Refuge's bite of revenue is $5,000
Errol resident Bill Freedman, left, who's on a town group that's studying the financial impact of the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge on the town, and Paul Casey, who manages the refuge for the federal goverment, go over the numbers Saturday morning for some 70 residents who gathered at Errol Town Hall. (BOB HOOKWAY)
Figures presented at a public meeting showed the difference between what the town could have gleaned in tax money and what it got in revenue sharing from the federal government was only about $5,000 this year.The most the town lost in tax revenue because of the refuge’s presence in the past nine years was $15,276, in 2004.
“It’s been really helpful to have the numbers,” town resident Rick Ryan told the officials. “They don’t seem to match up with” what has seemed to be the prevailing opinion around Errol that “imminent failure of the town” was at hand, he said.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife officials were invited to discuss the refuge’s effect on the town of about 300 people east of Dixville Notch. A quarter of the population turned out, and although that was nearly the same number as the 80 regional residents who showed up this summer in Berlin for an animated discussion of the refuge and related issues, the temperature — outside Town Hall as well as inside — was lower Saturday.
In fact, at the end of the two-hour meeting, attendees applauded the federal officials, a contingent of state and county politicians who turned out, and a study group that included one resident, two town officials and the refuge manager.
The so-called “working group” that looked at the tax situation found the refuge owns 15,203 of Errol’s 37,784 acres.
The refuge comprises about 76,900 acres, and the government owns about 27,000 of them. The government controls the rest through land easements and other means. In 2008, Fish & Wildlife went public with its plans to eventually own about 74,000 acres of the refuge outright.
The continued land buying, according to opponents of that plan, threatens to kill small communities by taking once-taxable property off the tax rolls while the cash-strapped federal government makes up an increasingly smaller portion of that lost tax revenue each year.
The amount the federal government pays to communities in similar situations to Errol’s nationwide has never been 100 percent of its tax-revenue loss, deputy refuge manager Ian Drew said in an interview after the meeting.
Drew didn’t downplay the loss of this year’s $5,000, however. “That’s significant for a small town,” he said.
White Mountains Community College President Katharine Eneguess, who oversaw the discussions in Berlin and Errol, said aspects of the refuge’s relationship with the town would be examined in the coming weeks.
“There’s lots of work to be done,” she said.
Meanwhile, Coos County Treasurer Fred King, a former state senator and frequent critic of the federal government’s purchasing of land coast to coast — including at Umbagog — told the gathering that the North Country Council, a Bethlehem-based regional planning agency, was set to put out a request for proposals for a study of all the county’s land that’s controlled by the federal government.
“In Coos County, one of every two acres is protected by someone. This will be an impartial study, it will not be done by someone like me who’s prejudiced,” King said.
“It will be a study of all federal ownership, with an emphasis on the refuge.”
King, of Colebrook, was one of the people who met with government representatives in Berlin in July.
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