By Dana Klosner
For the past several months Mike Rosato, an activist from Kings Park, has been lobbying the Town Board to establish an Open Space and Recreation Trust Fund. Local civic and youth organizations supported this effort, he said, because they understood the economic, environmental and quality of life benefits it would provide to the community.
“A lot of youth groups in the town support the effort because they say there is not enough field space to play on,” he said. “The field space that is there is rutted and over used.”
According to Allyson Murray, an environmental planner for the town, the planning department has identified 150 parcels (a number that changes as new sites are identified) as possible acquisition parcels. The sites vary in size, shape, geographic features, value and possible use. The list “reflects parcels that the Planning Department would likely recommend acquiring if the Town/County/State were interested.” Stated Ms. Murray in an email to Smithtown Matters.
Rosato, emphasizing the benefits of an Open Space and Recreation Trust Fund for Smithtown residents, has been lobbying members of the Town Board. But his efforts have been to no avail. One of the reasons the Town Board has not put the idea to a vote is because of the tax cap, Rosato said.
In the long run the referendum would save taxpayers money, he said. Open space is considered the ultimate tax cap. Protected open space can help keep property taxes from going up because increased residential development leads to increased demand for government services, schools and other costly infrastructure.
If the referendum were approved it would allow Smithtown to become an active partner in Suffolk County’s Public Space Program which would allow our taxpayers the local benefits of a program that is supported countywide, he said.
Rosato said he recently wrote a letter to the Town Board requesting that they support a Smithtown Open Space and Recreation Trust Fund referendum. According to Rosato he asked members of the board to let the people, not politics, decide if they wish to invest in open space preservation and recreational facilities. Unfortunately, this concept was not supported.
He cited the Ryan Property in Fort Salonga as an example. The site is 22 acres and according to Rosato the owners are looking to sell.
“We can’t participate in purchase of property because the town does not have an open space program and is unwilling to put aside money to purchase any open space,” he said.
“Just let the people decide. That’s all I and others are asking,” Rosato said.
“I don’t think that placing referenda at the behest of one individual makes for good government,” Town Supervisor Pat Vecchio said.
“Central Park in New York City is approximately 840 acres,” Vecchio said. “As a comparison, in the center of Smithtown we have 1,300 acre (Caleb Smith State Park, Blydenburgh Park [county], Greengate Park [town]). These are in addition to our 130 acre golf course. There is also Hoyt Farm (133 acres), Sweetbriar Nature Center (56 acres), 22 town parks and 3 beaches. We acquired the 22 acre Saam property (behind the “Bull”), the 8 acre Harned Sawmill property and most of this acreage was obtained without cost to the taxpayers.”
There is also Sunken Meadow State Park (1,200 acres) and Nissquogue River State Park, (500 acres), he said.
“We are not lacking for open space and we continue to acquire it. Since 2009, the transfer of development rights has gained approximately 10 more acres at no cost. Folks like Mr. Rosato seem to forget we are under a state mandated 2% tax levy cap. The 2015 budget is capped at 1.6%. He disregards that and says ‘Spend, spend’ and that’s not my mantra. People pay enough in taxes and it’s not my desire to levy more than is necessary.”
A petition could be used to circumvent the Town Board, but that does not guarantee its (the fund’s) implementation, Rosato said. Even if the referendum passed, the Town Board would not be obligated to create the trust fund.
It’s better to have the majority of the board supporting the measure to help promote it and facilitate its adoption.