Council Members Upset With Passaic County’s Allocation of Open Space Fund
WAYNE, NJ – Councilwoman-At-Large Jill Sasso showed surprise at last week’s town council meeting that Wayne is only allowed two applications per year for the Passaic County Open Space and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund despite millions that Wayne Township sends to the County each year.
Last week, the Wayne Town Council voted on two resolutions to apply for two grants from the Passaic County Open Space Fund. Each application was for $250,000.
Director of Parks and Recreation for the Township, Tim Roetman explained to the Council that the two grants would be used for larger scale projects. The first is for upgrades to the Tom’s Lake swimming area at Captain Kilroy Park and the second would be used for lighting upgrades to fields at Dave Waks Memorial Park.
“As most of you are already aware, the Township does send a portion of its tax dollars to Passaic County each year,” he said. “With those tax dollars, Passaic County operates an Open Space Preservation Trust Fund. Our Township and the other municipalities of Passaic County have the opportunity to apply for funding for open space, parks and recreation projects. We are allowed to make a maximum of two requests each year.”
After Roetman’s presentation, Sasso, looking perturbed, asked the Parks and Rec Director this question: “Did I understand you correctly, that despite the fact that the town gives millions of dollars to the County every year specific to the open space and farmland, we get two applications a year, and $250,000 is on the upper end of that?”
Sasso continued as Roetman nodded the answer while she spoke: “So, for millions of dollars, we get to maybe bid for $500,000? Did I get that right?”
“You are correct,” said Roetman calmly. He’s a professional who shows no emotion as he speaks at these meetings. “The County has set rules that limit the municipality to two applications, and the maximum dollar amount is $250,000 per application.”
“And, what percentage of these are awarded to our town?” asked Sasso.
“It varies year per year,” replied Roetman. “I will give you an example, in 2019, the Township submitted two applications. The large application was for a grant of $250,000 for the inclusive playground and to that, the Township received back from the County $125,000.”
“I think we are the single largest contributor to the County, so it’s a little bit concerning that this is the maximum amount we can go after,” said Sasso in obvious consternation. “That’s unfortunate.”
Roetman could only nod at this.
It has been stated more than once by both Ward Two Councilman Al Sadowski and Council President Joe Scuralli that they believe Wayne Township sends too much money to the County with not enough in return.
In October 2019, TAPinto Wayne interviewed Sadowski and he explained that Wayne pays over $70,000,000 annually to Passaic County. On top of this, the County charges over $1,000,000 the Township for the Open Space Fund.
“Several years ago, the County voted to create an Open Space tax with great intentions of preserving open space,” said Sadowski. “When it first started it was based on a certain percentage of assessed value or something along those lines and the amount was roughly $500K annually. But property values in Wayne and assessments have gone up, so that number is now over $1,000,000 a year that Wayne is providing to the Passaic County Open Space in addition to the $1,000,000 that taxpayers are paying into the Wayne Open Space Tax.”
Sadowski, at that time, also mentioned a bill the Township received from the County for $118,000. “This was an added assessment across both the Open Space Tax and the County Tax,” he said. “I can only speculate as to why, but perhaps there were some increased assessments. Whether it was residential or business, or something that came up new, I don’t know for certain. But, the County sent a letter saying: ‘Hey, in addition to the $70M that we are taking from you for the County tax, and in addition to the $1M we are taking from you for the Open Space, here’s another bill for another $118,000 for even more.”