From the Herald News:
Towns worry open space funds may be limited
By ASHLEY KINDERGAN
If state funds for environmental preservation are allowed to dry up next year, the burden of creating and maintaining green space will fall to counties and municipalities, local officials said.
Passaic County and municipal officials said recently that they are concerned about a debate in Trenton about how to continue paying for preserving open space. The Garden State Preservation Trust, which provides money to municipalities and nonprofit organizations to preserve open space, farmland, and historical sites, is set to run out of cash after fiscal year 2008 unless state officials restore funding.
Municipalities typically rely on state and county grants to supplement their own funds when making major improvements to or purchasing open space. Without state money, local governments worry about their ability to continue preserving land without hitting taxpayers harder in the wallet.
If the state is not able to cough up cash, officials fear the burden would fall heavily onto the county’s Passaic County Open Space and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund. The fund uses county tax revenues and gave out $1.7 million this year.
Kathleen Caren, county open space coordinator, worries that those communities will begin to ask for more from the county if the state can no longer provide funds.
The fund was designed to last 10 years, and the money will run out in July of next year. Many politicians and environmentalists have lobbied for a referendum this November that would ask the public to approve a $175 million bond sale to be paid back by sales tax revenue. But Gov. Jon S. Corzine has said that though he wants to fund the program, he does not want to do so by increasing bond debt or using sales tax revenue.
This year, the fund has $155 million left, of which $40 million has been allocated for open space; $69 million to farmland preservation; and $6 million for historical site preservation, Siegel said.The Green Acres staff is still reviewing how to allocate the remaining $45 million, Siegel said. The proposed 2008 state budget includes $25 million in additional money. The total is still less than has been spent in previous years.