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Lewis legislators approve PILOT for Nature Conservancy

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County legislators gave their approval last week for a payment in lieu of taxes agreement between the Nature Conservancy, Inc., and seven tax jurisdictions, for a total of more than 15,000 acres of land.

The nod, however, was merely ceremonial as land owned by the Conservancy is fully tax-exempt.

“We think it’s the right thing to do,” said Jim Howe, Central and Western New York chapter executive director.

The Conservancy recognizes that while it is not legally obligated to pay taxes, “We could have a very negative impact,” said Mr. Howe.

The land stretches through the towns of Martinsburg, Montague, Osceola and West Turin.

If taxed at full value to a taxpaying entity, the taxes would be approximately $10,000 to each town, except Martinsburg where the taxed would be just shy of $1,700.

The Camden, Lowville and South Lewis school districts would normally receive $17,033, $19,519 and $25,737, respectively.

Lewis County’s tax bill would be approximately $40,000.

To determine an amount the Conservancy will pay to each jurisdiction as part of the PILOT agreement, Mr. Howe said they considered the economic impact to each entity.

A larger piece of property in a township that has a small number of taxpaying property owners would receive a larger percentage than a township with more taxpayers, Mr. Howe said, calling the smaller tax bases “the most vulnerable.”

The Conservancy was assisted by the Tug Hill Commission in devising a formula to distribute the payments.

Using that formula means the town of Montague will receive 97 percent of what would normally be received, while Martinsburg will receive 45 percent.

In addition to payments from the Conservancy, the state Department of Environmental Conservation makes payments to each jurisdiction based on conservation easements.

The total for all taxes paid by the Conservancy and NYSDEC to all jurisdictions averages 49.87 percent of the full tax levy if privately owned, with an annual payment of $67,263 to all entities for the next 10 years.

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