Conservation Fund up for vote on Town Meeting Day

By Frances Foster | Contributor

On Town Meeting Day in 1996, a vote was taken that has had a major role in shaping the landscape of Charlotte. That year the town established the Conservation Fund, a grant program to assist with the conservation of Charlotte’s best agricultural land and natural areas. On Town Meeting Day in 2016 the Conservation Fund will be up for a reauthorization vote.

What has happened in the 20 years that the Conservation Fund has been in place? Money from the fund has helped 20 conservation projects succeed, preserving 1,687 acres of land. Slightly less than $1.4 million has been expended, which has leveraged $6.7 million in total project costs. The availability of the fund has also made Charlotte conservation projects strongly competitive in seeking other grants and funding opportunities.

Conservation Fund projects are located throughout Charlotte, so it’s likely that no matter where you live in town you enjoy the scenic vistas, the views of productive farmland or the forested quiet of wildlife habitat and natural areas that are protected through conservation easements acquired with the fund’s assistance. Several projects have included trail easements that are publicly accessible and have added to the growing town-wide network.

The Charlotte Conservation Fund has a 20-year track record of success. Conservation Fund projects have been part of strengthening Charlotte’s agricultural economy and its ecological health and are a major factor in preserving the rural beauty of our town.

IMG_1516Conservation Fund FAQs

How much is added each year?

The amount that is added each year varies according to the fund level, the anticipated project applications and the overall town budget needs. For FY 2016, $90,000 was added to the fund, which represents a bit less than a penny on the tax dollar. The amount proposed for FY 2017 is $50,000. These amounts follow several years of little to no funding when the fund level was high. More recently, several project grants have drawn the fund level down, and current allocations reflect the need to build the level back up.

How much is in the fund now?

The fund level is currently $553,019.

Who decides on yearly funding?

Ultimately, Charlotte voters decide how much goes into the fund every year. The Selectboard proposes an amount as part of creating the town’s yearly budget. That budget is then voted on Town Meeting Day.

Who makes decisions about Conservation Fund grant applications?

The Selectboard reviews grant applications made by local and statewide land trusts. As part of the application process several town groups, including the Conservation Commission, the Recreation Committee, the Trails Committee and the Charlotte Land Trust, make comments on the applications. Applications are reviewed and decided in Selectboard meetings open to the public. Comments are welcome.

How do we know that we’ll be getting what we are promised in projects?

Conservation Fund grants are contingent on the execution of a conservation easement that is very specific about the permitted and restricted uses of a conserved property. Conservation easements are a legal deed of property interest and run with the land in perpetuity, not just with the present owner. Conservation easements are far stronger mechanisms than other means of directing future land use, such as deed restrictions or open-space agreements.

Doesn’t all this conserved land end up costing us more?

No. Conserved land continues to generate property tax revenue. Analyses of tax rates and the impact of conserved land have shown that conserved land is beneficial. Land that is conserved does not generate houses that require town services such as schools, rescue or fire, or road maintenance. In addition,, conserved farmland adds to Charlotte’s economic sector by providing direct employment as well as a market for support services and creating value-added products.

Editor’s Note: The CLT expressed some concern that the “Conserved and Public Land” map printed in the last issue of The Charlotte News implied that the properties depicted as conserved and open-space lands are publicly accessible. Although some conserved lands do have trail easements, most are private property.

For a sampling of publicly accessible lands in Charlotte, see the Maps and Trails section of the Town of Charlotte website.