A new law signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo on Oct. 21 will allow the transfer of government property to the town trustees in Southampton, East Hampton and Southold at little to no cost.
Two years ago, Legis. Jay Schneiderman, I-Montauk, wrote a letter to Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., I-Sag Harbor, after he realized the county couldn't give property that the county had taken hold of through tax foreclosure to trustees. Often the county and towns don't have much use for such properties because they tend to be smaller parcels of land that can't be developed, he said.
He asked that Thiele take a look at Section 72-H under General Municipal Law that allows local governments to transfer land to other local governments for public purposes at no or reduced cost.
"The way the law was written," Schneiderman said on Thursday, "the county could give the properties away to any municipal corporation, but it was really narrowly defined and the trustees did not meet the definition." Municipal corporations were defined as a county, town, village or fire district.
The Southampton Town Trustees, in particular, were interested in such property — as much as 40 acres collectively — but, "there was no legal mechanism to give it to them," Schneiderman said.
Thiele, along with State Sen. Ken LaValle, R-Port Jefferson, sponsored the bill that expands the definition of what a municipal corporation is, Thiele said on Thursday.
The law includes the Trustees of the Freeholders and Commonalty of the Town of Southampton, Town of East Hampton and Town of Southold as municipal corporations under Section 72-H. The bill passed the Senate on Feb. 27 and the Assembly on April 29.
LaValle said it's "common sense legislation" that corrects an oversight in the original law.
"The Trustees are clearly local elected government bodies," Thiele said. "They will greatly benefit from the ability to receive land at no cost from the county or other local governments, to be placed under their stewardship."
He said the legislation is another tool for open space preservation. "It allows for land use locally which otherwise might have gotten transferred to the private sector," he said.
Schneiderman said that the 1-foot-by-1,800-foot strip of land on Napeague that sold for $120,000 in a head-to-head auction between two neighbors perhaps could have been given to the East Hampton Town Trustees instead. The county acquired the land in 2003 for nonpayment of taxes.
Southampton Town Trustees Board President Eric Shultz said, "The passage of this bill not only allows us to acquire sensitive wetland parcels but just as important, recognizes the Trustees as a municipal corporation which will strengthen our standing on other issues."