LTE: Portsmouth TC member urges support for Q2

Len Katzman (D) is an incumbent candidate for Town Council

I would like to provide some facts for Rhode Island voters regarding question 2.

I'm Len Katzman and I serve on the Town Council in Portsmouth. Portsmouth is a town like many in RI that (1) values open space preservation but (2) has little money to purchase development rights.

When an open space acquisition matter first came before me on the council, as a responsible decision maker I thought the fiscally responsible thing to do was to shrug, and say, "Too bad. We can't afford it."

But then I saw the actual dollars and cents numbers. You see, many studies have been done on the financial consequences of open space preservation. In Portsmouth, we charged our Economic Development Committee, along with the town planner, to develop empirical data on this.

Here's the "executive summary" of findings: For a growing town like Portsmouth, open space that is not preserved is likely to be developed into residential housing subdivisions. Our professionals looked at all the costs in town services that such development entails such as kids in school, road paving maintenance, snow plowing, incremental police and fire and so on. Then, we looked at the increase in tax revenue the town would gain because a developed property is worth more than an open field.

The result of our study in Portsmouth was that it COSTS the town MORE in services than we receive back in taxes from residential property subdivision development. Open fields, while yielding less actual revenue, demand virtually no town services at all so it is a net GAIN in revenue for the town.

The bottom line is that Portsmouth SAVES MONEY by investing in open space acquisitions. Moreover, we typically make our investment money go further by partnering with private funding sources like the Aquidneck Land Trust.

I know this seems counter-intuitive. The initial gut reaction is to look at the bleak financial landscape and assume we can't afford open space commitments. That was my first assumption too. But empirical data proves otherwise and not just in Portsmouth. Similar studies around the nation reveal the same calculus.

So, you may remember that the Town Council presented to the voters a bond question in Portsmouth in 2007 for open space acquisition. When all the facts were presented, the voters approved it overwhelmingly.

Not everyone has had the opportunity that I have had to see professional financial management types crunch through the numbers relating to open space preservation. I wanted to share what I know with the voters and I thank HardDeadlines for the opportunity.

Best regards,
Len Katzman