By Mayor Janice Mironov
Whether it is preserved open space, farmland, the protection of vital environmental resources or parkland, all New Jersey residents enjoy the benefits of the state’s active and successful preservation efforts. These efforts enjoy broad bipartisan political support and strong public support, and for good reasons. Good land planning and environmental policy have long-term beneficial results.
Preservation efforts are investments in our communities, where we live and work, creating balanced land planning and greening our surroundings. Preservation actions are vital in preserving and safeguarding precious environmental resources, including protection of our drinking water supply, as well as reducing flooding.
Preservation also constitutes good economic policy, assisting the agricultural and tourism industries. Substantial unmet needs and significant, worthwhile projects remain for land acquisition, farmland preservation, water protection and park development for the health and welfare of our communities and residents.
In fact, New Jersey has a lengthy and laudable history of preserving open space and farmland. The New Jersey Green Acres program has helped to preserve over 650,000 acres of land and supported more than 1,100 park development projects over the past 50 years, and the State Agricultural Development Committee has preserved 200,000 acres of farmland over the past 30 years. Municipalities and counties have been key partners and direct beneficiaries of these valuable state preservation programs.
Between 1961 and 1995, New Jersey voters approved nine Green Acres bond referendums. A 1998 referendum authorized the dedication of $98 million annually for a ten year period from the State’s general fund for open space, historic and farmland preservation. New Jersey voters subsequently approved additional referendums in 2007 for $200 million and in 2009 for $400 million. Underscoring the broad citizen support for this goal, it is noted that in the past 30 years no state ballot measure to fund open space preservation has been defeated.
In late January, Governor Christie signed a package of bills providing $123 million in Green Acres and Blue Acres projects statewide. Since those actions allocated the remaining funds under the Green Acres, Water Supply and Floodplain Protection, Farmland and Historic Preservation Bond Act of 2009, this is now a significant priority for local governments.
In early February, the New Jersey State Senate Environment and Energy Committee began consideration of various proposals to achieve the goal of implementing a long-term, sustained funding source for preservation programs.
Among the concepts discussed, but not yet acted upon, are a water tax/user fee dedicated for preservation, dedicating a portion of an existing funding source such as the sales tax or a bond referendum for voter approval. In the coming days and weeks, other options may emerge and be discussed and considered as well.
Preserving our green spaces and natural resources should remain a vital public policy objective of our state. These goals enjoy bipartisan, statewide support. There are more than 175 organizations around the state which have joined the New Jersey Keep It Green Campaign to advocate for the renewal of sustained state funding for the preservation and stewardship of New Jersey’s natural and recreational treasures for generations to come.
The New Jersey State League of Municipalities, a voluntary nonpartisan association for the state’s municipal governments, also supports the establishment of a renewed long-term dedicated source of state funding to preserve open space and farmland in our state.
Our residents support keeping the garden in the Garden State. Now officials at all levels should work together and with groups such as the League, the Keep It Green Campaign and other interested stakeholders, to identify the funding source and continue to invest in our state’s future.
Janice Mironov is mayor of East Windsor and president of the N.J. League of Municipalities.