Residents will vote on open space tax

At issue is a drop in the tax rate from 3 to 2 cents per $100 of assessed value

BY DAVE BENJAMIN Staff Writer

Jackson residents will be able to have a say as to how much Jackson’s local open space tax assessment should be when they go to the polls Nov. 3 to vote on a binding referendum.

Jackson Township Council members voted 4-0 at their Aug 11 meeting to give voters the opportunity to determine if a decrease in the open space tax from 3 cents to 2 cents is acceptable.

Voting to place the question before residents this fall were council members Ann Updegrave, Scott Martin, Bobbie Rivere and Howard Tilis. Council President Mike Kafton abstained on the vote.

The binding referendum question that will appear on the Nov. 3 ballot is expected to read, “Shall the township open space trust fund be amended to reduce the amount of the levy for open space from 3 cents per $100 valuation to 2 cents per $100 valuation?”

The council’s vote gives the Ocean County clerk’s office authorization to print the question and an interpretive statement on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.

Kafton said at the Aug. 11 meeting that there is no greater issue than the purchase of open space, which, he said, has the effect of decreasing the number of new homes to be built as well as reducing educational expenses and school taxes caused by the need for additional schools, teachers, buses, equipment and materials.

“The mayor asked the council to put on [the ballot] a referendum asking the voters if they want to reduce the open space tax of 3 cents,” said Kafton. “Because of the revaluation [of all property in Jackson], we actually collect more money now [through the open space assessment].”

Jackson officials recently conducted a revaluation of all properties in the municipality. The increased property values combined with the 3-cent open space tax rate yield more revenue for the town’s open space trust fund.

A reduction in the open space tax rate such as the one being proposed in the public question will save property owners money, although it will lower the revenue for the open space trust fund.

“Right now, because of the revaluation, we will be going from collecting $900,000 a year to $2 million a year [for the open space trust fund],” said Kafton. “The difference for the average house that was assessed at $150,000 [prior to the revaluation] and today is assessed at $330,000-plus, is $46 a year to preserve open space in Jackson.”

Kafton noted that surrounding communities have become overcrowded and said it is the job of elected officials to put politics aside and protect the investments of residents.

“This is a drastically changing community,” he said.

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Kafton listed 17 proposed or approved residential developments that are expected to add 2,892 homes to Jackson. He also noted the cost per pupil associated with the construction of those homes, which he said could add about 3,800 more students to the school system.

In November 2001, residents voted to approve the establishment of an open space trust fund in Jackson, which provided funding for the purchase of property in the township that would be used for active recreation, passive recreation and waterquality protection. The initial open space tax rate was 1.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

In November 2004, residents approved an increase in the open space tax rate to 3 cents per 100 of assessed valuation.

This year residents will be asked if they want to lower that rate from 3 cents to 2 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

In a document prepared by Township Attorney George Gilmore, it was noted that a vote to lower the rate from 3 cents to 2 cents would result in the open space tax being reduced to the point that it would produce the same amount of funds that it collected in 2008 — $900,000 — and with $740,000 dedicated to debt service for prior acquisitions, this would leave $160,000 each year for new open space acquisitions.

If the open space tax rate remains at 3 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, generating $2 million in open space funds, approximately $1.26 million would be available for new open space acquisitions after the debt service is paid, according to the documents.

During the public portion of the meeting, resident Irving Leveson said buying a few open space parcels here and there will not stop the problem of overdevelopment.

“Keep the resolution on the ballot and let the voters decide whether or not they would like to have a tax increase, which is what this is,” said Leveson.

One resident said part of the problem is overdevelopment, which will never be under control unless the township changes some of its land use ordinances.

Resident Martin Spielman said people have a right to make a decision for themselves. He questioned how much money has been spent on open space during the past three years.

He said a development Hovbilt has plans to build in the Cassville section of Jackson was supposed to be an age-restricted development of 965 units and now it is up to 1,250 units. He said some of the units may no longer have an age restriction.

“That’s a lot of people. Maybe you ought to see what’s going on before you tell us what to do,” he said, adding that officials should pursue more commercial development.

Resident Sharon Williams said the decision regarding the open space tax rate should be left to the voters.

“I’d like to see open space preserved, but the decision should be left to the voters,” said Williams.

Sean Giblin, a former mayor and a former running mate with Kafton, said it would be absurd to lower the amount of the open space tax assessment.

“Have we ever asked Ocean County to reduce its open space tax rate?” Giblin asked the council.

Rivere said she supports putting the question before voters.

Martin said putting the open space assessment at 2 cents would be responsible.

Tilis said the 2-cent open space tax rate would provide enough dollars, and Councilwoman Ann Updegrave also gave the go-ahead for the referendum.

Kafton said he hopes voters will elect to keep the open space tax rate at 3 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

Contact Dave Benjamin at dbenjamin@gmnews.com.