New York State Comptroller Completes Audits of Peconic Bay Region Community Preservation Fund

Four towns receive spotless audits with no recommendations; 12,766 Acres have been preserved, record pandemic collections leave towns with substantial cash on hand

On September 9, 2021, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. requested that State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli conducted an audit of the Peconic Bay Region Community Preservation Fund (letter attached). While each of the five towns are required by law to have an annual independent audit of their CPF, there had not been an audit by the State Comptroller since 2009. The OSC audit for each of the five Peconic Bay Towns was completed at the end of February, covering the years 2021 and 2022.

The State Comptroller reported that in the cases of the Towns of Southampton, Southold, Shelter Island, and East Hampton, all collections were properly supported, recorded, and deposited. Further, all disbursements from these 4 CPF funds were proper and supported. OSC had no recommendations for these Towns.In the case of Riverhead, all disbursements were proper and supported, however, revenue collection dates were either not documented or collections were not deposited in a timely fashion.

Thiele stated, “The Peconic Bay Region Community Preservation Fund has collected more than $2 billion since its inception in 1999. In 1998, the voters, by referendum, overwhelming entrusted the five East End Towns with the power to tax them to protect community character. It is heartening that the Towns have shown themselves to be worthy of that trust for more than 25 years. Four of the Towns had spotless audits without a single recommendation. Riverhead had some minor comments about the documentation and timeliness of deposits. ALL the Town disbursements were proper. The public should be glad to see that the CPF has been well administered and has fulfilled the intent and the letter of the law.”

The OSC report indicates that 12,766 acres have now been preserved by the CPF across the 5 Towns. More than $400 million was collected during the 2021-22 audit period.2021 and 2022 were the two highest revenue-generating years in the history of the CPF program, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sales and prices skyrocketed in the face of buyers seeking to move to the East End during the pandemic. Collectively, the Towns have $350 million in cash on hand. $300 million of that fund balance is from East Hampton ($70 million) and Southampton ($230 million). Since the pandemic, revenues have returned to more normal levels.

Thiele added, “These healthy fund balances provide the Towns with new opportunities to aggressively pursue the goals of protecting community character. Towns may also wish to look at retiring outstanding CPF debt.”