Officials Consider New Open Space Tax for Consolidated Princeton

Princeton voters will most likely be asked to approve a new open space tax for the consolidated Princeton on the November ballot.

Currently both Princeton Borough and Princeton Township each have an open space tax. The Borough’s open space tax is one cent per $100 of assessed property value, and the Township’s open space tax is two cents per $100 of assessed property value.

Officials are considering proposing that the open space tax for the combined municipality be 1.7 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

Township lawyer Ed Schmierer said the state has advised the two Princetons that the move must go to the voters in November in the form of a referendum if Princeton wants to collect and open space tax in 2013. The ballot question must be sent to the Mercer County Clerk by Aug. 17 in order for the question to be on the November ballot.

“It’s important to note that a lot people think the open space tax is to acquire open space properties,” Township Administrator Kathy Monzo said. “But both the Borough and Township adopted a broad form of open space funding where funding is not only for acquisition, but also for the development of land into parks. After we’ve already purchased a lot of open space, there is going to be a need to maintain these properties as well. The money is also for historic preservation and the payment of debt service.”

The finance subcommittee of the transitions task force will make a recommendation to the task force as early as this Wednesday night about what rate the proposed open space tax should be set at.

“It’s critically important,” Township committeewoman Sue Nemeth said. “Any lapse will hurt our ability to maintain the open space we have now and to make future acquisitions to link the open space we have now .”

“Can I just say ditto?” Township Committeeman Lance Liverman said.

Township Committeeman Bernie Miller said it is also important for the Township to have funds set aside because the Township often fronts the money for nonprofits to make open space purchases. Miller expressed concern that the question is worded on the ballot properly so voters don’t think the municipality is trying to impose a new tax on them.

Wendy Meager of Friends of Princeton Open Space said there are  still more than 220 acres in the town’s master plan that would be desirable to acquire as open space.

Due to the recent property revaluation in the two Princetons, the amount of money raised from the open space tax each year has effectively doubled. Property values in both municipalities, on average, went up about double what they were under the revaluation, and the total value of assessed property in each municipality doubled. But officials in both towns left their open space tax rates constant, meaning they took in twice as much revenue from the open space tax after the revaluation.