The disagreement between the town of Spafford and the Finger Lakes Land Trust over tax exemption for the Cora Kampf Dickinson Preserve is as silly as it is important.
The issue is about public access to the preserve, which is only available currently by water, but which is required in order for nonprofit real estate to be considered tax exempt. There is a road to the area but the land trust did not acquire rights for visitors to use the road from the Dickinson family, who donated the land for the preserve. So, both sides see their reading of the state law on the subject as the correct one, and now both sides are paying lawyers to go to court to battle it out.
This is silly because it seems the simple solution is for the land trust to ask for permission to open the road up to the public, or to offer to purchase the roadway in order to open access. But they do not see this as necessary.
This battle over tax exemption is important, however, in that it is about the rights of taxpayers not to pay for something they will be unable to use.
The Spafford Town Assessor said she could not in good conscience approve such tax exemption, which will result in tax hikes throughout the town. We applaud her decision, and we applaud the Spafford Town Board for choosing to challenge the land trust in court to fight tax exemption status. This was absolutely the correct action to take.
For taxpayers in the town to pay for a preserve that only a very few boat-owners (using docks miles away) will be able to use is wrong. Likewise, there are also issues here of liability and safety. If a visitor to the preserve if injured, the only avenue for emergency help is the lake. What if someone falls part-way down the cliff? How will emergency personnel affect a rescue? And will the town be legally liable when that injured person — or his or her family, if death occurs — decides to sue because emergency help was not available?
Land preservation is meant to benefit a community, not financially harm it.