MIDDLETOWN, NJ — As we inch closer to November, Middletown elected officials are starting to bang the drum on encouraging town residents to vote "yes" on this open space referendum question, which will raise taxes in the name of preserving open space in the Township.
If voters approve it Nov. 3, it will result in an increase in the Open Space Trust Fund tax levy for Middletown homeowners; the extra money raised will expand the purchasing power of Middletown's Open Space Trust Fund.
Middletown Mayor Tony Perry, Committeewoman Pat Snell (who is up for re-election this fall) and Monmouth County Freeholder Tom Arnone held a press conference Wednesday morning at Poricy Park, which they cited as an example of the value of Middletown's preserved open space.
"We are all guardians of our quality of life here in Middletown," said Snell. "And we became acutely aware of how important open space is during COVID, when there was literally little else to do. Middletown kept all our parks open (during COVID). I walked in this park and others with my grand kids and saw so many families doing the same."
Those who sit on the Middletown Township Committee do currently have some tracts of land in mind they'd like to purchase and preserve as open space, but declined to publicly say where they are thinking about buying.
And of course, options have now widely opened up with the complete collapse of the Shoppes at Middletown project, as the developer of the proposed Rt. 35 Wegmans/movie theater backed out, citing fall-out due to the COVID recession.
Currently, Middletown homeowners pay two cents per every $100 of their quarterly tax bill to the town's open space trust fund. The referendum question seeks to raise it to three cents. The average Middletown homeowner (owning a home assessed at $447,629) currently contributes around $89 a year to the open space fund, so this will be a small increase above that.
Middletown has not added to its Open Space Trust Fund since 2002, said Perry.
If voters approve the referendum, the money will go to purchase land in Middletown and keep it as open space. The money will also be used to preserve farmland, protect Middletown's beaches and make much-needed improvements to Middletown's recreation facilities, he said.
"Residents have been calling out for this," said Perry Wednesday. "And now the Township Committee decided to take action. All of us want to ensure that our children and grandchildren have the Middletown we know today."
Watch Perry and Snell talk Wednesday in Poricy Park:
The question will be on the Nov. 3 general election ballot (the same day as the presidential election).
The open space ballot question is supported by Cindy Zipf of Clean Ocean Action, New York/New Jersey Baykeeper and other Monmouth County environmental groups.
"Climate change is real and open space will help mitigate climate change," said Zipf, also speaking Wednesday from Poricy Park. "Trees reduce carbon dioxide, and protecting open space will also reduce the increased flooding that Middletown has experienced."
Marguerite Stocker and Brian Penschow, the Democrats who are challenging Republicans Snell and Ryan Clarke for the Middletown Township Committee this November, said they also support raising the tax levy for open space.
"Stocker and Penschow believe it would benefit the Middletown community to support the Open Space Trust Fund referendum," said Stocker in an email sent to Patch. "By purchasing the additional 30+ parcels to designate as open space, we are affording the public access to opportunities to explore and learn about our community. The Trust Fund not only includes open space, but recreation, floodplain protection and farmland and historic preservation. All of those are critical to preserving the best of what is Middletown. It’s been two decades since the Trust has seen an increase. In today’s competitive real estate market, it is necessary for Middletown to ensure the town is in a position to support these initiatives."
"Should the referendum pass, it is imperative that during the public hearing to determine the allocation of the increased proceeds, the Township Committee listen to their constituents’ concerns and ideas. We (Stocker and Penschow) would like to make certain the money is allocated to create usable open space for the benefit of residents using environmentally savvy and architecturally smart planning ideas albeit a park, farm, historic building or access to the waterways. Since the Township has the capability to borrow from itself to address budget shortfalls, Stocker and Penschow will ensure that these additional open space funds are used as intended. Stocker and Penschow will be the stewards of the Open Space Trust Fund and ensure fiscal responsibility."
Keep reading: Middletown Asks Taxpayers To Contribute More To Open Space Fund (July 22, 2020)
Wegmans Pulls Out, Village 35 No Longer Coming To Middletown (Sept. 2, 2020)
Don't miss a minute of local Middletown news! Click here to get Patch email updates and follow Middletown Patch on Facebook. Have a news tip? Email the Middletown Patch reporter, Carly.email@example.com