Democrats: The Open Space Trust Fund is Good for Madison

Madison Planning Board member and candidate Rachel Ehrlich (center) points out the need for renovation of the east wing of the Hartley Dodge Memorial to running mates Councilwoman Maureen Byrne and Mayor Bob Conley.  The candidates believe that renovation of the ground floor and first floor of the east wing and a new turf field at the MRC should be priority items for future funding by the Open Space, Recreation, and Historic Preservation Trust Fund.

Read the article on the Madison Eagle website.

MADISON – In a joint prepared statement, Madison Mayor Bob Conley, Councilwoman Maureen Byrne and Madison Planning Board member Rachel Ehrlich state their support for Madison’s Open Space, Recreation, and Historic Preservation Trust Fund and the Municipal Open Space Tax at its current rate.  Conley and Byrne are running for re-election in 2019.  Ehrlich is running for her first term on Council.

The candidates stated, “The availability of open spaces for active and passive recreation and enjoyment by all is an important part of what makes Madison such a desirable place to live.  This is a Madison attribute that helped to convince New Jersey Monthly magazine to name our town number one on the magazine’s “Best Places to Live” list. But achieving this has taken careful planning, local and state partnerships and a rigorous fiscal process that maximizes how tax dollars are spent to invest in the open spaces.  A key to the process has been the availability of our Open Space, Recreation, and Historic Preservation Trust Fund, which was established following a successful 2004 public referendum that overwhelmingly approved a dedicated municipal tax to maintain and support the fund.  

The most prominent project made possible by the Trust Fund was the 2009 acquisition of the 49 acres of the former Exxon-Mobil property for the Madison Recreation Center (MRC), which now includes two artificial turf fields, permanent bleachers and a press box, the 100-plot Madison Community Garden, hiking trails, a fenced-in pollinator meadow and a protected forest. These very popular facilities have become an important aspect of everyday life in Madison residents.”

Councilwoman Byrne stated “By leveraging Trust fund dollars, of the $13 million cost for the MRC land, 78% came from state and county grants. And, now thanks to the efforts of the borough administration and the active support of our representatives in Trenton, Senator Richard Codey and Assembly members Mila Jasey and John McKeon, Madison received an additional $500,000 Green Acres grant to help pay off the bonded debt (principal) incurred by the borough for its share of the cost of the MRC property.” 

“The MRC success is just one example of how the Trust Fund has leveraged borough dollars with grant money from the state and county to preserve our important historical buildings and expand and improve open spaces,” added candidate Rachel Ehrlich.  “The 18th century Luke Miller house was saved from demolition, Livesey Park was established adjacent to the Kings Road School property, and the fields at the former Bayley Ellard High School all were purchased using combinations of Trust Fund money and external grants. More recent examples include the acquisition of multiple grant awards from the county for the preservation of the historic James Library, home of the Museum of Early Trades and Crafts, and the $42,000 grant from the County Trails Construction Grant Program for the Summerhill Park trail system.”

Mayor Conley continued, “Looking forward, I see two priorities for future Open Space, Recreation, and Historic preservation investment.  One is a joint project with the Board of Education (BoE) to add an additional turf field to the MRC.  In a time when children spend too much time in front of a screen, continued investment in our recreational facilities is a must.

The second priority is the desperately needed renovation of the east wing of Hartley Dodge Memorial (HDM).  The 2009 – 2010 reconstruction of the HDM did not include reconstruction of the former police department facilities on ground floor of the east wing and the first floor court room and adjoining offices.  The ground floor area is in particularly poor condition and is unworthy of this community treasure, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is now time to complete the job we started in 2009.

Although we are accruing Trust Fund monies for reskinning of the existing turf files in 2021 and the fund continues to be the primary source of money for amortizing the debt incurred by the MRC purchase and the artificial turf fields, with some partnering with the Hartley Dodge foundations and help from the BoE and the state, respectively, I believe that it will be possible to also pay for these two important projects without the need for bonding or any increase in the Open Space Tax.”

The candidates concluded, ‘Our residents’ support for the Trust Fund has made a huge difference for Madison and we are all seeing the benefits from the projects it supports. We needed the Trust Fund in 2004 and we need it now, and will continue to need it in the future.  A dedicated source of funding for open space, aquifer protection, recreation and historic preservation is more important than ever in insuring that Madison will continue to be the ‘Best Place to Live in New Jersey.’”