The signs have sprung up like spring flowers on lawns throughout the township.
Moorestown Save Open Space, a simple message for passersby.
“We are appalled how open space funds can be used to fund the K.I.D.S. Initiative,” said Elizabeth Endres, who along with her husband Mark Hines started MSOS, an advocacy group advocating the use of Open Space funds for open space and its maintenance.
The organization arose out of the frustration the couple and many others felt after Town Council voted on April 11 to use $217,845 in to be used for engineering, design and bidding expenses for Phase I of the .
“We went home that night and felt we had to do something,” said Endres, who is a member of STEM’s steering committee, a fact she disclosed prior to being interviewed. “We knew there were so many people who felt as we did.”
Indeed, the people opposed to the use of Open Space funds for anything other than the acquisition of Open Space land and the preservation of those same lands have been vocal in their opposition to council’s use of the funds.
The group, which is separate from any other group in town, has its own mission.
“We want to get the word out that this is what happened,” Endres said.
“There is a groundswell of concern about this,” Hines said, noting that MSOS does not have an opinion on whether the K.I.D.S. Initiative should be done, just that Open Space funds should not be used for it.
The group held an organizational meeting April 28 and 45 people showed up. Since then they have distributed 100 signs and have a waiting list for more. They have a Facebook page and an online petition that has 160 signatures thus far.
“We are surprised at how enthusiastic everyone is,” said Endres. “These are really passionate people.”
“There is a sense of betrayal,” said Hines. “The funds have been yanked away and used for something most people don’t consider open space.”
The K.I.D.S. Initiative calls for improving fields and other recreational facilities at Wesley Bishop and John Pryor Parks. Improvements would include artificial turf, new parking lots and scoreboards. Improvements to the David Gentile Skatepark and the roller hockey rinks are also part of Phase I of the initiative.
The Open Space Trust fund is funded through a tax levy of 1¢ per $100 of assessed value. The township collects approximately $464,000 through the tax. There is currently $1.6 million in the Open Space Trust Fund. Another approximately $2 million is owed to the township from the state for previous open space purchases.
The Open Space Referendum was last voted on in 2007, passing 4,652 to 2,196 in favor of the tax. It is the interpretive statement from that vote that Hines and Endres point to as proof that the way council wants to use funds is not allowed.
The interpretative statement of the 2007 ballot initiative read: "the fund will continue to be used exclusively for the acquisition of lands for recreation and conservation purposes; development and maintenance of such lands; acquisition of farmland for farmland preservation purposes; historic property preservation or acquisition; and/or payment of debt service on indebtedness issued or incurred by the municipality for any of the aforesaid purposes."
And what is MSOS hoping to accomplish?
“We want to stop council from using Open Space funds and we would like them to rescind the April 11 decision,” said Hines. “Open Space funds are for a very specific purpose, not artificial turf and scoreboards.”
“Where does it end? This can expand to anything,” said Endres. “This needs to stop. That’s our mission.”