Acting Council President Anibal Ramos announced today that he is sponsoring legislation to put a question on November’s ballot that would create an Open Space Trust Fund to acquire, develop and maintain parks, and neighborhood playgrounds and ballfields in Newark.
“All 21 counties in the state and more than 200 municipalities in New Jersey have established voter-approved open space trust funds,” Ramos said. “Our parks are vital to the quality of life of our citizens and we need a dedicated stream of funding to acquire parkland as well as maintain it for the enjoyment of all of our residents.”
Ramos highlighted the resolution at Jesse Allen Park, where he was joined by a broad coalition of groups that support open space and parks, including The Trust for Public Land, the Greater Newark Conservancy, Ironbound Community Corporation, and the Friends of Jesse Allen Park.
“There has been a great public-private partnership to invest in creating new parks and neighborhood playgrounds in Newark,” said Scott Dvorak, Newark Program Director with The Trust for Public Land. “But the work is not done until every child can walk to a safe, quality park within ten minutes from home, and there are adequate resources to properly maintain and care for these parks and playgrounds going forward.”
“Parks rank very highly on the quality of life indicators for urban dwellers but are often the first line item budget cut when the economy suffers. Having a dedicated funding source to keep our existing parks safe and clean is critical as municipalities go through tough fiscal times,” said Robin Dougherty, executive director of the Greater Newark Conservancy.
“This is about more than just maintaining our parks,” said Darnell Allen, Co-Chair of the Friends of Jesse Allen Park. “It’s about who we are as people, taking pride in our community, and giving kids healthy, positive experiences to build their sense of self-worth.”
“Greenspace and recreation space are so vital to the health and well being of all our residents,” said Ana I. Baptista, director of environmental and planning projects for the Ironbound Community Corp. “This Fund will be a critical component to ensure that we can continue to make investments in these much needed spaces.”
Ramos noted that the city’s master plan adopted in 2012 calls for expanding Newark’s park system and improving parks and greenways throughout the city. The plan specifically lists a set of priority capital projects for city-owned parks with estimated costs of $75 million, as well as a goal to identify funding for the operation and maintenance of any new park or facility.
“These funds can be used to improve programming and make our parks more secure, attractive and enjoyable,” Ramos said.
If approved by voters, a levy of one-cent per $100 of assessed real property value would generate an estimated $1.1 million annually at a cost of $20 annually to the owner of a property assessed at $200,000.
“This is a small price to pay for what we would get in return for our investment,” Ramos said. “We can leverage the dollars we raise locally to receive matching funds through the State Green Acres Program as well as county and private funds.”
The question that would be placed on the ballot reads as follows:
“Shall the City of Newark establish an Open Space Trust Fund to be funded through an annual levy of one cent per $100 of assessed valuation of real property for the purposes of acquiring, developing and maintaining lands for recreation and conservation, including providing safe, clean and accessible parks; repairing and improving existing parks; creating neighborhood playgrounds and playfields for youth sports; and for the payment of any debt service incurred by the City for these purposes, with full public disclosure and review of all expenditures?”
Approving this referendum will authorize the City of Newark to establish an Open Space Trust Fund to acquire, develop and maintain lands for conservation and recreation purposes in order to provide safe, clean and accessible parks, neighborhood playgrounds and playfields for youth sports throughout the City. A “yes” vote will permit the City to establish an Open Space Trust Fund with an annual levy of one cent per $100 of assessed real property value to fund the purposes above, including debt service on any bonds issued for these purposes. Funds raised by the measure could only be used for these purposes and would be matched by state, county and private sources. Full public disclosure and review of all expenditures would be required.