Thursday, January 29th, 2009

The Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders has approved a measure reducing the tax rate used to fund the county Open Space, Farmland and Historic Preservation Trust Fund.

The dedicated open space tax this year will be set at 3 cents per $100 of assessed property value, down from its 2008 level of 4 cents. Estimates are that the new rate will generate between $34 and $35 million this year to help fund projects designed to preserve open space and farmland and protect drinking water resources in the county.

In reducing the tax, the freeholders said while preservation remains an important initiative in the county, today’s difficult economic climate warranted the tax reduction. The freeholders said reducing the tax by one cent will not have a negative impact on the preservation programs.

They said the action preserves the integrity of the programs and also gives some relief to county taxpayers. Increased competition for preservation funds may also create opportunities for lower land acquisition prices.

Voters approved the creation of the trust fund in 1992, and the freeholders started the program the following year. Since then, more than 17,700 acres have been preserved.

The freeholders in 2008 approved more than $23 million in funding for 21 municipal and non-profit open space projects totaling more than 700 acres in 16 towns.

Any of the 39 municipalities in the county and qualified charitable conservancies are eligible to apply for open space funding. The open space tax also funds acquisition of county parkland and preserves and protects historic sites throughout Morris County.