Report on NH Growth Management Released

May 17, 2005
New Hamshire

Concord, NH, 5/17/05: In the face of rapid population growth, increasing development of forest and farm lands, and rising land values in many New Hampshire communities, the Trust for Public Land (TPL) today announced the release of a new report entitled "Managing Growth: The Impact of Conservation and Development on Property Taxes in New Hampshire." The report will be a tool for communities to help decide whether to develop or conserve parcels of land in their communities, by helping to evaluate the tax consequences of such actions.

The study investigates whether there is an association between development and high or low property taxes. It notes that in the short term, land protection, by fully or partially exempting land from taxation, may reduce the tax base in a community. An exception to this is when conservation easements are donated to land trusts or communities. In those cases, there is usually no tax change in the short term.

In the long term, however, the report finds that towns that have the most permanently protected land have generally lower tax bills. Although the report does not conclude that conservation results in lowers taxes, it suggests that including the protection of natural lands and farms in the future plans of a community can help it achieve the right combination of land uses, contributing to overall tax stability.

According to the report, "conservation often enables the continuing viability of working farms and forests which maintains the rural community, contributes significantly to the town's economy and employment, and may help to stabilize tax rates that threaten affordability of home ownership for the average family. Land conservation can be used as a tool in both protecting resources that contribute to quality of life (from drinking water protection to scenic beauty and recreation), as well as to help guide the path and location of municipal growth to those areas that are most appropriate and that are most cost-effective for towns to service."

The Trust for Public Land works with cities and towns in NH to facilitate transactions that result in the permanent protection of open space - forests, trails, farms, coastline, urban parks, and watersheds. Dennis Shaffer, TPL's Northern New England Director, says that "many communities where we work have far-sighted plans for the protection of critical open spaces, but achieving this goal often requires a substantial financial investment. The first question we often hear is, 'what will this do to our taxes?' We've prepared this report to help answer that question."

Continued Shaffer, "TPL does not suggest in any way that lower taxes should be a principle reason for land conservation. But knowing the tax impact of land conservation and development are important pieces of information towns and cities need to make difficult decisions about their futures. This research is intended to help communities make those decisions wisely, and its conclusions should be reassuring to those who are concerned about the tax implications of open space protection."

James P. Bassett, a Canterbury selectman who helped in the effort to conserve Gold Star Farm, praised the report. "This information is exactly what communities need to look at when thinking about what their town will look like five, twenty, or fifth years from now. We understand that growth is inevitable. But with change happening so quickly, the time to preserve our cherished resources is now. The Trust for Public Land has provided an invaluable tool to those of us who want to act before it's too late. With this report, we are well positioned to promote two time-honored New Hampshire principles: we can be good stewards of the land and be fiscally responsible at the same time."

The report studies both the short-term and long-term effects of conservation on property tax bills. It considers five different conservation scenarios in sample communities, predicting the tax implications of each option. It also analyzes factors such as population size, number of buildings, forested acres, and permanently conserved acres to determine how the level of development is related to a town's tax bill. The research suggests that because conservation helps maintain the overall rural character of a community, or confines development to a more efficient municipal service area, it can help control property tax increases.

The report's author, Deborah Brighton, specializes in tax policy and natural resource economics, analyzing the relationships between fiscal policy and public goals. She works with municipalities and nonprofit organizations throughout New England to understand the relationships between conservation, development and the town's ability to pay for government. She has an M.S. in forestry.

A copy of the report can be obtained free of charge at www.tpl.org/newhampshire, or by calling TPL's office in Concord at 603-224-0103.

TPL is a national nonprofit organization conserving land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and natural areas, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Since its founding in 1972, TPL has helped protect more than 1.6 million acres in 45 states, including more than 200,000 acres in New Hampshire. For more information, contact TPL's Concord office at (603) 224-0103 or visit www.tpl.org/newhampshire.