TOMS RIVER – The Township Council will have a nonbinding referendum on November’s ballot asking residents if they want to spend more money on open space, and residents want more information about what this entails.
The town currently has an open space fund that taxes 1.5 cents on every tax dollar. Officials had said the question would help guide them if they want to purchase an additional 250 acres. The question would not single out any specific parcels. It’s a nonbinding referendum, meaning that no action would take place no matter how the vote went.
Resident William McPhail asked questions to define more clearly what the township meant by the nonbinding resolution.
Council President Alfonso Manforti said that it was designed to put a finger on the pulse of the community. He described it as a “poll to see if the community is in favor of open space acquisition.”
The only way to tax more on the open space tax is to have another vote, he said.
“If we decide to do something later on, it would have to be on the ballot,” Manforti said.
McPhail questioned whether it would be worse to pay more in an open space tax up front, or if it would be worse to allow more homes to be built, which would raise taxes for schools and services.
It’s important to know how the money would be spent, said Paul Jeffrey, the vice president of the Ortley Beach Voters and Taxpayers Association. The open space fund, by law, can be spent on purchasing land for preservation, and to pay parks employees to maintain existing land.
“It’s critical to have it worded correctly so people know exactly what they’re voting for,” he said.
He also noted that when land is preserved, the town can no longer tax the property. Some people see this as a negative. However, homes near the preserved land go up in value. This might offset any loss of tax revenue created by taking property off the tax rolls.
“It doesn’t mean you’ll collect less taxes. You might collect more,” he said.