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Toms River residents reject request to double open space tax rate

Andrew Harrison
Toms River residents walking Washington Street during the Cruisin' Downtown festival to view the different vintage cars on Sept. 12

On Election Day, Nov. 6, Toms River residents rejected a plan put forth by municipal officials to double the township’s open space tax rate.

Money that is raised through the open space tax is used to acquire, maintain and preserve open space in the community.

According to unofficial results posted online by the Ocean County Clerk’s Office, Toms River voters defeated the proposal to double the open space tax rate by a count of 17,094 “no” votes to 11,255 “yes” votes. The results are unofficial until they are certified by the county.

At present, Toms River’s open space tax rate is 1.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. That means the owner of a home assessed at $250,000 pays $38 each year in an open space tax.

Municipal officials proposed raising the open space tax rate to 3 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. If the question had been approved, the owner of a home assessed at $250,000 would have seen his annual open space tax increase from $38 to $75.

Business Administrator Don Guardian said that in 2018, the open space tax levy produced more than $1.9 million in revenue for the township.

In a non-binding referendum that was placed on the 2017 ballot, residents indicated they “wanted the township to purchase more vacant land for open space preservation to prevent development,” Guardian said.

He said that response a year ago led officials to place the referendum on the 2018 ballot asking residents to double the open space tax rate. On Election Day, residents rejected that proposal.

“Clearly, voters are not in favor of increasing their property taxes to double the open space tax rate. Although residents clearly want to limit future development, they were not willing to voluntarily increase their property tax to do so,” Guardian said.

Guardian said Mayor Thomas Kelaher and the Township Council have been very aggressive in purchasing open space to prevent development in 2018.

He said the acquisitions have included 7.74 acres at 1270 Cox Cro Road (pending final environmental approval); 35.18 acres at 1940 Lakewood Road (purchased by the township); 8.24 acres at 1980 Lakewood Road (purchased by Ocean County for open space); 9.77 acres at 1868 Lakewood Road (purchased by Ocean County for farmland preservation); 15.15 acres at 1620 North Bay Avenue (Ocean County currently negotiating for open space); 0.56 acres (former Red Carpet Inn, purchased by the township for open space); and 2 acres at 1900, 1910 and 1901 Ocean Avenue (formerly the Surf Club; being negotiated by the state for open space under the Blue Acres and Green Acres programs).

“The township, through the open space tax, has been very active in preserving open space in 2018. The additional levy, if it had passed, would have reduced the need for bonding, or more likely, will reduce the amount of vacant land that could have been purchased in the future,” Guardian said.

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