Outdoor recreationalists of all stripes–whether they be hikers, bikers, runners, horseback riders, or hunters–can generally agree that it’s important to have funding to expand and improve the natural areas they love. That’s why the open spaces bill SCR84 was voted through on November 4 of last year. With the success of the ballot measure, however, comes the trickier discussion of exactly how this open space funding is to be allocated.
The Keep It Green Coalition, of which the Trail Conference is a member, has pushed to see that the new Green Acres distribution equals the previous Corporate Business Tax (CBT) dedication of $15 million annually to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Because the Trail Conference partners with State Parks and State Forests extensively to help serve the public on the trails we love, we have supported the measure.
We’re very happy to say that this push has paid off and the sponsoring senators are keeping their pledge–the new proposed allocation keeps DEP development funding at the $15 million level it was previously. The following discussion points go into more depth, but the core message is that our state partners will continue to be funded as before. There is a downside: It does not provide all the funds that we need for land acquisition, and that is an issue we must continue to fight for. Nonetheless, we have secured a continuing source of open space funding through 2045--and it is one that continues to support the State Parks and Forests where our volunteers and members work and recreate.
-The legislation only allocates the funds for FY16-FY19, leaving the allocation when the funds ramp up in FY20 and beyond to be determined
-$15 million for state lands is included under the umbrella of 'Development' which encompasses capital and stewardship projects
-Excluding the $15 million for state land development/capital/stewardship, the remainder of the $71 million is allocated 59.5% to Green Acres (including 5% to Blue Acres), 36.7% to farmland preservation, and 3.8% to Historic Preservation.
-Of the $15 million allocated to DEP for development/capital/stewardship, 44% (approx. $6.6 million) is allocated to the Depts. of Fish & Wildlife, and Parks & Forestry for stewardship (22% to each).
-Excluding the $15 million for development, the State would receive 32.8% of Green Acres funds, and county/local governments would receive 56.7% of Green Acres funds.
-Non-profits would receive 10.4% of Green Acres funding (not including the $15 million for development). This is essentially the same percentage as in the past, though not the full 12% we recommended. 11% of non-profit grants would be allocated to Stewardship (approx. $546,000). 2% of county/local grants under Green Acres would be allocated to Stewardship (approx. $345,000).
-3% of SADC funds would be allocated to stewardship (approx. $617,000). There is no minimum requirement for non-profit grants under SADC.
-Stewardship is defined as an activity which may be beyond routine operations and maintenance, undertaken by the state, a local government unit, or a qualifying tax-exempt nonprofit organization to repair, restore or improve lands acquired or developed for recreation and conservation purposes or acquire for farmland preservation purposes for the purposes of enhancing or protecting those lands for recreation and conservation purposes or farmland preservation purposes.
-The language allowing for emergency interventions and preservation easements under the NJ Historic Trust is included
-Under each program, funds for admin are capped at 5%
-Language is included requiring that funds from conveyances or leases on any land unit reside with that unit for conservation and recreation purposes