Archive for the ‘Open Space’ Category

Open Space Tax Theft – 2017

Tonight’s freeholder meeting, two weeks before an election, will be packed with politicians, over-sized checks and preening for photo-ops.

PRESENTATION FROM THE BOARD
Check presentations will be made by the Board to the various grant recipients of the following grant programs: 2017 Kids Recreational Trust Grants; 2017 Greening Union County Grants; and the 2017 Preserving Union County Grants.

With these corresponding resolutions on the agenda:

2017-885: Authorizing the County Manager to award Kids Recreation Trust Fund 2017 grants to twenty (20) recipients in the County of Union in accordance with the Kids Recreation Trust grant criteria, as stated in said grant application, through the Open Space, Recreation and Historic Preservation Trust Fund, in an amount not to exceed $1,000,000.
2017-886: Authorizing the County Manager to award Greening Union County 2017 grants to (16) municipalities in the County of Union in accordance with the Greening Union County grant criteria, through the Open Space, Recreation and Historic Preservation Trust Fund, in an amount not to exceed $100,301.75.
2017-887: Authorizing the County Manager to award Preserve Union County 2017 grants to eleven (11) historic sites throughout the County of Union, in an amount not to exceed $300,000; in conjunction with and for the Open Space, Recreation and Historic Preservation Trust Fund.

The most pathetic aspect of this sick ritual is that, not only is it county officials giving municipalities back their own tax money, but that money being given back is only a fraction of what the county collects through the Open Space Trust Fund tax with the majority of the money going for the county’s budget these days, as we noted back in 2012.

Here are the updated numbers on the Open Space Trust Fund Tax Theft:

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UCCF 3/9/17: Open Space Board

2017·239: Resolution amending Resolution 2008-46, a resolution amending the by-laws of the Open Space, Recreation and Historic Preservation Public Advisory Committee, to reflect changes as per Union County Ordinance 755-2013 and the proper listing of the “labor” designation as per Resolution 110A-01.

2017·240: Re-appointing the following members to the Open Space, Recreation and Historic Preservation Trust Fund: Arthur Kobitz, Charles Eke, Michael DelSordi (public members) and Rose Checcio (democratic official) for a term beginning January 1, 2017 through December 31, 2019 and appointing Edward O’MaUey (public member) and Maria Carvalho (environmentalist) and Richard Capac (Business) for a term beginning January 1, 2015 through December 31,2017.

Reason Against Open Space Tax

Union County wants the tax in perpetuity primarily for their own budget but, on a broader level, the Reason Foundation in a 2014 policy brief wondered why, with Pension Costs Soaring, Should New Jersey Commit Billions to More Open Space Preservation?

The New Jersey Legislature is currently considering a bill—Senate Concurrent Resolution 84 (SCR84)—that would amend the state Constitution to dedicate six percent of the state’s Corporation Business Tax revenues from FY2016 to FY2045 for the purpose of open space, farmland and historic preservation, and it would send this amendment on the ballot for voter approval in the next general election (presumably November 2014).

The new funding stream would be used to cover loans or grants for: (1) preserving land for recreation and conservation purposes under the state’s Green Acres program (as well as to expand the “Blue Acres” program to purchase lands in flood-prone areas, or lands that buffer such properties, and demolish all structures and improvements thereon); (2) preserving farmland; (3) preserving historic properties; and (4) covering the administrative costs associated with these efforts.

Yet the state government already owns nearly 15 percent of New Jersey’s total land area outright and, altogether, it has set aside nearly one-third of its total land area as protected open space, according to state figures. That is on par with the amount of total state land area already developed.

It is unclear why additional land preservation is needed when a significant portion of the state is already off-limits to development. Nor is it clear why there is a rush to lock in three decades of massive funding for land preservation when far higher spending priorities—primarily, rapidly rising government retiree pension and debt service costs—loom.

Look at how county Open Space taxes are being spent now and the answer becomes obvious.

New Jersey (and Union County) will steal the money raised for whatever purposes they please.  They would put a constitutional amendment to Preserve Cuddly Bunnies on the ballot as long as it meant more money to spend and they were allowed to interpret that “covering the administrative costs associated with these efforts” line as broadly as some counties have.

Based on recent budget data sheets put into a spreadsheet of expenditures at most 42% of county Open Space spending ($76.7 million out of a total $182.1 million in 2013) is being used to acquire open space.  Among the other uses:

  • $10 million to pay salaries ($6.7 of which for only three counties – Burlington, Essex, and Union).
  • $31 million for Other Expenses
  • $57 million for Debt Payments (which for Union County are made up numbers).

