Money for land preservation could go before voters

MILFORD – The conservation commission will likely ask voters in March for half the money collected from the land use change tax in order to establish a fund to buy land for preservation.

Chris Costantino, a member of the commission, talked to selectmen recently about revising the change tax policy so the commission has more ready money when parcels become available.

The land use change tax is a 10 percent penalty that landowners have to pay on the actual value of their property when they take their land out of current use to be developed. Land in current use is assessed at a lower valuation than developed property. Right now all of that current use penalty money – $115,000 was collected last year – goes in the town’s general fund.

Having a fund developed from 50 percent of the change tax “would allow us to act quickly,” on property when it becomes available, said Costantino.

The tax impact would be small, said Costantino, who gave selectmen a PowerPoint presentation on the request. Based on the $115,000 in current use penalties the town collected last year, a median priced house valued at $260,000 would be taxed an additional $18, or 7 cents per $1,000, to make up the $57,500 diverted to the land preservation account. “It seems like a reasonable investment to keep Milford a rural community,” she said later.

Amherst and Hollis already set aside 50 percent of the change tax money for their conservation funds, while Brookline, Merrimack and Mason give 100 percent. Lyndeborough gives 15 percent, and Mont Vernon and Wilton give none.

Selectman Jim Dannis said voters should decide, and a warrant article for the March ballot would “be a good way to learn what voters want.” He also said voters should understand that they would lose some of their ability to decide on individual parcels.

Additional conservation land will aid the commission’s “Land to Wilderness” trails project, said Costantino. The project seeks to link all residential areas to trails through protected land.

One parcel the commission is looking at would help the trail on the Souhegan River, she said.