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Middletown officials adopt ordinance to increase open space tax rate

MIDDLETOWN – The Township Committee has adopted an ordinance that will implement a voter-approved increase to the annual collection rate of the Middletown Open Space, Recreation, Floodplain Protection, Farmland and Historic Preservation Trust Fund.

The ordinance was adopted during the committee’s April 19 meeting. Voting “yes” on a motion to adopt the ordinance were Mayor Tony Perry, Deputy Mayor Rick Hibell, Committeewoman Patricia Snell, Committeeman Kevin Settembrino and Committeeman Ryan Clarke.

No one from the public commented on the ordinance when given the opportunity to do so.

During the Nov. 3, 2020 election, residents cast their ballots on a public question and voted to increase the local open space tax rate. Perry said 67% of the residents who voted on the public question cast a “yes” vote.

Several days after the vote, Perry said, “I want to thank the voters for an overwhelming victory” on the public question. “We are now able to move forward (on open space preservation) … this (decision) gives us added dedicated revenue to preserve farmland, to protect our beaches … This is a big win for our township.”

Perry has said the $1.1 million in tax revenue that will be generated on an annual basis through the increase in the open space tax rate would only be used for the acquisition of additional open space in the community.

As the ordinance was considered for adoption, the mayor said, “This process has gone on for several months. I want to thank the 67% of voters who stood tall. They made it clear they want to preserve land. I also want to thank the Township Committee for standing up and doing what is right.

“The Township Committee is incredibly proud of this initiative and it is now set in stone. We are grateful we will have the opportunity to preserve more open space, to make upgrades and to preserve farmland,” Perry said.

According to the ordinance, the funds accumulated in the trust fund must be expended for any or all of the following purposes, or any combination thereof, as determined by the governing body:

• acquisition of lands for recreation and conservation purposes;

• development of lands acquired for recreation and conservation purposes;

• maintenance of lands acquired for recreation and conservation purposes;

• acquisition of farmland for farmland preservation purposes;

• historic preservation of historic properties, structures, facilities, sites, areas or objects, and the acquisition of such properties, structures, facilities, sites, areas or objects for historic preservation purposes;

• payment of debt service on indebtedness issued or incurred by Middletown for any of the purposes listed;

• Blue Acres projects.

By way of history on Middletown’s open space preservation efforts, in 1998, voters in the municipality 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, Middletown’s voters approved an increase in the open space tax rate to 3 cents per $100 of equalized valuation.

The ordinance that was adopted by the committee on April 19 will implement the increase in the open space tax rate.

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

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

Speaklng about open space funding, Perry previously said, “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 (of additional open space revenue) these acquisitions are now possible.”

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