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School Board to revisit Orchard Park issue

The Orchard Park School Board plans to reconsider its decision to opt out of a program that gives tax breaks to property owners for not developing their land.

The board said Tuesday it would revisit the issue at its next board meeting after hearing a presentation from proponents of the conservation easement program.

Town Board members are hoping the School Board will approve the program, which has been operating in the town for several years. It was discovered that each taxing authority affected by the plan must approve it. The Erie County Legislature is to consider the program later this month. The town has already approved it but would probably reconsider if the school district does not.

"This might deep-six the whole program," Councilman David Kaczor said Wednesday.

Orchard Park Town Assessor Milton S. Bradshaw and Richard J. Schechter, the town's Conservation Board chairman, joined with almost a dozen residents in asking the School Board to reconsider its decision.

"We need to have a resolution from the School Board on or before March 1 in order to continue the program," Schechter said, noting that the Orchard Park Town Board has agreed to continue with the program and the County Legislature is preparing legislation to do so as well.

Orchard Park adopted the easements program in 2004 for parcels of five acres or more, with residents getting a reduction of 50 percent to 90 percent on their assessments. Schechter said the school district has been part of the conservation easement program all along, but new state legislation requires that the county and the school district vote to opt into the program as well.

Several residents, some who have lived in Orchard Park for generations and participate in the program, said they were able to hold on to their land only because of the tax break. They said if it were eliminated, they would most likely have to sell their land. That, they said, would lead to more development and a bigger impact on both the school district and the town for increased services.

Preserving green space in the town was another reason residents asked the board to reconsider its no vote.

"If we can't keep these open spaces, we will lose a lot of the natural beauty that we enjoy," resident Christine Weitz told the board. "I'm asking you to honor the conservation easement program."

Since the issue was not on the agenda for Tuesday's board meeting, it was not discussed by the board, but instead will be placed on the agenda for discussion and action at the Feb. 8 meeting.

In another matter, the board accepted the resignation of the district athletic director, James R. Higgins, who was appointed athletic director in West Seneca Monday night.

News Staff Reporter Barbara O'Brien contributed to this story.


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