MIDDLETOWN, NJ - The words ‘essential’ and ‘nonessential’ have often been used throughout the covid-19 pandemic, as people continue to differentiate between necessities and luxuries. On Wednesday, Sept. 16, Mayor Tony Perry commenced his open space campaign, in favor of the Open Space Trust Fund referendum, making it clear that he believes preserving open space in Middletown is always essential. 

“The future generations of this town depend on it, and all of us want to ensure that our children and our grandchildren will have the Middletown that we enjoy today,” Perry said.

He was joined by Monmouth County Freeholder Director Tom Arnone, Middletown Township Committeewoman Pat Snell and Committeeman Rick Hibell, and several nonprofit environmental organizations, at Poricy Park, as they collectively vocalized their support of the referendum at an outside press conference on Wednesday morning.

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The Middletown Open Space Trust Fund collects $.02 per $100 in equalized valuation from residents yearly. The referendum, which will appear on the Nov. 3 General Election ballot, proposes a slight increase to $.03 per $100 in equalized valuation. The Open Space Trust Fund was created in 1998 and has not been modified since 2002, according to Perry.

Despite the fact that changes haven’t been introduced in nearly two decades, Perry said the trust fund has been working with the county and has acquired over $25 million worth of acquisitions. If the referendum passes, Perry said Middletown will be able to purchase more open space, while improving recreational facilities and maintaining its current open spaces.

A series of speakers shared their own personal reasons for supporting the referendum. Cindy Zipf, executive director at Clean Ocean Action, revealed that climate change is hers.  “Climate change is real and open space helps mitigate and reduce climate change,” Zipf said.

Middletown is facing environmental threats from rising sea levels and preserving open space will help lessen them, according to Zipf. She said trees are capable of reducing flooding and pollution, among other problems/solutions.

Besides combating climate change, Zipf believes open space is important to a person’s wellbeing. Committeewoman Patricia Snell shares the same sentiment.

“We all became acutely aware of how important open space is when the covid-19 pandemic hit,” Snell said.

Since Middletown kept its parks  open throughout the pandemic, Snell shared that she would often go for walks in the parks with her family and noticed that other families were doing the same. She said the parks gave her and other Middletown residents a place to go during a time when there was very little to do.

Steven and Pat Miller, co-founders of Middletown for Clean Energy, also enjoy visiting Middletown parks with their families. Pat shared that they recently went fossil hunting with their grandson in Poricy Creek. As longtime climate change advocates, they are passionate about reducing carbon emissions and leaving behind a sustainable planet.

“It’s all about preserving for the future generations,” Steven said.

Perry encourages all residents to vote in favor of the referendum that will appear on the General Election ballot on Nov. 3.

“We are taking that next step in history,” Perry said. “We should all be a part of it.”