Our Opinion: Preserve Preservation and Open Space Funding… Again

In 1992, voters approved a non-binding referendum to create the Morris County Open Space and Farmland Preservation Trust by a two-to-one margin. After years of successful land and historical preservation, the Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders are intent on clawing back the Open Space trust fund for unintended uses, such as buffer zones and balancing budgets.

On November 4, voters can make their voices heard by voting “No” on a County referendum about trail maintenance that seems like a good idea, but is actually a takeaway.

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The County’s question will not set aside more money, but will add trails to the mix of programs that can be funded as part of the county’s open space effort. The Freeholders spin this move by saying it could attract employers. Doubtful. What the Freeholders are really doing is working to wrest control of the Trust to pay their bills and for political grandstanding.

Morris County voters will face a second question on land preservation. New Jersey announced a referendum to use 4% percent of the corporate business tax currently dedicated to environmental programs for State open space initiatives. The share of the revenue would rise to 6% after five years. Governor Chris Christie opposes this. We are in favor and ask you to vote “Yes” on the State initiative to protect funding. On Nov. 4, you can also vote in candidates who take a stand to preserve what’s great about Morris County, while working to make it better for our families and businesses.

Incumbents want to end the open space program, so they chip away at it. The Freeholders cut the county Open Space Fund for seven years straight so they can say they are keeping the property tax rate flat—while they increase spending and slash services. This year, the board has weakened the Rules and Regulations for the Morris County Preservation Trust Fund by adding three amendments.

Not only does the seven-member board target the Open Space Trust for regular expenses, like trail maintenance, they’re considering a proposal to use $3 million of the fund for a developer’s buffer zone for the Waterview Development in Parsippany. Parsippany voters and Democratic Freeholder candidate Matt Davis (an author of this letter and challenger to Freeholder Hank Lyon) spoke against this misuse of public money for private gain at a recent Freeholder meeting, but there was no public debate or discussion among the 100% Republican Board of Chosen Freeholders.

Until the legislators can be trusted to use the Trust for what it was meant for, let’s keep the Trust separate. Please vote No on the County referendum to pay for trails. It’s a matter of Trust.

Davis is the Democratic candidate for Morris County Freeholder, Dunec is the Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 11th District, and Tannous is the Democratic candidate for Morris County Surrogate