A group of nine residents motivated by their opposition to the November referendum seeking to expand the permitted uses of open space tax funds collected have launched a new organization that they saw will continue regardless of the voting outcome.
The Friends of Hillsborough Open Space is described as a "non-partisan grassroots" organization with a mission "to build a community-wide volunteer group dedicated to assisting the township in supporting the preservation and stewardship of open space lands in order to maintain Hillsborough's semi-rural character."
Founders note the impetus for the group is the referendum which, if passed, would allow up to 20 percent of the open space tax collected in 2014 and later to be used for improvements to open spaces already owned by Hillsborough, including parks and preserved lands.
A press release issued by the group notes the the referendum was approved "despite significant resident opposition expressed at the meeting at which the ordinance was adopted."
"FOHOS opposes the diversion of any of the Open Space Tax funds away from the originally authorized use of protecting and preserving additional open space lands," the release notes. "Approximately $1.5 million dollars is collected each year for the Open Space Trust Fund. Of this amount, about half goes towards paying down the debt incurred from previous open space purchases. The proposed 20 percent diversion would leave only 30 percent of the money collected each year ($450,000) for new preservation efforts."
This amount would not be enough to purchase undeveloped property in Hillsborough, and with cutbacks to state funding, the group "strongly believes that every dollar of locally collected funds should be dedicated only for preservation."
The group supports continuing open space purchases, but said if the referendum is passed, they would work to be involved in further decisions made about the township's open space properties.
The Friends of Hillsborough Open Space will schedule a meeting to discuss in more detail the history of the open space program, the economic and environmental benefits of open space, and "the reasons why the diversion of open space tax dollars is a bad idea for Hillsborough" in the near future.
Anyone interested in learning more about the Friends of Hillsborough Open Space can visit the group's Facebook page or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.