Poll Shows Strong Support for Sussex Conservation Fund (NJ)

Sussex County, NJ: Results of a public opinion survey presented today to the Sussex County Freeholders show that County voters would strongly support a referendum to establish a county Land Conservation Trust Fund. A fund would provide a dedicated, stable source of county funding for land preservation. The poll also shows that voters support using a Trust Fund to protect farmland through existing county programs, and to preserve natural land that protects water quality and wildlife habitat and provides recreational opportunities.

Sixty-six percent of Sussex County voters interviewed support the establishment of a Land Conservation Trust Fund financed by an increase in property taxes at the level of two cents per $100 of assessed valuation. Implementation of such a measure would cost the average household $32 per year and would generate approximately $1.6 million annually.

A high majority (85%) of county voters support the protection of farmland from development through the County’s existing farmland preservation programs. When asked how they would like to see a Conservation Fund used, an equally high majority (85%) support the acquisition of natural land to preserve wildlife habitat. County voters also favor spending Trust Fund money to acquire land for active recreation, such as “town parks, ball fields, and playgrounds,” and passive recreation, such as “nature viewing, bicycling, and hiking” (69% and 68% respectively). Voters in the southern part of the county are most likely to favor using Trust Fund money for recreational uses. An overwhelming majority (94%) of the voters polled believe that acquiring natural land to protect water quality in the county’s rivers and streams is a very or somewhat important use of the revenue from such a Trust Fund.

When asked to choose between protecting farmland from development or protecting both farms and natural land from development, 66% of voters support protecting both farms and natural land, while just 29% support protecting only farmland from development.

Sponsored by the Trust for Public Land and The Nature Conservancy of New Jersey, the poll of 400 registered voters was conducted at the end of March by Raritan Associates, an independent research company based in Morristown.

“These findings strongly suggest that, given the opportunity, the people of Sussex County will vote to create a county Land Conservation Trust Fund,” said Chris Wells, Public Finance Manager for the Trust for Public Land. “A dedicated fund could give the county’s agricultural preservation program the stable source of revenue it needs, and help municipalities preserve local watersheds, habitat, and recreational space. Our two organizations hope to work closely with the county’s agricultural community to promote a referendum this fall,” Wells said.

“We are greatly encouraged that the residents of Sussex County are so supportive of farmland and open space preservation,” said Michael Catania, Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy of New Jersey. “The Nature Conservancy looks forward to working in partnership with both the county and local towns to accomplish this objective. The Conservancy has been active in Sussex County for a number of years, most recently in its role as lead partner in the preservation of Tranquility Farms.”

“The Trust for Public Land has helped preserve more than 2,500 acres in Sussex County,” said Leigh Rae, Director of TPL’s New Jersey Field Office. “We are pleased to be able to help the county on the important issue of funding their land conservation goals.”

Founded in 1972, the Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit organization that conserves land for people to improve the quality of life in our communities and to protect our natural and historic resources for future generations. In 1999, TPL launched its Greenprint for Growth campaign to help communities nationwide use land conservation as an effective tool for controlling sprawl, protecting air and water, and ensuring a high quality of life. With its state office in Morristown, the TPL has protected more than 12,500 acres of land in New Jersey.

The Nature Conservancy, established in 1951, is an international, nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive. Active in the Garden State since 1955, the Conservancy established the New Jersey Chapter in 1988. Within the state, the Conservancy has protected more than 42,000 acres and has completed over 280 conservation transactions with the help of corporate sponsors, foundations and 33,000 members. For more information, call the New Jersey Chapter Office in Chester at 908-879-7262.