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Mercer County to seek voters' OK to change allocation of Open Space funds
CONTACT: Julie Willmot
TRENTON, N.J. - The need to maintain the thousands of acres acquired through Mercer County’s Open Space, Farmland, Recreation and Historic Preservation Trust Fund has led the County to seek a change in the allocation of funds raised by the tax.
The Board of Chosen Freeholders on July 26 approved a resolution to place a referendum on the Nov. 6, 2012, ballot asking voters to approve the change, which would allow the County to allocate up to 10 percent of the amount raised by the existing tax levy for stewardship of the land.
Since the creation of the Open Space, Farmland, Recreation and Historic Preservation Tax in 1989, the amount of open space operated and maintained by the County has more than doubled – from 4,500 to more than 10,000 acres – without any corresponding increase in staffing.
“The County will continue to acquire land for recreation and farmland preservation,” said Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes. “However, there is far less land of Countywide significance available for preservation today than there was when the program began over 20 years ago. The need for the proposed slight shift in the allocation of the tax revenue is a logical consequence of our successful program.”
Changes since initial adoption have allowed up to 15 percent of the funds collected to be used for recreational development and historic preservation. This has funded projects like trail and parking lot construction at Baldpate Mountain and the restoration of the historic Hunt House in Hopewell Township.
The proposed change increases the amount of funding available for park improvements and historic preservation by 5 percent. It also allows 10 percent of the funds collected to be used for stewardship activities including but not limited to the equipment, projects and personnel relating to the care of the land and recreational amenities.
The proposal would not increase the voter-approved tax levy beyond 3 cents per $100 of equalized valuation. The actual assessed levy is determined annually by the Freeholder Board as part of the budgeting process.
“It’s important to note that this referendum does not in any way increase the amount of money collected through taxes,” Hughes said. “It is not a tax increase but simply a shift in the use of the open space dollars.”