Friday, February 25th, 2011

The Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders on Feb. 23 approved a measure reducing the tax rate used to fund the county’s Open Space, Farmland and Historic Preservation Trust Fund.

The dedicated open space tax this year will be set at 1 ½ cents per $100 of assessed property value, down from its 2010 level of 2 cents.

The freeholders said the new rate will still generate approximately $15 million this year to help fund projects designed to preserve open space and farmland and protect the county’s drinking water resources.

The freeholders said the savings from the tax reduction will be applied to the county’s 2011 operating budget and will help them reduce the gross county tax levy for the third consecutive year.

Funding requests for open space applications from towns and non-profits in 2009 were down, and while requests rebounded last year, the projects that received funding still did not fully expend the dollars that were available.

The freeholders last year approved more than $17.7 million in funding for 15 municipal and non-profit open space projects totaling 738.1 acres in 13 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.

Since the Open Space Program began awarding grants in 1994, more than 22,000 acres, or approximately 34 square miles of open space in Morris County have been funded for preservation, slightly larger than the size of Mount Olive Township.

Morris County voters approved the program in November 1992.