Town Board approves contract for new Town Hall

MILLERTON —  The North East Town Board meeting of Thursday, March 9, was dominated by the approval of the contract for the purchase of the former Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses on Route 22 for use as a new Town Hall and also by discussion of agricultural assessments for the Town of North East.

In introducing the contract, Town Supervisor Chris Kennan said the current Town Hall is “no longer appropriate, efficient, effective building as a Town Hall,” though “despite all those negatives, it has been a cozy, friendly place . . . and we’ll miss it.”

Kennan said that creating a municipal building to be shared between the village of Millerton and the town of North East is “a very expensive idea” and currently “beyond the reach of the town.”

The agreed-upon price for the building is $430,000 (down from the original asking price of $499,000). Modifications including moveable partitions to create office spaces in the building’s large meeting room will be necessary, and the town has the help of local architect Jeanne Vanecko in turning the building into a Town Hall.

Town attorney Warren Replansky prepared a resolution authorizing the town to enter into a contract with the Rhinebeck Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which currently owns the building. The town will need to conduct a Monroe “balances of interest” test to override the current zoning of the area in order to place the Town Hall in the new location. Replanksy prepared a short-form environmental assessment form to move the contract forward.

Said Replansky, “I’m anticipating that the town will make a favorable determination on the Monroe balancing test, but we are going to have a public hearing so the public could be heard on the matter before you make that decision.”

The contract is contingent upon the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses obtaining approval of the state Supreme Court and attorney general to sell the property.

A motion to approve the resolution to purchase the property was made and carried unanimously by the town supervisor and all councilmembers present.

The town heard from Jennifer Fimbel of the Cornell Cooperative Extension, who discussed the differences between, as well as the roles of, of agricultural districts and agricultural assessments in the town and county.

There are currently four agricultural districts in Dutchess County, which is roughly 70% farmland. According to agricultural district law, farms of 7 acres or more must gross $10,000 per year and farms of fewer than 7 acres must gross $50,000 per year.

Fimbel mentioned the diversity of agriculture in Dutchess County, and said that soil type dictates the actual value of agricultural land, which is determined by the state and then given to town assessors.

Agricultural assessment is “limited to land used in agricultural production and defined to include cropland, pasture, orchards, vineyards, sugarbush, support land and crop acreage either set aside or retired under the federal supply management or soil conservation programs.”

In describing why agricultural districts are important to towns, Fimbel said that agricultural and commercial lands use far less in community services than residents, and taxes would be much higher without them. A landowner who leases land to a farmer receives “the ag value assessment based on that farmer’s gross sales,” said Fimbel.

Replansky later stressed the importance of moving forward with the formation of a wastewater district and of making a decision regarding which method to use (petition or town’s own volition) for the formation. He would like to schedule a public information meeting with the property owners within the proposed district as well as a representative from engineering consulting firm Tighe and Bond to explain what can be expected in terms of cost.

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