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Hunterdon Co Freeholders Vote to Gut Open Space Funding

Date : Thu, 19 Apr 2012 12:35:12 -0400

*/For Immediate Release/*
April 17, 2012 Contact:Jeff Tittel, 609-558-9100

**

*Hunterdon Co Freeholders Vote to Gut Open Space Funding*

// Today the Hunterdon County Freeholders are set to vote on major changes to the county's open space program that will negatively impact our public lands.The Freeholders will reallocate $3.3 million in open space funds to pay down debts that outdate the current open space tax.The people and Freeholders had decided to pay for that out of other revenue sources and the new open space money would be used for acquisitions.If this change is approved we are going to be using our open space fundsto pay for properties that have already been preserved while there is a back log in people that want to preserve their land.

"These changes are driven by short-sightedness.Voters time and again have overwhelmingly supported open space funding.Many of us choose to live in Hunterdon County because of its natural beauty and open space funding helps preserve those qualities and resources for future generations," *siad Jeff Tittel, Director, NJ Sierra Club.*"They are robbing Peter to pay Paul by taking from one open space fund to pay for another fund." The Freeholders could also consider two additional overhauls to the County open space program.One measure could be lowering the county open space tax from 3 cents per $100 valuation to 2 cents.This would save the average homeowner less than $100 a year on their taxes.The Freeholders could also divert open space funding to cover salaries and other administrative costs.

"This is a double whammy hidden property tax increase by diverting the open space money.This goes against the public mandate when they voted for the open space tax in 2008," *said Jeff Tittel*.

*Tittel continued*, "If they are planning to take the open space money for administrative salaries, what do you need open space planning for if there is no money left for acquisitions?Unless it is going to be planning for development applications?" The Morris County Freeholders have also lowered their open space taxes five times in the past five years.The County has not been able to fund all the open-space project requests as a result of the cut.In 2011, 17 projects were submitted and the County was only able to fund 12 acquisitions.By cutting back on the funding they lose their ability to leverage matching funding from the state and non-profits to increase their ability to preserve land.

"This economic downturn is the most opportune time to purchase some of the County's most sensitive properties in the Highlands region and compensate landowners.The County should not be lowering and diverting the open space tax now but rather taking advantage of this opportunity to protect the environment of Hunterdon County and provide new and exciting recreational options for its residents," *said Jeff Tittel*. Many of the Freeholders have complained that farmers and other property owners have not received proper compensation from the Highlands Council or from municipal down zoning.Instead of making those landowners feel whole again, this diversion undercuts the ability to provide equity to landowners.

"Hunterdon County has been a leader in open space and has one of the best park systems in the state and the overhaul of the open space tax will undermine that success," *said Jeff Tittel*."At a time when state open space funding is beginning to run down, it is more important now than ever for counties to keep their open space funding intact."

-- 
Kate Millsaps
Program Assistant
NJ Chapter of the Sierra Club
609-656-7612
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Received on 2012-04-19 09:35:12

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