Freeholders Cut Open Space Tax by $12M

Members of the public worry about the impact the revenue loss could have, but Freeholder Director Joe Donnelly says the county already has plenty of money.

Despite pushback from the public, Burlington County freeholders voted Wednesday to reduce the Open Space, Farmland and Historic Preservation tax to offset an increase in the tax rate for the operating budget. 

By a 3-2 vote, freeholders approved a budget plan that will decrease the open space tax from 4¢ per $100 of assessed value to 1.5¢, reducing the revenue for the fund by almost $12.5 million—from $19 million to $6.7 million.

The reduction will easily offset a $5 million increase in the operating budget for the tax levy, leaving the overall county tax rate unchanged at 40 cents. The ratable base of the county sank another $2 billion this year, resulting in a general revenue loss of $7.6 million, according to a release from the county. 

Freeholder Director Joe Donnelly defended the cut—the first in the open space program's 17-year history, according to the Courier-Post—by pointing out the $48 million surplus the county has already banked from the tax. 

"It was inconceivable to me that we would expect taxpayers to pay the full 4-cent open space tax in 2013 when the dedicated fund for farmland preservation, open space, parks, and historic preservation currently enjoys a $48 million fund balance," said Donnelly. 

The director said he was confident the fund would not only cover existing programs, but also was healthy enough to fund three major initiatives: the planned Underground Railroad Museum at Historic Smithville Park; the conversion of Mount Holly Library into the county’s first general history museum; and the recent partnership with the state, Westampton Township, and other organizations to keep Rancocas Nature Center in operation.

Others were not as confident. Members of the public turned out to Wednesday's freeholder meeting to express their concerns over the cut. Among them was Barbara Rich, a member of Moorestown's Environmental Advisory Committee and liaison to the Open Space Advisory Committee, and a vocal proponent of open space preservation.

Rich explained the breakdown of funding for open space purchases through the state's Green Acres program is 50 percent from the state, and then 25 percent each from the county and municipality.

With such a significant dip in revenue for open space, Rich said it's hard to tell exactly what kind of impact the county's tax cut will have on its 25 percent match.

"There are too many unknowns," she said. "It has to have an impact ... it stands to reason to me."

Cinnaminson Mayor Ben Young however, supported the county's decision, based on the size of the fund balance.

"If I had not had another commitment (Wednesday night), I would have rearranged my schedule (to go to the freeholder meeting), because I do fully support the ability to preserve taxpayer dollars," said Young, who sits on the township's Open Space Committee. 

Although the committee "keeps tabs on what's floating around," the mayor said the tax cut wouldn't have an impact on the township's ability to preserve open space, because it doesn't have the matching funds necessary to do so. 

Bj June 14, 2013 at 01:53 AM
What a classic liberal left wing nut job this lady is. Where does she think the state gets its money from? Does it grow on trees? Get it? Tree huggers! We need tax relief and this tax is a waste. Its not like Riverside, Cinnaminson or Palmyra has any farms worth buying. Build houses so we can have more tax payers
agent itchy June 14, 2013 at 02:16 AM
open space initiatives would be great if open space were left to nature. unfortunately, it always seems like parcels are either developed into athletic fields like the farm off Rt 73 in Cinnaminson or located adjacent to the most affluent neighborhoods like the parcels on Westfield Ave in M'town. our political leaders have fooled the voters into spending money on projects the voter wouldn't otherwise approve by dressing it up as a "sprawl killer". i used to support open space but not anymore.
Bj June 14, 2013 at 02:31 AM
Yeah because giving millions of our tax dollars to help farmers retire and keep their farms is such a wise move. Sell it or farm it but dont make me pay for it
Ross Chatham June 14, 2013 at 11:55 AM
Oh no!! Not athletic fields! Something useful that our children can enjoy? The real waste is that these fields haven't been created because of some stupid Indian crap that indians didn't even know was there.
Alison Perry June 14, 2013 at 02:39 PM
It's called history. We can't go around destroying all traces of the natives of this area in order to have more baseball diamonds, soccer fields or parking lots. This area was home to many Native Americans once upon a time. And don't forget it was our ancestors who displaced them so we owe them our respect by preserving their heritage. "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it".
Richard Magee June 14, 2013 at 02:54 PM
BEWARE! The reduction is a cover for increased taxes somewhere else in the budget. Later on it will become an Increase! Typical N.J. obsfucation. Vote Yes means a No Vote and vice-a-versa. My old friend Don MacBride was an Honest Freeholder in Burlington County in the sixties. I miss tose days. ~Rick Magee, FL det.,ret.
John June 14, 2013 at 05:17 PM
Oh boy, I am not even going to waste my time with comments anymore, it does no good and all we do is pay more taxes for everything.....The town wants more money, the County says its fine, now all we have to do is wait on the schools and the fire district...I can bet thats its going to increase by alot....New schools and New fire trucks...And we are in the middle of a reassessment, get ready, its coming....
Ross Chatham June 14, 2013 at 06:05 PM
You forgot to mention Ken Gertie's sidewalk
letspaymoretaxes June 14, 2013 at 06:48 PM
This tax reduction is so wrong unless we raise the school district taxes by double the amount. It costs more to summer in the south of France these days.
Phys Ed Teacher June 14, 2013 at 07:19 PM
Tell you what. I best be gettins a nice extra chunk of change next year than! Hows I supposes to buy my third shore house?
Mike915 June 14, 2013 at 08:21 PM
And the gas station on Williow and Rt. 130.
John June 15, 2013 at 01:20 AM
Oh Mike915, the gas station on 130 and Willow is down, now all they have to do is get dirt and seed it like Barone's....Open space for trees....How about U getting a life...
John June 15, 2013 at 01:24 AM
And your a teacher, right, you must have had to many blows to the head.....take a pay cut....enjoy it....
Laurie June 15, 2013 at 12:58 PM
I'm pretty sure that was sarcasm. I know my pay was cut this year thanks to the state mandated health benefits tax. So much for a negotiated contract. Shame on me for believing teaching children to read was a noble profession. 18 years and this is what I get; disrespect from all directions. Regretfully a teacher, LM
John June 15, 2013 at 03:14 PM
That was directed to the Phy Ed Teacher whose English makes me think that he got hit in the head to many times....This article is about open space and tax reduction but like always some people like to input other things....How can this County be losing money on ratables.....Do not understand unless they were always inflated to bring in more money....Its about time we live within our budgets, I do....
Barbara June 15, 2013 at 04:51 PM
Joe donnelly should be removed from office http://www.courierpostonline.com/article/20130615/OPINION01/306140047/LETTER-EDITOR-Open-space-tax-gimmick
Math professor June 15, 2013 at 05:04 PM
Laurie, paying more for health insurance is not a pay cut especially when those costs are increasing. If it was, then I got a pay cut too. If you dont like it you are free to get another job or get Obamacare


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