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Mercer County Commissioners approve resolution for open space trust fund referendum

A resolution calling for a voter referendum in November to permit the reallocation of Mercer County’s Open Space Trust Fund has been approved by the Board of Commissioners.

The commissioners approved the resolution submitted by Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes at a meeting on July 15.

According to county officials, the reallocation of funds places a greater emphasis on stewardship, park development and historic preservation.

The new Open Space, Recreation and Farmland and Historic Preservation Trust Fund
allocation, which was recommended by the county Planning Department and Park
Commission, would increase the amount for stewardship of county-owned parks and
open spaces from 10% to 20%, and increase the amount for park development
and historic preservation from 20% to 30%, with 50% allocated to open
space acquisition.

Hughes stressed that approval of the referendum would simply be a reallocation of
the trust fund – not a tax increase, according to a release.

“By shifting the authorized allocation of the trust fund, the county could continue its
acquisition program and continue providing land acquisition grants to municipalities and
non-profit land conservancies, while investing more toward providing access to our parks and expanding recreational offering,” Hughes said.

It would not change the levy of up to 3 cents per $100 of equalized valuation that Mercer County voters overwhelmingly approved in 2004 to fund the trustf. The county open space tax rate, which is determined annually by the Board of Commissioners as part of the budgeting process, is currently 2.5 cents per $100 of equalized valuation.

“This, along with increased stewardship efforts, will ensure the ecological health of the lands entrusted to us, while providing expanded and appropriate recreational and nature-based activities to our residents,” Hughes said in the statement.

Over the past three decades, Mercer County has utilized the assets of the trust fund to
purchase and preserve thousands of acres of farmland and open space for future
generations to use and enjoy, and has improved public access and recreational
opportunities to county-preserved parkland, according to county officials.

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