In 1986, recognizing the need to protect the town’s agricultural identity, scenic beauty, water quality and habitat, Little Compton voters established the Little Compton Agricultural Conservancy Trust at the Financial Town Meeting.
The “Ag Trust,” as it is known, was established according to the provisions of Chapter 16 of the Rhode Island Public Laws of 1985.
The Act stipulated that seven trustees would administer the Ag Trust. Five of these are appointed by the town, and one among them must be an active farmer. In addition to these five, the chairs or designees from the Little Compton Conservation Commission and from the Little Compton Planning Board also serve. Trustees serve staggered five-year terms and receive no financial compensation for their duties.
The seed money for the purchase and protection of land comes from a property transfer tax, paid by the buyer in each land transaction. These funds become the basis on which grants from state, federal and private sources can be leveraged. At the time the Ag Trust was created, the property transfer tax was 2% on the balance of any real estate sale above $75,000.
Founding members of the Ag Trust adopted Standing Rules and Regulations for the Trust that were approved by the Little Compton Town Council, in accordance with state law. They included a scoring system for farmland and for non-farmland applications so they could be prioritized.
In the first 10 years of the Trust’s existence, 725 acres were protected, 310 of which were either farmed or farmable. Property transfer tax funds were successfully leveraged at a rate of approximately $2 of funding from other government agencies and conservation organizations for every $1 of transfer tax income. Funding partners during those years included the Rhode Island Agricultural Land Preservation Commission, the Rhode Island Natural Heritage Commission, the Champlin Foundations, the North American Waterfowl Trust, and private donations.
In 2004, feeling the pressure of encroaching development on Little Compton’s working farms and drinking water supply, the Ag Trust recommended an increase in the property transfer tax. Meetings and presentations were held to educate voters about the limited window of opportunity for land protection, and the ways in which land conservation controls property taxes by limiting municipal services. At the Financial Town Meeting in May of 2004, Little Compton voters approved by a significant margin an increase of the transfer tax to 4% on all land transfers exceeding $225,000 and an increase in the exemption from the tax to $150,000. Transfers with a sale price between $150,001 and $225,000 continue to be taxed at 2%.
The increase in the property transfer tax and the foresight of Little Compton landowners resulted in a banner year for land protection in 2007. With the help of its partners, the Trust helped protect over 300 acres of working farmland, scenic vistas, forested land, wetlands and meadow in the town that year. In recognition of this accomplishment, the Trust was awarded the 2007 Merit Award in the category of Landscape Preservation by Preserve Rhode Island; the John H. Chafee Conservation Leadership Award from The Environment Council of Rhode Island; and the National Award for Excellence in Land Conservation by The Land Trust Alliance of Washington DC. Highlights of the year were the protection of historic Treaty Rock Farm, the Sakonnet Vineyards, and the Peckham property.
At the Financial Town Meeting, on May 17, 2016, the electors voted to change the transfer tax rate. The change was to increase the current transfer-tax exemption on real property transfers from $150,000 to $300,000 of the total purchase price (thereby eliminating the current two-percent (2%) tax rate on that amount of total purchase price between $150,000 and $225,000). The exemption took effect on July 1st 2016.
As of July 1, 2017, the Little Compton Agricultural Conservancy Trust has protected with its partners a total of 2,054.3 acres of farmland and open space in the town of Little Compton. The Trust continues to work actively with its funding partners: the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM), the Rhode Island Agricultural Lands Preservation Commission (RIALPC), the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (NRCS), the Nature Conservancy of Rhode Island, Champlin Foundations, the Sakonnet Preservation Association, and other private donors.