Recreation, open space preservation tax OK’d

Staff Writer

Recreation, open space
preservation tax OK’d
Staff Writer

HOWELL — Voters have narrowly approved a binding referendum that will increase taxpayer contributions to the municipal open space fund.

Several Monmouth County municipalities had similar open space questions on the Nov. 4 ballot, but Howell voters were the only ones to approve one. Voters here will pay an additional 1 cent per $100 of assessed valuation to be used to purchase land for open space and recreational use. Property owners already pay a 1-cent tax assessment to preserve farmland. The total assessment will now be 2 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

That means the owner of a home assessed at $200,000 will now pay a total of $40 per year into the open space fund as part of their municipal tax. At present, that homeowner pays $20.

Speaking after the election, Mayor Timothy J. Konopka noted that the approval "squeaked by" with a vote of 2,897 in favor to 2,796 opposed.

"The people that voted against it shouldn’t be alarmed," Konopka said. "We will only spend the money where it is best spent and will make the most difference."

John Costigan, who heads Howell’s Preservation Task Force, said the same open space initiative was voted down in all of the other Monmouth County towns that proposed it. He said he was extremely happy that Howell voters approved it, even if by a narrow margin.

"It seemed to be a trend in Monmouth County that voters on a whole were voting to defeat these open space budgets," Costigan said. "We lucked out. We had enough voters in Howell that saw the value of it."

Costigan said residents should be aware that the state used to require towns to contribute only 4 percent toward the purchase a farm for preservation. The state now requires municipalities to contribute 16 percent, he said.

"We need every penny," said Costigan, who added that he expects 14 farms to be added to the town’s preservation program by the end of 2004.

Former mayor Suzanne Veitengruber said the acquisition of land for recreation should be a priority, as should the preservation of historic sites.

"If you look at the number of children now residing in this town, I don’t know how you can’t consider purchasing land for recreation a priority," she said. "It keeps kids off the street. Do you want them hanging out at the Stop N’ Shop or the new mall, or do you want them playing soccer or football or what else?"

Also, Veitengruber said, the acquisition of land for recreation does not mean just sports venues for children, but also much needed recreation space for residents of all ages.

As an example, Veitengruber referred to the hiking, biking and boating that is available at the Manasquan Reservoir, a recreation gem she said she was proud to have been involved with bringing to Howell.

"People don’t know how hard we worked to get that here," she said. "It is extremely important to preserve what we have here."