Sussex (NJ) Voters Approve County Conservation Fund

Sussex County, NJ: As they went to the polls yesterday, voters in Sussex County faced an important choice, and it wasn’t only who to elect as the next President of the United States or Senator from New Jersey. They also had to decide whether it was worth raising their own taxes to help preserve the county’s farmland and open space. With the votes counted, it is clear that Sussex voters saw land conservation as a good investment. The ballot question on establishing a county farmland and open space preservation fund passed with a remarkable 73% yes vote.

“We are thrilled that the people of Sussex County voted so overwhelmingly to preserve their agricultural and natural heritage,” said Chris Wells, public finance manager at the Trust for Public Land. “Voters understood that this measure would put the county’s existing farmland preservation program on sounder financial ground, and give municipalities new help their with local parks and open space projects,” said Wells.

“We are delighted to work in partnership with the county and local towns to preserve farmland and open space,” said Michael Catania, executive director of The Nature Conservancy of New Jersey. “The Conservancy has been active in Sussex County for a number of years and we are very pleased that the area’s residents feel so strongly about protecting their natural heritage.”

By voting yes on Tuesday, county residents agreed to provide 2 cents per $100 dollars of assessed value, or approximately $32 dollars per year for the average household. This dedicated funding will generate $1.6 million per year for farmland and open space preservation.

“I want to sincerely thank the voters for this overwhelming show of support for the County’s existing farmland preservation program,” said Donna Traylor, who coordinates the 14-year-old program. “Preserving our farmland and open spaces provides benefits that not only we, as well as every succeeding generation, will be able to appreciate and enjoy,” said Traylor.

Before yesterday’s vote, Sussex was one of only four New Jersey counties without a conservation trust fund. One hundred and twenty New Jersey municipalities have also already established open space funding mechanisms by voter referendum. Eighteen additional municipal initiatives were voted on yesterday.

The county began educating voters about the measure this summer with a brochure that was distributed to municipalities and handed out at events like the Sussex County Farm and Horse Show and the New Jersey State Fair. In late October, the measure gained bi-partisan endorsements from all five county Freeholders as well as the Republican and Democratic freeholder candidates. Over the last weekend before Election Day, the Trust for Public Land and The Nature Conservancy of New Jersey helped mobilize voters by mailing information on the issue to approximately 40,000 likely voters around the county.

The Nature Conservancy and Trust for Public Land had worked with the county on the farmland/ open space conservation measure since early this year. In April, the two groups commissioned a survey of county voters that revealed strong support for a referendum to establish a county trust fund for farmland and open space conservation. The County Board of Freeholders used the survey information to help them shape the final question that was put on the ballot.

For up to date results for open space referenda nationwide, visit The Trust for Public Land’s Public Finance Program has helped states, counties and municipalities secure approximately $21 billion in new funding for parks and land conservation since 1994 and is currently in the middle of a five-year effort to help communities generate $20 billion in conservation funding. During yesterday’s election, voters across the country voted on ballot initiatives totaling more than $4 billion for land conservation. TPL worked directly on 54 of the 90 open space measures that went to voters around the nation yesterday.

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. With its state office in Morristown, TPL has protected more than 13,000 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 47,000 acres and has completed over 300 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.