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Town Council and residents wrangle over Strawbridge Lake repairs.

Should funds set aside for open space be used for repairing dams at Strawbridge Lake?

That question met with divisive opinions between council members and a handful of residents during Monday night’s Town Council meeting. The council approved a resolution to spend $22,000 on engineering, design and bid expenses for dam repairs to be paid from the Moorestown Open Space, Recreation, Farmland and Historic Trust Fund.

Before the vote, Acting Town Manager Tom Merchel informed council members and the audience that the dam repairs are ineligible for outside funding.

“At the last council meeting, I promised to look for outside money for repairs,” said Merchel. “There is no available funding for Class III dams.”

Class III dams are structures that would cause little or no downstream damage should they fail, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection. 

At the July 11 town council meeting, Merchel presented results of an inspection of Strawbridge Lake by the Alaimo Group, detailing needed repairs to Hooten Dam, Lower Hooten Dam and Moorestown Dam corresponding with the DEP's requirements. The inspection cost $11,000, which was paid for from the fund.

The open space tax was first approved in 1998, and currently collects 1¢ per $100 of assessed property value.

Most residents on Monday night agreed that the work needs to be done, but some felt council is misusing money set aside as open space funds.

Mark Hines, co-founder of Moorestown Save Our Space (SOS), told council that most voters want this fund used only for the acquisition of open space, not score boards or mowing land.

“Although Strawbridge Lake needs repairs,” said Hines, “this is not what the fund was raised for. We should not be borrowing from it.”

Agreeing with Hines, Monique Begg indicated this fund should only be used to preserve open space in Moorestown and asked council to reconsider proceeding with the project.

“What have we done in the past when we needed money for lake repairs?” said Begg. “I’d like to see other efforts.”

In the spring, Hines and his wife, Elizabeth Endres, after learning that Town Council had approved money from the open space fund to make repairs to and .

On July 19, SOS, along with Concerned Moorestonians and Save the Environment of Moorestown, filed a petition with enough signatures—1,493—to place a referendum question on the ballot in November on the use of open space.

"Recreation shall mean passive recreation, meaning leisure time activities, of an informal nature not requiring athletic equipment or athletic facilities and which are appropriate for sites which are minimally improved or in natural condition," states the petition that the groups filed with the town.

“The petition has been received, and the signatures are being reviewed,” said Township Clerk Patricia Hunt, who has 20 days to certify the petition to make certain all signees are registered voters.

“In the spirit of preserving Strawbridge Lake, I think repairs should be made,” said Endres earlier Monday. “But, Strawbridge Lake was not acquired using open space money. My understanding is that open space funding has been used to mow the grounds at Strawbridge Lake and pay salaries. I don’t agree with that thinking, either.”

These fees should be paid from the town’s operating budget, said Endres.

During the town meeting, Councilwoman Stacey Jordan said she thinks most people would agree that Strawbridge Lake is deemed open space.

“I feel we should use the [open space] funds to repair the dams,” said Jordan. “I think it is a good expenditure for a worthy cause.”

Councilman Chris Chiacchio concurred, “We can repair the dams now without raising taxes. I think we should move forward.”  

Mayor John Button said he continues to be taken aback with talk surrounding the open space fund, and that other towns are using open space funds for similar purposes.

“It is far better to maintain affordable taxes,” said Button. “I believe that we are taking appropriate action in using the funds for the repairs.”

Deputy Mayor Greg Gallo and Councilman Michael Testa were not present.

John J. Logue, chair of the Moorestown Republican Municipal Committee, and the group's other 39 members, had a meeting last week to discuss the petition filed surrounding the open space debate.

“Regardless of personal opinions, we [the members of the committee] support the proposal of the people of our town to be heard and clarify open space,” said Logue.  

Nearly a dozen members of the committee had signed the MSOS petition, according to Logue. 

“We strongly urge our council,” said Logue, “to support the people in Moorestown in clarifying the meaning of open space.”

KJL July 28, 2011 at 11:52 AM
Carmen - The answer to some of your questions can be found in Open Space Master Plan document, link below. It is, I blieve, intended as a guide for Council in how to puruse an effective Open Space Program. I will also re-post some of my observations from the Mater Plan. Here is the link to the Open Space and Recreation Plan Element document. http://www.moorestown.nj.us/pubs/161/3480.pdf
KJL July 28, 2011 at 11:53 AM
I attended the Open Space Advisory Committee meeting on 6-30 to try to understand how that group works. I posed a question the Chair, Mr. Shaw about how the properties are selected for OS acquisition and he directed me to a document, entitled “Open Space and Recreation Plan Element”, as prepared by the Planning Board. I found the answer to my question but I also found a lot of very interesting information such as: •Page IV-11: “Facility Needs” – This section discusses the high level of usage on the township’s fields, the dire need for maintenance and the need for rest, acknowledging rest is unlikely given the usage. • Page IV-12: “Guidelines for Adequacy of Open Space” – It appears that the desirable goal for an Open Space Program, according to Green Acres, in Moorestown based upon future population projection is 180 acres. As of 2009, we had 666 acres of Open Space, which is more than three times the desirable amount. It goes on to say that it recommends 3% of municipal land area is set aside of Open Space. Moorestown as of 2009 was at 7%, more than double the desirable amount. There are similar numbers using the National Park Association guidelines.
KJL July 28, 2011 at 11:53 AM
Page IV-20: “Recommendation for Open Space and Recreation” – This section begins with the statement “The following recommendations are made to fulfill the goals and objectives for Open Space in Moorestown” and goes on to list, among others, the following recommendations: o Part 3 – “..meet the demand in the future through adequate budgets for capital improvements and maintenance….” o Part 5 – “Continue the roles of RAC and OSAC in the planning for recreation and Open Space acquisitions in relation to this document” o Part 6 – “Utilize professional site planning assistance…to create a consensus plan for the development of recreational facilities” – The township did this with Taylor Design and it is basis for the KIDS recommendations. o Part 10 – “Continue to upgrade and maintain the existing park facilities and to develop a capital projects plan” – Isn’t this what KIDS is all about???? Please read the entire document so that nothing is taken out of context. What I don’t understand is why, if such a document exists to direct the Open Space Program in Moorestown, are we arguing about doing things that this guidance document tells Council to do??????
Ginger Hayes July 28, 2011 at 01:34 PM
I've asked the Hine's that question no less than half dozen times. All we get in response is they don't want to use it for rec. never why or how it would factually effect the OS fund or it's ability to do as THEY wish.
KJL July 28, 2011 at 09:04 PM
DoneWithIt - I understand and agree with your point. I just went off on a tagent, sorry about that. What seems to be confusing people is this concept of state and county matching. You are correct in that by spending money from the Fund for purposes other than acquisition, the Towbnsip not losing money. The money is still there but it cannot be accessed until land is acquired....which won't be for 4 or 5 years. The Township already has vastly exceeded the recommendations for Open Space acquisition and there are no deals currently in process and I do not believe there is even a seller that is interested...so what are we saving millions of dollars for?

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