HILLSBOROUGH: Open space tax debate enlivens fall campaign

There’ll be a lot of discussion over public question on the ballot

   Hillsborough was on its way to a pretty dull fall election — until this week.
   Gov. Christie is steamrolling toward a landslide re-election. The U.S. Senate race is over in October. Local Democrats don’t have a candidate yet for Township Committee. No one gets excited that much about races for state Assembly and Senate. We will vote on raising the state minimum wage, and we’ll know soon if we will vote on memorializing $200 million a year from the sales tax for state open space.
   Now the Township Committee has pushed to the ballot a measure to ask to allow the local government to take 20 percent of future township open space funds and use it for capital improvements in recreation and open space.
   If Tuesday night’s meeting is any indication — and we think it is — this is a hot button for lots of people on both sides of the issue.
   ’The measure, if it passes the public referendum, would start building a kitty of $300,000 or so a year for baseball backstops, paved walking and biking paths, trails through the woods — and maybe water fountains, restrooms and even expensive turf fields.
   To coaches of youth athletic fields, there’s a lot of possibility there. To “passive” recreation enthusiasts, like walkers, paddlers and rock climbers, there would be opportunities to “improve” the outdoors so people who paid for the land could actually use it.
   There’s a sizeable group of people that believes you don’t actually have to run, throw a ball or assemble a crowd on a piece of preserved land to give it value. There is a myriad of reasons why wooded, wet and fertile property justifies itself many times over by protecting the water supply, preventing potential disaster in storms, cooling the planet and giving a home to birds and animals.
   A successful referendum would open up the possibility to more imminent recreation facilities — from bandstands to bathrooms to ballfields — by tapping a narrowly defined source of revenue and not adding a tax burden.
   Many people will consider that a good thing, a return on their investment in their lifetime. Others would consider it shortsighted, failing to look at saving green areas of Hillsborough for people to enjoy in 2050.
   You might already have an opinion on the question. But we’ll hear a lot more about it over the next months.