Seeking more money to maintain city parks, Mayor Steven Fulop hopes to establish a city open space trust fund by asking the voters in November to approve a small property tax increase to finance it.
The Jersey City Council expects to approve putting the matter on the ballot at their upcoming meeting on Wednesday.
“Over the last few years, Jersey City has been committed to expanding its open space like no other,” Fulop said, during a press conference held in Berry Lane Park, the city’s newest and largest park, on Aug. 10.
Standing alongside local and state environmental advocates, Fulop proposed the legislation to raise revenue for the purchase, creation, and maintenance of land for parks, conservation and recreation, such as neighborhood playgrounds, community gardens, playing fields, and other passive open space.
Authorized under state legislation signed into law in the 1990s, Jersey City would be among a number of communities – including Hoboken and the County of Hudson – to establish such a fund.
The money would come from a new property assessment of two cents per $100 of assessed value, amounting to approximately $1.2 million annually, and be dedicated to the sole purpose of park and open space maintenance.
Fulop said if passed in November by city voters, the trust would provide funding to maintain parks throughout the city.
“Open space has an extraordinary value to urban communities, from providing safe places for our children to play to the social, environmental and economic benefits of parks that strengthen communities and make cities more attractive places to live, work, and visit,” said Fulop. “We’ve made the largest investment in parks in city history, and this will help ensure that our parks are maintained and develop along with our city for generations to come.”
Helping the environment
“I am thrilled to see Mayor Fulop and Jersey City proposing this measure to protect and develop vital urban open spaces here in Jersey City,” said Ed Potosnak, Executive Director of New Jersey League of Conservation Voters. “Urban open spaces are good for our cities, good for our economy, and, most importantly, good for our families. Jersey City has been ranked one of the Greenest Cities in America and, by taking actions like creating this trust, it will continue to move up that list.”
“While some of our largest parks have had recent upgrades and improvements, Jersey City has many smaller parks that have been overlooked as budgets tighten,” said Laura Skolar,
Voters approved an open space trust fund for Hudson County in 2003, which has become a vehicle for funding a variety of projects that includes parks, playgrounds, historic preservation throughout the county. A number of Jersey City sites have benefited from these funds.
As with the county fund, the city open space trust funds would have an advisory board who would work with various stakeholders to determine the priorities for park renovations and/or creation, and to recommend the distribution of the funds that are collected annually.
Jersey City has about 60 municipal parks with about 13 being renovated or in some other stage or restoration.
“While some of our largest parks have had recent upgrades and improvements, Jersey City has many smaller parks that have been overlooked as budgets tighten,” said Laura Skolar, president of the Jersey City Parks Coalition. “The typical homeowner, for what amounts to just over a penny a day, will help ensure that all our city parks will be given the upgrades and timely improvements necessary to be the assets to our neighborhoods for community events and activities.”
The Parks Coalition has a huge influence on decisions made in parks, and has been petitioning the city to make renovations to a number of smaller parks.
In a recent survey conducted by the non-profit Trust for Public Land, Jersey City ranked 36th for amount of park space among the nation’s 100 most populous cities, with 18 percent of the land area being occupied by parks, however, much of that includes Liberty State Park at 1,200 acres.
Lack of funding has hampered even some of the larger efforts such as the city’s plans to turn Reservoir No. 3 in Jersey City Heights into a water/environmental park two years ago.
The city had hoped to fund that project by allowing a controversial trash transfer project to operate out of the Greenville rail yards. Public pressure caused the city to abandon the Greenville plan.
The trust fund could be used to obtain other funding such as state grants like Green Acres, which in the past would give $3 for every dollar a municipality put up for a project.
“If approved by voters in November, the Jersey City Open Space Trust Fund will help maintain and improve the city’s quality of life by making sure all residents have access to a high quality park or natural area,” said Anthony Cucchi, State Director for The Trust for Public Land, who helped establish a similar ordinance in Hoboken. “Nine out of ten Jersey City residents currently live within a 10 minute walk of a park, so the creation of a dedicated fund for parks will help ensure the city is able to make the investments needed to improve all parks, provide safe, healthy community assets
and create new parks where they are needed most.”
Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club said that more than 250 towns in 21 New Jersey counties have similar trust funds.
“Investing in parks is investing in our cities’ future. Parks and open space not only help the environment, but they improve our health and quality of life, add vitality to neighborhoods and encourage investment and redevelopment,” he said. “More importantly, parks are places where people can get together with their children and
neighbors to play, recreate, or just enjoy the outdoors. When you build new parks and fix older ones, you spur investment in the neighborhoods around those parks, with homes being fixed up and new developments coming in.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org