Princeton Voters to Consider Open Space Tax This Fall

When Princeton voters go to the polls this November, they will be asked to approve an open space tax of 1.7 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

At a public meeting Tuesday night, the Princeton Borough Council and the Princeton Township Committee unanimously voted to put the open space referendum on the ballot.

The current Borough rate is one cent per $100 of assessed property value, and the Township rate is two cents. The proposed open space tax rate of 1.7 cents is a “blended” rate that would keep the open space fund revenue neutral for the united Princeton, said Scott Sillars, a member of the transition task force.

Borough voters would see a small increase in what they pay, and Township voters would see a decrease if the referendum is approved.

The owner of a home assessed at the Borough average of $748,070 would pay $127.17 per year to the open space fund in 2013, an increase of $52.36.

In the Township, the owner of a home assessed at the Township average of $821,711 would pay $139.69 in 2013 for the open space fund, a decrease of $24.65.

Over the last two weeks officials have debated what to set the rate at. Some Borough task force members wanted more information on how the open space fund is budgeted and spent. The Borough spends its open space funds for the maintenance of parks and recreation facilities. The Township spends its open space funds for maintenance, debt service and property purchases. The Borough and Township open space funds combined total  $1.1 million.

Task force member Jim Levine suggested that the proposed open space tax rate be raised to two cents per $100 of assessed property value so that the town would not have to spend money from its general operating fund to cover some open space and park maintenance expenditures.

Task force chairman Mark Freda disagreed, arguing the open space fund should not be used as it is now to cover the maintenance of parks and recreation facilities.

“If we buy properties, the maintenance costs should not come out of the open space fund. That money should be budgeted in our operating expenses,” he said. “We are hiding what it actually costs the taxpayers to support all the activities in the town…Most if not all people thing open space funds are actually set aside to buy open space.”

Patrick Simon, a member of the consolidation commission, said he would not recommend raising the rate to two cents, because it might result in a greater chance the measure is defeated at the polls. “For those who are not as enthusiastic, the perception would be that the commission made a promise and we are spending more,” Simon said. “It could be perceived poorly. Also, the revaluation doubled what was in the fund. We are just inviting opposition from the community if we raise it to 2 cents.”

Wendy Mager, head of the Friends of Princeton Open Space, also recommending setting the rate at 1.7 cents.

“It  is clear that there is quite a bit of land designated joint master plan that we would still like to preserve, particularly for connecting open space,” she said, adding that some residents are interested in seeing more trails created.