July 8, 2010; Source: Litchfield County Times | How might land conservation help local municipal budgets? The Winchester Land Trust has pitched the idea of buying some 1,140 acres of land owned by the town of Winsted. The properties are mostly open spaces near lakes, streams, and the Rugg Brook Reservoir, the kind of lands conservation groups try to acquire and protect. In this case, the Land Trust would approach the state for a grant enabling it to purchase and conserve the parcels. The town would benefit by getting revenues from the sales, according to the article, for as much as $1 million.

After initially reacting positively, some of the town’s selectmen are having second thoughts. Some suggest that they could do better by selling the sites to adjacent property owners, thereby moving the properties to the tax rolls and generating future tax revenues. Others are concerned about the up-front costs of surveys and appraisals that would have to be done for all of the properties before the sale would be consummated, money that would probably have to be fronted by the municipal government with the hope that it would be paid back at the closing.

Others raised questions about the Land Trust itself, which currently owns only 190 acres total, and one person suggested that the Trust’s current properties are poorly maintained and littered with garbage. The Trust owes money on another purchase, and some say that somehow the grant from the state might be related to dealing with that debt, though the Trust’s executive director called that allegation a “vicious and unprovoked attack.” Notwithstanding the objections, this is an interesting scheme of using land conservation for the dual objectives of environmental protection and municipal revenue generation.—Rick Cohen