Middletown will ask residents to approve increase in open space tax

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MIDDLETOWN – Voters will have a chance on Nov. 3 to determine if they want to pay more money to preserve open space in Middletown.

On July 20, Mayor Tony Perry, Deputy Mayor Anthony Fiore, Committeewoman Patricia Snell, Committeeman Kevin Settembrino and Committeeman Rick Hibell voted “yes” on a motion to authorize a voter proposition to increase the annual tax rate to support the Middletown Open Space, Recreation, Floodplain Protection, and Farmland and Historic Preservation Trust Fund.

“This is a critically important ballot question,” Perry said. “Middletown has so much open land and we want to give voters a chance to be heard (on this issue). There is space around town we can look to preserve.

“I want to thank the Township Committee for stepping up and putting this (referendum) to the voters,” the mayor said.

According to a resolution, in 1998, voters approved the creation and funding of a local open space trust fund with a tax rate of 1 cent per $100 of equalized valuation.

In 2002, voters supported an increase in the open space tax rate to 2 cents per $100 of equalized valuation, according to the resolution.

On Election Day, municipal officials will ask voters to consider an increase in the open space tax rate to 3 cents per $100 of equalized valuation through a question on the ballot.

If the proposed increase is approved by voters, the Township Committee will hold a public hearing to determine the allocation of the increased proceeds generated by the open space tax to the open space trust fund (since renamed the Middletown Open Space, Recreation, Floodplain Protection, and Farmland and Historic Preservation Trust Fund).

The open space tax is one item on a property owner’s tax bill, which also includes Middletown municipal taxes, Middletown Township Public Schools taxes and Monmouth County taxes.

Speaking about the ballot question, Fiore said Middletown’s open space tax “has been a great tool for many township committees. I hope the taxpayers will see the great things the (open space tax) does to prevent overdevelopment … and add to the township’s quality of life.”

Municipal officials said the funds that are raised by Middletown’s open space tax fund the acquisition of and improvements to open space and parkland properties.

In 2020, the average home in Middletown is assessed at about $448,000. With an open space tax rate of 2 cents per $100 of valuation, the owner of that home will pay about $90 into the open space trust fund this year.

Raising the open space tax rate to 3 cents per $100 of valuation would increase that homeowner’s payment into the open space trust fund to about $135 on a $448,000 assessment in 2021.

In other business during the July 20 meeting of the Township Committee, Settembrino issued a plea to Gov. Phil Murphy, who is a resident of the township.

“I am calling on Gov. Murphy to re-examine his ban on indoor dining” at restaurants during the ongoing coronavirus health crisis. “If the governor is listening to this meeting in his hometown … we need to restart our economy. (The lack of indoor dining) is having a big impact,” Settembrino said.

Indoor dining in New Jersey has been prohibited since mid-March when the 2020 coronavirus pandemic struck the Garden State.

Indoor dining was scheduled to resume in early July at reduced capacity, but days before it was expected to begin, Murphy said the ban would remain in place.

The governor has not indicated when indoor dining at restaurants may resume. Outdoor dining at restaurants is permitted, as is dining in restaurants that are able to open two walls to allow for fresh air to enter their premises.