Mercer County voters overwhelmingly approved of a county referendum reallocating resources in the Open Space Preservation Trust Fund towards funding increases for park development, historic preservation and stewardship activities.
In the Nov. 2 General Election, Mercer County voters who cast their ballots approved of the referendum permitting the reallocation 76.7% (66,567) to 23.2% (20,187), according to the certified results of the 2021 General Election released by Mercer County.
With the approved reallocation of funds in the Open Space Trust Fund the county will now allocate 50% of monies in the fund to acquiring open space, increase the 20% of the fund set aside for park development and historic preservation to 30%, and increase the 10% that was allocated for stewardship efforts to 20%.
“The 50% for land acquisition will be sufficient to continue land preservation efforts and the county’s grant program at the current spending level. The county seeks to provide new park amenities for our growing population and the Park Commission is actively working on plans for two new county parks,” Hughes said. “With an increase in the number of acres under county ownership there is an obligation to care for that land.”
Before voters approved the referendum, for the preservation of land for parks, farmland and open space, Mercer County’s Open Space Trust Fund allocated 70% to those efforts.
“These lands are preserved directly by Mercer County and also through grants to municipalities and local non-profit land conservancies,” County Executive Brian Hughes said. “Land acquisition has slowed, but not stopped. The county continues to acquire connectors and strategic parcels that add onto our current land holdings.”
Then 20% of the fund is used to develop park amenities, including trails, and for historic preservation efforts on county-owned lands. The final 10% goes toward stewardship efforts on county-owned preserved land.
According to the county, stewardship efforts include activities that foster habitat protection and restoration, wildlife management, forest and grasslands management, and educational programming and retaining additional personnel if necessary.
“Even before the pandemic, we were aware of the popularity of and demands on our parks and open space for public recreation, both active and passive. This new allocation will provide additional resources to develop parks and trails for our diverse and growing population,” Hughes added. “In addition, the increase in funds for land stewardship will enhance our ability to care for our preserved lands, ensuring that they retain the ecological values for which they were preserved.”
Mercer County has been able to preserve 27% of the county’s land area over the course of more than 25 years. The county has done this through its own work and through providing grants to partners such as municipalities and nonprofit land conservancies.
“Looking ahead, work is already underway to plan for additional park development, historic preservation and stewardship projects to take advantage of the new allocation,” he said. “Master Plans have recently been adopted for two new county parks: Miry Run Ponds in Hamilton, Robbinsville and West Windsor; and Moore’s Station Quarry in Hopewell Township.”
Stewardship efforts on county-owned lands will continue to intensify, as they have since the inception of the original stewardship allocation in 2012, Hughes added.
The county and Hughes have also stated that the reallocation that was approved by voters is not a tax increase. Currently, Mercer County property owners pay 2.5 cents per $100 of equalized valuation.
Back in July, the Board of County Commissioners had approved of the referendum that took place earlier this month. A total of 86,754 residents cast a vote on the referendum question.