If New Jersey is becoming a “model for America” on pension reform then when it comes to misappropriating Open Space Trust Fund money Union County is becoming a model for New Jersey.

Open Space Trust Fund Theft Question

It will be on the ballot as a Public Question #3 on November 8:

Do you want to be taxed $10 million in perpetuity so Union County can continue to use 90% of that tax money for its own budget?

Though on the ballot it will read this way:

Approval of this referendum will authorize the extension of the “Union County Open Space Recreation and Historic Preservation Trust Fund.” The revenue produced shall be used exclusively for the acquisition, development and maintenance of lands within the County for recreation and conservation purposes, and the preservation and acquisition of historic properties in the County for preservation purposes. The revenue shall come from an annual levy of 1-1/2 cents per $100 of total County equalized real property valuation. For example, the owner of a property assessed at $100,000 would contribute $15 annually to the Trust fund. The amount of the levy will not change; this is the same amount that the voters approved in 2000. This measure also allows the County to use Trust Fund monies to pay debt service on indebtedness incurred for Trust fund projects, other than maintenance. Utilization of the Trust Fund’s resources shall be in accordance with the open space, recreation and historic preservation plans prepared and adopted by the County.

Open Space Trust Fund Theft – 1 For You & 9 For the County

It will be on the ballot in anticipation of a bunch of robo-voters going for it this presidential election year:
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What they are not telling you:
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Parade of politicians get their $1 for which they pay pay $10:
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UCCF 6/23/15: Green Acres Matching Grants

2016-545: Authorizing the County Manager to execute a State of New Jersey, Department of Environmental Protection, Green Acres Enabling Resolution regarding the Union County Open Space and Recreation Plan for the provision of administrative acceptance of an additional Green Acres matching grant in the amount of $3,975,000.00 for a total matching grant in the amount of $13,125,000.00.
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UCCF 5/12/16: Open Space Tax Theft

Justifying putting it to a vote in 2016 as to whether Union County taxpayers want to keep having $10 million in tax money misappropriated:
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The real story:
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Why Open Space Vote in 2016?

Union County is misappropriating about $10 million annually of the Open Space tax for their own general budget and they want to continue that practice indefinitely by placing the question on the 2016 ballot for some reason.  At last night’s freeholder meeting the reason was provided:

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Open Space Tax Theft – By County

Which counties are misappropriating for their own general budgets tax money intended for the purchase and maintenance of open space properties.  Certainly Union County as I outlined in a letter in today’s Westfield Leader:

You [Leader/Times editorial] argue that the county Open Space Tax should sunset in 2020 to provide taxpayer relief. But, in making your points, you fail to appreciate the extent to which Union County has been openly using this money for their own budget rather than its intended purpose, the acquisition of open space. In the 2016 budget, revenue is anticipated from:

  • Sheet 8A – Open Space-Parks Maintenance: $2,250,000
  • Sheet 8: Debt Service – Open Space: $4,464,841

Municipalities would likely prefer to use that $2.25 million to pay for maintenance of their own (instead of the county’s) parks and that $4.4 million is going to repay general debt of the county as there has been more than enough money collected through the Open Space tax (about $10 million annually since 2001) to pay for everything bought through it.

This is blatant theft by deception and the county is looking for the blessing of a willfully benighted electorate to vote to continue this fraud in perpetuity. My guess as to why the freeholders want a ballot question this early is that some ratings agency may have noticed this substantial revenue in danger of being lost if county voters ever wake up to how it is being misappropriated.

Are any other counties pulling the same stunts?

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UCCF 4/14/16: Getting Voter Approval For Theft

2016-313: Resolution requesting the County Clerk to print upon the official ballot for the general election, to be held on November 8, 2016, a referendum proposition authorizing the extension of the “Union County Open Spaced Recreation and Historic Preservation Trust Fund.”

The party line:
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The questions:
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The truth:
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In the 2016 budget revenue is anticipated from:

Sheet 8A – Open Space-Parks Maintenance: $2,250,000
Sheet 8: Debt Service – Open Space: $4,464,841

Municipalities would likely prefer to use that $2.25 million to pay for maintenance of their own (instead of the county’s) parks and that $4.4 million is going to repay general debt of the county as there has been more than enough money collected through the Open Space tax (about $10 million annually since 2001) to pay for everything bought through it.

This is blatant theft by deception and the county is looking for the blessing of a willfully benighted electorate through a process with about as much credibility and dignity as….

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