The New Providence Borough Council instituted the Open Space Trust Fund in 2004. It provides for the collection of taxes for the purpose of acquiring open space within New Providence. This is not a new tax. The question in front of voters: Should the OSTF be used to fund improvements to existing open space, passive or active recreation facilities? In order to become an educated voter, I set out to read what I could find on the topic. In order to gain an important perspective, I thought it made sense to simply walk around the Borough and ask the questions; “am I happy with what I see?” and “what doesn’t belong and why?”
This approach reminded me of when my wife and I moved here in 1990. We weren’t initially in love with the house we were thinking about purchasing, but the charm of a small town with a great school system helped us see beyond all of the home’s flaws. We had ambition but honestly, anyone who’s seen a picture of that overgrown, un-kept property on Charnwood Road back then would think we were crazy to buy it. Some doubted our choice, but we carefully assessed the opportunity, developed a plan, accepted that it would take time and additional resources, but we took it on. Within my observations of our community infrastructure and I can’t help but believe the Borough needs to take the same approach.
As I traveled throughout New Providence over the past couple of months, I saw the only parcel of existing open space the Borough's acquired to date and while that decision to purchase was a wise one, the land remains a wooded lot adjacent to Veteran’s Park, impassible to walk through, aesthetically unpleasing and fallow compared to the park area itself. I walked to the rear of Lions Field off Livingston Avenue and saw a blighted area that time has forgotten about. I walked Hillview Field and saw a sprinkler system and drains that no longer work. I passed by Jaycee Park and saw a playground that doesn’t have a restroom, let alone a drinking fountain for our kids on hot summer days. I went past all the baseball fields and noticed rutted infields, weed inundated outfields and fences needing to be updated to perhaps meet current specifications. With all that New Providence offers, I could hear myself saying "what doesn't belong and why" because I clearly was not happy with what I saw.
These observations are not revelations to residents but serve as reminders to the property we already own that has fallen into disrepair and needing improvement. This is not an indictment of the administration’s lack of concern for the quality of existing open space, but perhaps a result of their concern to keep taxes low. However, I've concluded that in reality, we live within 3.6 square miles in which there isn’t a lot of open space left to acquire. That while we've admittedly not invested in the open space, park and recreational infrastructure we already own, that no one wants to see a tax increase to fund the improvements, which are necessary to improve the value of our “home,” or in this case, our community. At the same time, residents have to realize that when land is acquired through open space, it typically results in a ratable coming of the Borough's tax books, which requires a deficit offset by new revenues in the form of a tax increase, albeit a modest one.
We are compared against neighboring towns not only on athletic fields and in the quality of the education provided in the classroom, but also within the infrastructure and amenities within our community, all of which influence our property values. Unfortunately, we are losing the last battle. I urge you to take a quick trip to our neighboring towns to get the real picture of just how far behind New Providence has fallen, but also compel voters to take action to get us back in the game.
There’s $650,000 currently sitting in the OSTF, which increases $32,500 annually from the $7 collected from tax revenues that you already pay into municipal open space each year. Without much opportunity to put these funds to use to acquire land, we can pursue a balanced approach to open space by making necessary improvements to property we already own now while maintaining preparedness should opportunities arise to acquire land in the future. Our neighbors to the west in Chatham approved expanding the use of open space funds recently, which will help fuel plans to improve their infrastructure. To me, this is a wise and responsible path for New Providence to take as well, but every voter needs to get involved and help make it happen.
New Providence is the home of the Pioneers. According to Webster’s, a pioneer is not only one of the first to settle in a territory, but also a person or group that originates or helps open up a new line of thought or activity or a new method or technical development. The new line of thought in this case needs to be the choice to improve our community by making the necessary investment in our Borough property, and the new method is to accomplish this goal through expanding the use of open space funds instead of raising our taxes.
By voting “YES” on the Open Space Referendum on Nov. 8, you can help make it possible to fix up our open spaces, improve our community, our quality of life and increase our property values while maintaining fiscal responsibility within local government.
New Providence: Nice Place, Nice People... New Possibilities. Vote “YES” on Open Space on Nov. 8th.