Frustration is mounting among Aurora officials about the state's new 635-acre park on the Knox estate -- which had been heralded as a big boost for the Southtowns less than two years ago when its pending purchase was announced.
Town officials Monday criticized state parks officials for what they termed a lack of communication about what is planned for the park and questioned just how much public access will be allowed. Government leaders also are upset by the amount of lost tax revenue faced by neighboring municipalities and two school districts since the property came off the tax rolls this year.
A 12-point list of local officials' concerns was distributed to the Town Board. The hot topics include a proposal that the state consider making a onetime $300,000 payment to the town to cover lost town tax revenue of at least $12,000 per year multiplied over 25 years. Questions are also raised about public access, park revenue, maintenance and security, water and sewer service.
"It's frustrating as a taxpayer with that kind of money they spent for a park. And (you) don't know what they'll use it for," Councilman Jeffrey Harris said.
The state will hold its first public hearing on the new park at 7 p.m. April 5 in East Aurora Middle School. Supervisor Thomas Cotton stressed that it's vital for residents to voice their interests and concerns.
"There's a tremendous amount of questions that have to be asked that have never been answered," Cotton said.
Aurora officials estimate that the annual combined loss of tax revenue totals $102,324 for the town, village, East Aurora schools and the county. Elma and the Iroquois School District also face tax revenue losses, but those figures were not available.
The state is "very secretive and we don't get much (information)," Cotton said. "Everything that was promised must be reviewed. A lot of it isn't happening."
Aurora officials are pushing for compensation through a payment-in-lieu-of-tax arrangement.
Town officials said residents are not yet allowed to use the new park. The state paid $5.17 million last fall to buy 635 acres of the Knox family estate bordering East Aurora and turn it into a park. The Knox family retains 80 acres of its Ess Kay Farm on the estate. The estate contains several houses and barns, stables, polo fields, a tennis court, recreational facilities and a 14,000-square-foot main mansion.
Town Recreation Director Peggy Cooke said it's not clear how much of the parkland will be dedicated for active recreation. It's also unclear what the park's parameters will be as an equestrian center. Town officials say they don't know whether use of the riding trails will be restricted to those who privately board their horses there.
The town has long had permission to use soccer fields on the south side of Knox Road and east of Gypsy Lane and had initially been assured by the state that that wouldn't change after the park purchase was completed. The Aurora Arsenals soccer league and the town believed they would be maintaining more property and for the first time would be taking care of the polo fields, as well, once the property changed ownership. That also seems to be in question.