WALLINGFORD — The Select Board is split in its support over the sale of 481-acres of land to the National Forest, and its members want more information about the tax implications.
Early in September, the board was asked for a letter of support for the sale of 481-acres belonging to Fernfield Farms Ltd, a company made up of Carla Kimball, Edward J. Kimball, Peter Blumberg and Bill Blumberg. The land is south of the White Rocks Picnic Ground, and would be dubbed the “White Rocks Gateway,” for the access routes to the Appalachian Trail it would protect.
The board had tabled the matter to give itself time to seek public input.
Board Chairman Nelson Tift said in an interview Monday he’s largely in favor of the board supporting the sale. He has some questions, still, but most members of the public who’ve spoken have been in favor of it.
According to draft minutes from the Sept. 23 meeting, the board took an unofficial poll of itself on the matter. Nelson and Selectwoman Rose Regula were in favor, Selectmen Bruce Duchesne and John McClallen were not in favor, and Selectwoman Pat Pranger was neutral.
Pranger said in an interview Monday she’s concerned about the impact on taxes. She said the Trust for Public Land, which has been involved in the proposed sale, has provided numbers showing the tax impact would be largely negligible, but the board needs to be sure, especially with regards to the state education tax.
“It comes down to dollars and cents,” she said, adding that it would be a good idea, but one has to consider the loss to the tax base, which would have to be made up by others.
Tift and Pranger said the town is currently doing its own research on how much the sale would affect the town’s taxes.
Kate Wanner, project manager for the Trust for Public Land, said Monday its her understanding that the impact to school taxes would likewise be negligible to Wallingford.
At the meeting earlier in September, Wanner told the board the property is valued at $423,000. The town would lose $1,589 in municipal tax revenue, but would be paid $1,332 in Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) funds for a net loss of $257. These figures use data from the current tax year.
She said the loss to school taxes would be spread across the entire state, and there’s a similar reimbursement program to PILT for those lost funds.
According to the draft Sept. 23 minutes, McClallen said he is opposed to the sale unless some of the proceeds go into a trust, similar to what was done with another Fernfield Farm sale in 1993.
Wanner said the family behind Fernfield Farm has been selling parts of its land to the Green Mountain and Finger Lakes National Forest for years. As part of a sale in 1993, the family put $70,000 into a trust fund, the interest on which has gone to the town ever since. This was to offset the loss in taxes, she said, but since, Act 46 school taxes have changed and she feels this isn’t necessary.
Tift said Monday the board tabled the matter until its next meeting on Oct. 7. He understands the Trust for Public Land would like an answer from the board by early October, so he expects a decision will be made one way or another at that meeting.
At the early September meeting, Wanner explained the funds for the purchase would come from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is supported by lease payments from offshore oil drilling operations. Town support isn’t required for the sale to happen, but it’s an unwritten policy from Senator Patrick Leahy, who is Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, to have one.