To the editor:

This is in response to the letter to the editor, “We Can Save Land and Cut Taxes” by Raritan Township Committeeman Craig O’Brien.

The title of the letter is true, but not in the way he means it. What he means is that we will buy a very little bit of land by cutting the open space tax! What does actually keep taxes in check is the preservation of open space. Here is where we are now:

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  • Total Area of Raritan Township                                        24,121.60 Acres
  • Total Area of Preserved Public Open Space                       2,445.73 Acres
  • Total Area of Preserved Farm Land                                    1,360.81 Acres
  • Total Percentage of Preserved Open Space                             15.78

The first step of O’Brien’s grand plan, which was effected by recent ordinance, is to reduce the open space tax over the next five years from 1.5 cents per $100 of assessed value after the first year to 1 cent to 0.8 cents to 0.5 cents for the final two years. He says he wants to acquire 300 acres of open space by 2021 and another 700 acres by 2031 and to do so would require $2.25 million. Without context, 1,000 acres seems like a lot, but in actuality it is a pittance. One thousand acres equals about 4 percent of the Raritan Township land area and that acquisition would bring us up to 14 percent of preserved public open space and 19.92 percent total preserved land. The two towns that I referenced in a previous letter to the editor as places that we did not want to emulate have well over 25 percent of just preserved public open space! So obviously his plan puts us on a path to overdevelopment. In 15 years, it is most probable that much or most if not all of the open space and/or farms that are not preserved and/or acquired will be developed.

As I have previously noted, the total “tax burden” that O’Brien proposes to save us from by reducing the Open Space tax from 1.5 cents to 0.5 cents is $40 per year for the average homeowner. The impact on the homeowner is inconsequential, but on the township it is devastating. Here is why.

The recently adopted open space funding scheme will leave no funds for new open space and farmland preservation projects for the next five years because of loan payments on past open space loans. The new ordinance results in a negative cash flow of $158,000 in 2018, $233,000 in 2019 and $213,000 in 2020. In fact, the annual rates as adopted are projected to result in a fund deficit in 2020 of nearly $70,000.  Without Open Space funding, the township cannot leverage significant grants available from other sources, including Hunterdon County and state funds.

Only 10 percent of Raritan Township is state, county, municipal and non-profit public open space. While almost 1,500 acres have also been placed in farmland preservation, many large farms remain unprotected. There are substantial undeveloped and unprotected farmland and environmentally sensitive lands that should be protected for the quality of life in our township, to provide clean and plentiful water supply, to control flooding, to provide recreation and to maintain the important agricultural segment of our local economy. In order to prevent the remainder of our forests and farms from being densely developed we need to be protecting these important lands now.

The residents of Raritan Township have consistently and overwhelmingly approved open space referenda including the very modest open space tax of 2 cents per $100 of assessed value to support open space preservation.

It is time that Committeemen O’Brien, Louis Reiner and Richard Chen began to listen to the people who elected them, not the special interests or developers or political bosses.

L. John Belle II, Raritan Township