By Peter Elacqua
COLTS NECK – Township Committee members are considering a suggestion put forth by the Farmland and Open Space Committee to ask voters to approve an increase in Colts Neck’s open space tax rate and in the amount they pay in an annual open space tax.
Each year, property owners pay 1.2 cents per $100 of assessed valuation into the township’s open space trust fund. The owner of a home assessed at $800,000 currently pays $96 into the open space trust fund annually.
In November 2016, municipal officials put a question on the ballot asking voters to approve an increase in the open space tax rate from 1.2 cents to 2.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. If the question had passed and if the committee had voted to raise the tax rate, the owner of a home assessed at $800,000 would have seen his annual open space payment increase from $96 to $200.
Voters rejected the proposed increase in the open space tax rate, 3,001 to 2,069.
They may have a do-over on Nov. 7.
At the April 26 committee meeting, Committeeman Edward Eastman Jr., who serves on the Farmland and Open Space Committee, presented a proposal to once again ask voters to approve an increase in the open space tax rate from 1.2 cents to 2.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.
Municipal officials said the idea behind raising the open space tax rate is to generate additional funds that would be used to acquire more open space and to prevent development of the rural community.
Speaking about the 2016 public question, Eastman said, “There was a common misconception (because) the way it read, many individuals thought we would be raising all of the taxes associated with Colts Neck. What we would like to have is just the portion that is set aside for farmland preservation to be increased.”
“We would like to keep Colts Neck rural and we do that by buying land that would otherwise be developed,” Mayor Russell Macnow said. “It is a benefit to the farmers who own those properties, it is a benefit to the town.
“We have a lot of farmers in town who have been here for a long time who are ready to retire, but they do not want to see their farms developed into subdivisions or high-density developments. (The town’s purchase of open space) is a great alternative for them and a great plus for the town,” Macnow said.
The open space tax rate was 2.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation as recently as five years ago and that generated about $360,000 annually in open space taxes, according to Committeeman Thomas Orgo, the farmland and open space liaison.
Colts Neck underwent a revaluation and keeping the open space tax rate at 2.5 cents would have generated about $700,000 annually (i.e., a $340,000 tax increase on property owners), so officials reduced the tax rate from 2.5 cents to 1.2 cents per $100 to keep the total amount raised by the open space tax at about $360,000, he said.
Now, officials are reconsidering a move that will generate more money for land preservation.
“We want to increase the annual amount paid by the owner of a house that is assessed at $800,000 from $96 to $200 to give us more buying power because the state is running out of money and our spending is increasing. So we are going to need that money to preserve more farms,” Orgo said.
Officials said that since 2012, the Farmland and Open Space Committee has spent $1.7 million through the open space fund to preserve farmland in Colts Neck.