NEW YORK, NY - June 14, 2004 - Results from a new public opinion poll indicate that Orange County voters would strongly support a $50 million bond issue for open space protection. According to the survey, if county residents were offered the chance to vote on a countywide bond, 72 percent would approve a ballot measure that would raise $50 million to protect drinking water sources, conserve natural lands and wildlife habitats, expand parks and trail systems and preserve working farms. Only 12 percent are opposed, and 16 percent are undecided.
“This is the strongest public support I have ever seen for a county conservation bond,” said Ernest Cook, a senior vice president of the Trust for Public Land who advises local governments across the United States on ballot measures for land conservation.
When asked about the main issues facing the county, 41 percent of the people surveyed cited concerns about rapid growth and development. “This isn't just a signal that the voters are concerned about losing open space to development, it's an alarm bell,” said Carol Ash, executive director of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission. The second most common concern was high taxes, with 29 percent mentioning property, school or sales taxes.
Five conservation organizations commissioned the survey The Nature Conservancy, Open Space Institute, Palisades Interstate Park Commission, Scenic Hudson and Trust for Public Land. It was conducted by the Buffalo-based polling firm of Barry Zeplowitz and Associates during the week of May 14, 2004. The poll sampled 400 active voters and has a margin of error of +5 percent.
This survey tested voter support for a $50 million bond that would cost the average Orange County homeowner $41 per year, or less than $4 per month. Support for the proposed bond measure came from all demographic groups. Democrats and Republicans both strongly favor the idea of a bond, with 78 and 72 percent, respectively, saying they would vote “yes” on the proposal.
By income group, the strongest support comes from households with an annual income of $75,000 to $100,000. In this group, 85 percent favor the measure. The least support comes from the wealthiest group, with incomes over $100,000. Even so, 63 percent of voters in this group support the bond proposal, or almost two out of three.
According to Cook, one surprising statistic is that people who own their own homes are more in favor of the proposal (74 percent) than renters (67 percent). “Usually it's the other way around,” he said, “because homeowners more directly feel the impact of property taxes, which is what most local governments use to pay off their bonds.”
There is no difference in support based on length of residence in Orange County. People who have lived here more than 20 years are 74 percent in favor, while newcomers (less than 10 years) are at 72 percent.
The following chart shows results from voter opinion polls for conservation funding ballot measures over the past four years, along with the actual election results. Only one poll shows stronger results than Orange County, and according to Cook, that was for a property tax measure rather than a bond.
Historically, local government ballot measures for conservation funding in New York have been very popular with the voters. Since 1998, 43 measures have been on the ballot, and 41 of them have been approved a success rate of 95 percent. Nationally, during that some period, the success rate was only 70 percent.
One of the two measures to fail was a $10 million bond in the Orange County town of Goshen, which was rejected by voters last November. When asked if that contradicted the findings of the new poll, Cook said, “the Goshen measure would have cost the average household in that town about $200 per year, and that's just too much. People in Goshen are willing to pay to protect their land and water, but everyone has limits.” A national poll conducted by the Trust for Public Land and the Nature Conservancy in April of 2004 found that the average American household is willing to support increased spending of $50 per year for land conservation.
To date, Suffolk County is the only county in New York to adopt a conservation funding program through a ballot measure. In contrast, in New Jersey all 21 of the state's counties have passed ballot measures for land conservation in the past 15 years.
The New York Conservation Funding Group includes the state's leading nonprofit conservation organizations. The are advising local governments and land trusts in the Hudson Valley, Catskills and Long Island on how to increase public funding for parks and land conservation.