Morris County (NJ) Votes for Open Space
Morristown, NJ, 11/7/01: As they went to the polls yesterday, voters in Morris County faced an important choice, and it wasn’t just who to elect as New Jersey’s next Governor. They also had to decide whether it was worth raising their own taxes to help preserve more of the county’s open space and farmland. With the votes counted, Morris voters overwhelmingly decided that land conservation is a good investment, even in uncertain times. The referendum to increase the county open space tax by an additional two cents per $100 dollars of assessed value, to a new total of five cents per $100 passed by a two to one margin. The Morris referendum was one of the biggest open space funding measure facing voters nationwide.
“We are absolutely thrilled. The victory margin was significantly wider than it was for the county’s last open space tax referendum in 1998, which was half the size, and took place at the peak of the economic boom. I think last night’s result proves that open space conservation remains a top priority for voters, even in these uncertain economic times,” said Chris Wells, Conservation Finance Manager for the Trust for Public Land (TPL). “Morris County residents will benefit tremendously from the passage of this referendum that will protect land and water quality for generations to come.”
The increase translates to an extra $20 per year—or about 40 cents a week—for each $100,000 of a home’s county assessment. The additional levy will be implemented gradually, but once fully in place it will generate $25-30 million per year for land conservation in the county—the largest amount raised by any county for this purpose in New Jersey.
The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit land conservation organization, organized a broad supporting coalition called the Committee for Morris Parks, Open Space and Clean Water to educate voters about the measure and help ensure its victory. TPL worked to recruit committee members, raise funds, and secure endorsements from organizations, public officials and municipal governments.
The Committee’s membership includes prominent conservationists, business people and eminent citizens including former Governor Thomas Kean and former NJ Supreme Court Justice Stewart Pollock. The final roster of endorsements included thirty-two organizations, including groups focused on land conservation, water quality, and outdoor recreation. United Taxpayers of New Jersey, the tax watchdog group also supported the referendum. The measure was also endorsed by all seven Morris County Freeholders, the vast majority of the county’s representatives in the State Senate and Assembly, and Morris County’s Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen.
“County residents recognize that their quality of life is directly linked to having adequate parks and places to enjoy recreational opportunities and to have clean drinking water, which means protecting critical watershed lands,” said Franklin E. Parker, co-chair of the Committee for Morris Parks, Open Space and Clean Water. The same awareness has spurred similar funding efforts throughout the state and across the country, with more than 150 measures before voters in 2001.
“This huge victory would not have happened without the support and hard work of many, many people,” said Leigh Rae, director of TPL’s New Jersey Field Office. “The County Board of Freeholders showed real leadership in putting such a significant increase on the ballot, and they gave the measure their unanimous and enthusiastic support from day one. We are also tremendously grateful to all the organizations, elected officials and town governments who endorsed the referendum, and those who actively worked to help get it passed. Most of all, we salute the people of Morris County for giving the referendum their overwhelming support.”
The Trust for Public Land specializes in conservation real estate, applying its expertise in negotiation, public finance, and law to protect land for people. TPL conserves land for people to improve the quality of life in communities and to protect natural and historic resources for future generations. Founded in 1972, and based in San Francisco, TPL has protected more than 1.3 million acres of land valued at $2.3 billion. With its state office in Morristown, the Trust for Public Land has protected more than 13,500 acres of land in New Jersey.
Franklin E. Parker, Chair,Leslie E. Smith, Jr., Co-Chair,Michelle Byers,Nicholas A. Cameron, Michael Catania,Sally Dudley,,David Epstein,Sally R. Epstein,James G. Gilbert, Honorable Thomas H. Kean, Robert F. Lewis, Jr.,Joseph J. Maraziti, Jr., Nancy Miller-Rich, David F. Moore,Bart Oates, Robert Perry, Honorable Stewart G. Pollack, Honorable Kathryn A. Porter,Peter Simon,Thomas Welsh
Elected Officials: Richard H. Bagger, State Assembly, LD 22, Kip Bateman, State Assembly, LD 16,Peter J. Biondi, State Assembly, LD 16, Anthony Bucco, State Senate, LD 25,Douglas R. Cabana, Director, Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders,Michael Patrick Carroll, State Assembly, LD 25, Alex DeCroce, State Assembly, LD 26,Frank J. Druetzler, Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders, Guy R. Gregg, State Assembly, LD 24,John Inglesino, Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders Walter Kavanaugh, State Senate, LD 16,Thomas Kean Jr., State Assembly LD 22,Cecilia G. Laureys, Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders,Robert E. Littell, State Senate, LD 24,Robert J. Martin, State Senate, LD 26, Eric Munoz, MD, State Assembly, LD 21,John J. Murphy, Deputy Director, Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders,Margaret Nordstrom Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders Joseph Pennacchio, State Assembly, LD 26,Jack J. Schrier, Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders
Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions Friends of the Sparta Mountains, Inc., Great Swamp Watershed Association, Harding Land Trust, Highlands Coalition,League to Save Open Space Morris 2000, Morris Land Conservancy,Morris Trails Conservancy,Nature Conservancy of New Jersey,New Jersey Audubon, New Jersey Conservation Foundation, New Jersey Future, New Jersey Recreation and Parks Association, New Jersey State Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs,New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, Pequannock River Coalition,Protect Our Wetlands, Water and Woods,Pyramid Mountain Committee,Schiff Natural Lands Trust,South Branch Watershed Association,Trout Unlimited, Central Jersey Chapter,Trout Unlimited, East Jersey Chapter,Trout Unlimited, Hacklebarney Chapter,Trout Unlimited, North Jersey Chapter,Trust for Public Land,Upper Raritan Watershed Association,Upper Rockaway River Watershed Association,United Taxpayers of New Jersey,Whippany River Watershed Action Committee