Voorhees, NJ, Votes for Open Space Levy

VOORHEES, NJ, 11/7/03: Voorhees voters have made their views regarding open space known: they want more of it protected and are willing to pay. Today, 68 percent of township voters approved the creation of a township Open Space and Farmland Protection Trust Fund to be funded by a 3.5-cent open space levy. The Trust Fund, which is expected to generate approximately $485,000 annually, will be used to protect the township’s last remaining open spaces, like Stafford Farm and the Kresson Golf Course, the town’s top preservation priorities.

Funds approved by the voters will also be used to preserve other open space properties that protect the water quality of township’s rivers, lakes, and streams, protect farmland, or preserve open space in its natural state.

“Voorhees voters have spoken loudly and clearly,” said Leigh Rae, director of the Trust for Public Land’s New Jersey Office. “They want their last remaining open spaces protected to preserve their quality of life now and for future generations.”

The Trust for Public Land’s Conservation Finance program assisted township officials in designing the open space measure and assisted the Citizens to Protect Voorhees Water, Farmland, and Open Space, a committee formed to promote the referendum, in educating voters about the measure.

The referendum authorized an open space levy of 3.5 cents per $100 of assessed property value. This means an average contribution of $2.92 a month or $35 a year for the owner of a property assessed at $100,000.

The township Open Space Trust Fund will allow Voorhees to triple its monies for preservation by leveraging funds from county, state, federal, and private sources to protect open space and farmland. Every $1 raised by the township can be matched with almost $2 from Camden County’s Open Space Trust Fund, the state’s Green Acres program, federal land and water protection grants, and private contributions.

Voorhees voters joined voters in 78 communities-including 37 other communities in New Jersey-in 17 states across the country in voting on new funds for land conservation. Twenty of 21 New Jersey counties had previously adopted an open space trust fund levy. Today, voters in the final county-Hudson County-also considered establishing an open space trust fund.

A $150 million open space constitutional amendment was also on the ballot in New Jersey. Known as Question 1, this measure will allow the state to increase its bonding capacity for open space protection from $1 billion to $1.15 billion. Due to low interest rates this will not require an increase in taxes. The taxes used to repay these bonds were approved by an earlier constitutional amendment that New Jersey voters approved in 1998.

A complete list of results from local and state ballot measures on conservation and parks will be available on-line tomorrow at www.landvote.org, a partnership of the Trust for Public Land and the Land Trust Alliance. The results of Tuesday’s votes will also be published as a report in early 2004.

Earlier in 2003, 34 ballot measures for land conservation were approved by voters in 15 states. In total, they raised $546 million for conservation-related purposes.

Most of the measures tabulated by LandVote are property tax increases or general obligation bonds. Bonds are a way for communities to borrow money in order to save land now, while paying off the debt over the next 20 or 30 years. The dollar amounts of each measure are either the total amount of the bond, or in the case of a new tax, the total of the revenue created over the lifetime of the levy (usually 10 to 20 years). When a ballot measure contains no sunset provision, LandVote estimates its revenue total based on a 20-year duration.

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national nonprofit land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, and other natural places, ensuring livable communities for generations to come. Established in 1972, TPL is the only national nonprofit working exclusively to protect land for human enjoyment and well-being.