Thursday, January 28th, 2010

In an effort to keep a lid on county taxes, the Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders on Jan. 27 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 2 cents per $100 of assessed property value, down from its 2009 level of 3 cents.

Estimates are that the new rate will save the county approximately $10.3 million, and will generate between $20 million and $21 million this year to help fund projects designed to preserve open space and farmland and protect the county’s drinking water resources.

Freeholder Director Gene Feyl said the savings from the tax reduction will be applied to the county’s 2010 operating budget and will help the freeholders meet their goal of developing a spending plan that keeps taxes flat or reduces taxes.

“Preservation of our open space remains an important initiative in the county,” Feyl said. “But, over the past few years, open space applications have declined, and in today’s difficult economic climate, a tax reduction is warranted.”

The freeholders said bringing the open space tax down from 3 cents per $100 of assessed property value to 2 cents would result in a $40 tax cut on a home assessed at $400,000, and would not have a negative impact on preservation programs.

The freeholders in 2009 approved more than $14 million in funding for 17 municipal and non-profit open space projects totaling 1,049 acres in 12 towns.

Since the Open Space program began awarding grants in 1994, more than 21,900 acres of open space in Morris County have been funded for preservation. Morris County voters approved the program in November 1992.

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.