MIDDLETOWN – Voters in Middletown are making their voices heard on a local public question regarding the preservation of open space in the municipality.
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.
On Nov. 3, municipal officials asked Middletown’s voters to consider an increase in the open space tax rate to 3 cents per $100 of equalized valuation.
As of Nov. 8, according to unofficial results posted online by the Monmouth County Clerk’s Office, 23,355 people have voted “yes” and 11,945 people have voted “no” to increasing the open space tax rate.
This week, additional mail-in ballots will be counted, as will provisional ballots that were cast at the township’s polling locations on Election Day. The results of the election will remain unofficial until they are certified.
The open space tax rate that property owners pay generates revenue that supports the Middletown Open Space, Recreation, Floodplain Protection, and Farmland and Historic Preservation Trust Fund.
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.
Municipal officials have said money that is raised by Middletown’s open space tax helps to pay for the acquisition of and improvements to open space and parkland properties.
“Earlier this year the Township Committee and I committed to preserving the undeveloped land we have in Middletown,” Mayor Tony Perry said on Nov. 6. “Our residents have made their voices heard and together we will work to protect and preserve Middletown’s remaining open space for future generations.
“I am grateful to the voters of Middletown who supported this incredibly important initiative. We all want to ensure our children and grandchildren inherit the Middletown we enjoy today.
“Discussions for purchasing well-known properties in every section of Middletown are already underway and with this approval these acquisitions are now possible,” the mayor said.
Commenting on the apparent passage of the ballot question in Middletown, Jeff Tittel, the director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said, “The people have spoken and they want to protect and preserve their open space. … This is critically important because many towns … have already succumbed to destructive overdevelopment.
“One of the best ways to stop inappropriate development and protect (a town) from sprawl is by increasing open space funds. Protecting open space means less traffic, less water pollution and flooding. It also helps protect the character of the town, the taxpayers, and the quality of life.
“Middletown is seeing a lot of growth. … Increasing open space funds will help (the town) save money. They won’t have to spend as much for services or upgrading and investing in new infrastructure.
“Protecting open space means (the town) won’t be spending that money on building schools or improving roads and traffic lights. Open space funds help towns control their future,” Tittel said.
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 the race for two three-year terms on the Township Committee, Republicans Patricia Snell, with 14,738 votes, and Ryan Clarke, with 14,458 votes, are leading Democrats Marguerite Stocker, with 11,249 votes, and Brian Penschow, with 11,005 votes, as of Nov. 5. Snell is the only incumbent in the race.