiner Community Preservation Plan with background image of a road cutting through a forest in autumn.

Town of Red Hook Community Preservation Plan

Town of Warwick Community Preservation Project Plan

More recently, several municipalities in Ulster County have approved local CPFs. In 2020, the Town of New Paltz approved a real estate transfer tax, and in 2022, the towns of Gardiner and Marbletown followed suit. All three referenda passed with support from more than 70% of voters.

Town of Gardiner Community Preservation Plan

Town of Marbletown Community Preservation Plan

Town of New Paltz Community Preservation Plan

Helpful Links

Open Lands Acquisition: Local Financing Techniques Under New York State Law (LeJava et al. 2000)

Local Open Space Planning Guide (NYS Department of State and DEC 2004)

Trust for Public Land's LandVote Database