New Jersey Voters Tax Themselves to Protect Open Spaces

TRENTON, New Jersey, November 7, 2008 (ENS) - At the polls Tuesday, New Jersey voters decided more open space ballot measures than any other state. Voters generated $191 million in conservation funding by approving 14 of 22 county and municipal tax measures.

In Hunterdon County, voters approved the largest measure and the only county measure on the ballot, with 76 percent voting to continue the current levy of three cents per $100 of assessed property value to fund the Hunterdon County Open Space Trust Fund indefinitely rather than letting it expire next year.

This decision is expected to generate $7.6 million annually for open space, farmland, and historic preservation efforts, as well as stewardship of county and municipal parklands.

In Ocean County, Ocean Township voters approved increasing the open space tax from 1.2 to three cents per $100 of assessed value, and voters in Barnegat Light Borough approved a new one cent open space tax.

Both measures will provide funds to help acquire lands important to protecting water quality in the Barnegat Bay watershed, an estuary of national significance which is being polluted by runoff from increasing development - paved surfaces, vehicle use, lawn and garden maintenance, and septic systems.

In Mercer County, Hopewell Township voters approved a one cent increase to the open space tax that will generate an additional $459,000 annually for preservation efforts.

In Livingston Township, voters said "yes" to a continuation of the open space tax of three cents per $100 of assessed property value for a total of $5.8 for acquisition and preservation of open space.

"These results demonstrate sustained support among New Jersey residents for new investments in parks and open space, even in a very tough economic climate," said Tom Gilbert, mid-Atlantic conservation finance director with The Trust for Public Land, a national land conservation organization.

The Trust for Public Land has helped protect more than 2.5 million acres nationwide, including more than 25,000 acres in New Jersey.

"Looking ahead to 2009, we look forward to working with Governor [Jon] Corzine, the New Jersey legislature, and our conservation partners on the critical need to renew and strengthen the Garden State Preservation Trust next year," said Gilbert.

Last November, New Jersey voters approved $200 million in bonding to replenish state open space, farmland, and historic preservation programs for one more year. Those funds will soon run out, resulting in the first gap in state funding to preserve open space in decades.

"Governor Corzine has let the Garden State Trust Fund run dry and we need him to immediately act to replenish its funding," said Dena Mottola Jaborska, executive director of Environment New Jersey. "Every month that goes by with no funding for open space will mean more permanent loss of green space that is so critical to New Jersey's quality of life. With only 15 years left before New Jersey reaches full build out, we cannot wait."

"We call on Governor Corzine and state legislative leaders to follow the great example given by the voters in this election and make good on their pledge to replenish the Garden State Preservation Trust," said Thomas Gilmore, chair of the New Jersey Keep it Green Campaign, a coalition of over 100 organizations working to promote open space preservation in New Jersey.

"Renewing and strengthening this statewide fund is integral to preservation efforts and allows the state to continue to actively partner with local governments to preserve our parks, forests, farms, and historic places," said Gilmore.

"In this tight economy, preserving New Jersey's open spaces is the smartest investment we can make," said Jennifer Coffey, director of watershed management for Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Association. "Open spaces protect our drinking water, provide free and healthy places for families to explore, and shelter nature's wild places. New Jersey is the most densely populated state in our great nation, and the time to save our last remaining open spaces is now."

A complete list of results from local and state balloting on conservation and parks is available online today from LandVote 2008.

{Photo: Fall foliage at lakeside in Jenny Jump State Forest, Warren County, New Jersey Highlands (Photo by George Aronson)

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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