Watershed lands play important role in drinking water

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  • Photo by Mark Cranston

Dear Editor

Writing as a private citizen, I would like to voice my support to the excellent letter by Don Weise, published in the West Milford Messenger, in response to an article about a recent preservation project and subsequent Letter to the Editor by Paul Zarrillo.

Chair of Greenwood Lake CommissionAs NJ Chair of the Greenwood Lake Commission, I was surprised to read that Mr. Zarrillo thinks we have too much preserved land here in West Milford. He must know the role of important watershed lands, both in terms of drinking water and flood control.

An earlier article regarding Trenton's support for Lake Hopatcong triggered a council response calling for similar support for Greenwood Lake. I concur with this wholeheartedly but not most of what else Mr. Zarrillo wrote.

Let's remember that these recently preserved lands are the headwaters of the West Brook, the major tributary to the Wanaque Reservoir.

First, yes, 70 percent of our beautiful and bucolic township is open space; however, not all of it is off the tax rolls, so that must be corrected for the record.

Newark Watershed lands are indeed taxed (though not enough, according to some), and represent roughly 40 percent of West Milford. The idea of a water surcharge to offset our property taxes as stewards of these lands is something I've supported for decades. But that's another story...

More than one way to look at the numbersTrue, the state and county hold significant lands here but those same lands encourage locals and visitors alike to enjoy hiking, fishing, swimming, boating, and other recreational activities (while patronizing our local businesses). Municipal open space provides recreational opportunities for athletes of all sorts. All good.

To complain about the loss of the ratable of that particular property off West Brook Road doesn't hold water (pardon the pun). The property taxes (including the single family home, the bulk of that assessment) were less than $8,000 annually, as Mr. Weise points out in his letter.

But did you know that this so-called ratable, if one child were living in that home and going to school in West Milford, wouldn't begin to cover the $22,000-plus to educate that student?

Yes, that's right, according to The N.J. Department of Education's 2017 "Taxpayers Guide to Education Spending in New Jersey" annually it costs — per pupil in West Milford — $22,599!

(see https://patch.com/new-jersey/ridgewood/how-much-does-each-n-j-school-student-cost-new-figures-released).

So residential development is not such a good deal (but open space and farmland preservation are).

Tax decreaseAnother recent article cited a slight DECREASE in our municipal property taxes. What?! Wait, I thought property taxes never go down. Well, they don't, that is of course unless you live in the Highlands Preservation Area. Yes, this was predicted, as evidenced in municipalities within the Pinelands Preservation areas vs. those just outside.

Why and how is this possible, you ask? It's because by limiting residential growth, our need for additional and ever-growing services are also limited, thus resulting in tax stabilization. (Think new schools, fire, ambulance, police ... you get the picture.)

Yes, I'm a firm proponent of preserved open space and park lands. As a gal who grew up in Bergen County and watched every wooded piece of land be developed, it hits home.

For goodness sake, NJ is the most densely populated state in the Union! Overwhelmingly, each time NJ voters were given the opportunity, they've supported Open Space ballot questions.

Fresh air and clean waterI love West Milford's natural environment and don't miss the high taxes and congestion so prevalent in surrounding communities. I love the fresh air and clean water.

And I love the fact that trees don't call 9-1-1 and bears don't send their cubs to school.

For those interested in learning more, may I suggest an excellent publication available online from ANJEC (Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions): http://www.anjec.org/pdfs/OpenSpaceGoodInvestment2014.pdf

In terms of doing away with our own local Open Space tax, think hard about that, West Milford residents.

Having that dedicated fund for land and historic preservation, recreational facility development and improvement is key to leveraging county, state and federal grant funding.

Take a look at your next tax bill and ask yourself, is doing away with that small amount assessed annually – less than a night out for most of us – worth it?

Or do you agree, it is truly a good investment?

Very truly yours,

Kathleen M. Caren

Private Citizen

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