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Open Space Funding

New Jersey will be the first state in the country to be "built out", no more room for development in a couple of decades.

Approximately 20 percent of our state, or 1 million acres, still remains unprotected and developable. Preserving open space, inland waterways and natural buffers along the coast can help prevent future flood and storm damage.

In 1998, former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman set a state goal of adding one million acres of open space to the 854,000 acres the state had preserved up to that time.

In 1999, she signed into law the Garden State Preservation Trust Act, implementing a 1998 statewide referendum, in which voters approved, by a 2-1 margin, a ballot initiative to provide a stable source of funding for open space preservation.

It dedicates $98 million a year for 10 years (1999 to 2009) from state sales tax revenue to preserve open space, and authorizes the issuance of up to $1 billion in revenue bonds;

The act has the potential to add more than $1.9 billion to the more than $1.3 billion for open space preservation that New Jersey voters have approved in nine bond issues since 1981.

Each year the Trust, after retaining enough money to pay debt service on bonds, must allocate $6 million to the Historic Preservation Trust. It then must distribute 60% of the remaining proceeds to NJDEP's Green Acres open space preservation program, and 40% to the agriculture department's Farmland Preservation program.

June 1999 to June 2002
Project Type Funding
State Land Acquisition $236,000,000
Local Government Acquisition $221,600,000
Local Government Park Development $ 46,700,000
Nonprofit Acquisition and Park Development $ 49,200,000
Coastal Blue Acres Acquisitions $ 992,000

Source: New Jersey's Garden State Preservation Trust Act | Office of Legislative Research (

With the 2013 release of $123 M from the 2009 $400 Million bond issue for open space funding, the fund is depleted.
NJ typically spends $150 M a year on open space.
Several proposals were made to restore funding for open space, farms, historic sites and $12 M a year for blue acres funding to purchase flood prone properties.

The New Jersey legislature failed to approve any of these proposals for initiatives on the November ballot.

The NJ Senate defeated their last ditch proposal.
The Assembly proposals never got out of committee.

The conservation community is split badly on this issue.

Proposals: * $400 M bond issue (S-2530) - Passed by the Senate, No action in the assembly. Opposed by "Keep it Green" Because of low interest rates debt service would only be $20-30M per year from the general fund, according to Jeff Tittle, NJ Sierra Club Chapter Director. That seems a little high given the 4-5% rate for 30 year municipal bonds. Tittle said senators voted for it to look green knowing the assembly would not pass it.

* Water consumption tax (S-813) $150M/yr
Supported by Sierra Club, NJ Environmental Federation and others. Opposed by Audubon. That bill would cost the typical resident about $32 a year according to Tittle. NJSpotlite says it "has virtually no chance of winning passage in the Legislature, or a signature from Gov. Christie "

* Sales Tax $200 M (S-2529) Supported by Keep It Green Coalition. Defeated in the Senate.
It would be about 2.5-2.8% of the approx. $7-8 Billion in sales tax revenues. The argument against it was that diverting sales tax income would mean additional cuts to other environmental programs. Senator Smith who sponsored the bill says it is about Christie wanting to look like a fiscal hawk to improve his chances in a presidential race. The sales tax proposal never got out of committee in the assembly.

Apparently "Keep it Green" has been supporting Christie to get some favors. Their opposition to the bond issue is what killed it according to Tittle. They wanted a sustainable source of funding from taxes rather than bonds. It turns out Christie didn't give them what they wanted (I can't remember what that was) anyway.

Bond issues for open space have traditionally passed, but the vote is getting closer. The last two bonds that voters considered passed by less than 53 percent of the vote. The 2009 referendum failed in a number of rural counties.

Renewing open space fund will pay benefits for New Jersey |, 2009

It says,
"Failure to fund open space would send our water treatment costs skyrocketing" "A recent DEP study reveals there is at least a 10-to-1 return on our investment in open space acquisition. The passage of the $400 million open space bond referendum will cost each New Jersey household an average of $10 per year.

What I would like to know:
How does local funding (County and Township) work?
How much is true open space and how much is farm land preservation, recreation facilities or historic preservation?
How much open space is purchased by private organizations?
What is the term of the bonds? I assume we are still paying off the 2009 bonds?
If we have to issue bonds every 4 years what is the cumulative cost to service them?
How much open space money is being redirected, by whom, to where, does it ever come back?

What I think: It's been 40 years since I got my MBA, but here's some thoughts for what it's worth.
Land purchase is a capital expense which is traditionally funded by bonds. However this is not a one time investment but an ongoing cost which may look more like expense than capital.
Debt service looks good in the beginning, but when you consider you need to float a new bond every 4-6 years (1999, 2003, 2009) the debt service stacks up and catches up to you.
However in today's low intrest rate environment it might make sense. I could do the math but who cares.

There is also local funding of open space.

Bernards Township has an open space tax, added to borough property bills, that brings in a total of about $500,000 each year. In July 2013, the Bernardsville Council was making plans to fund a synthetic turf field at the Polo Grounds Property with open space funds. A resolution unanimously approved by environmental commission members calls for the Borough Council to limit funding for the field to the 20 percent of the fund that by law can be spent on the development and maintenance of recreational facilities.


Sources of open space
State purchase
Local municipality or County purchase
non-profit land trusts
private donations

Land Savers at
A Handbook for Public Financing of Open Space in New Jersey | ANJEC, 201

Here are some links/contacts for the open space issue:

NJ Chapter Open Space contact: Bob Moss 973-743-5203

April-June, 2013 issue of the "New Jersey Sierran"
2013 Goal:
Secure Funding of Open Space Acquisitions - We think the best option at this time is a Water User Fee.
Legislation has been introduced. We will conduct a public educational campaign. This funding will support the Green Acres, Blue Acres, and Farmland Preservation programs.

Map with threats to open space Dec 2012

Sept 2012 Sierra Club press release
The Christie administration announced they are appropriating $123 million in voter approved bonds for open space purchases.
… Even with the release of the bonds today, open space funding is dramatically down under Governor Christie.
We are glad they approved the funding but we are running out of money and this may be one of the last big appropriations for a long time.The money that we spend per year has dropped by more than half and we may run out.This is going to be first time in almost four decades we are going to be out of open space funding.

New Jersey Keep It Green Campaign to Preserve NJ Parks, Natural Areas, Clean Water, Farmland and Historic Treasures

June, 2013 Philadelphia Inquirer

"A survey last month of 600 registered likely voters found that 75 percent support dedicating one-fifth of 1 cent of state sales-tax revenues to fund open space and preservation programs."

"With no new money for preservation programs currently available, voters should once again be given the opportunity to decide whether the state should continue these investments.

Recently, the state Senate's Environment and Energy Committee passed landmark bipartisan legislation - SCR 138, sponsored by Sens. Robert Smith (D., Middlesex), Christopher "Kip" Bateman (R., Somerset), and Jim Whelan (D., Atlantic) - that would do just that.

The legislation, to be approved by voters in November, proposes to dedicate one-fifth of 1 cent of the state's 7-cent sales tax for preserving open space, farmland, and historic areas annually for 30 years.

Based on revenues from fiscal year 2012, this plan would generate more than $200 million a year, which is the average amount that New Jersey has invested in preservation programs each year since the establishment of the Garden State Preservation Trust in 1998."

DEP Green Acres Program
"Keep it Green"

Last updated 9/2/13