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A Grassroots Effort to Save Open Space

A new advocacy group is hoping to stop the use of Open Space trust funds for anything other than acquisition and preservation of Open Space.

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.”

George June 19, 2011 at 01:41 AM
utr, yeah, "that stone building on Swedes Run but the MSOS people should step up to the plate and do it privately,". Tell the MSOS people and Council to cancel the referendum that voters approved 2:1 in favor of OS taxation.
utr June 19, 2011 at 11:02 AM
KJL, You're not shocked. In fact you know what I say to be true. You even were pissed about it when it happened. Go to the beginning of this blog an d when I asked you about this subject, you replied "No good deed remains unpunished" As to the email, believe it our not there are several of our employees who are a little miffed that they are asked to do with less while Council debates $2-$3 million on an artificial field. As I have learned, they also like to gossip among themselves even sharing emails of irate Councilman about our favorite topic. I concede to your second paragraph, you are more right then I. Though, I was really refering to the election of Mr.(s) Gallo and Testa. I also agree that the Council has done a good job keeping our taxes from escalating. I happen to believe until this town comes to terms with a long term plan for where this government is headed they should continue renting. But that's a conversation for another day. Finally, I am in favor of fixing things without raising taxes. However, it needs to be done in a responsible way. Artificial fields are not ecologically, or fiscally responsible at this time. Private funding is a good thing.
utr June 19, 2011 at 11:08 AM
George, how about instead of canceling it, putting the tax on hold until we get through these next few years of recession. The referendum was approved when everyone in this town was flush with cash. I wonder if it would pass by the same margin now. As to fixing the stone house, why not do it privately? Just because the town has Open Space cash doesn't mean it has to spend it on what some would call an insignificant structure in the grand scheme of things.
utr June 19, 2011 at 11:53 AM
Your facts are wrong. Baseball spent an average of 54k IN 2007,2008 AND 2009 on maintenance. I can't believe that number would jump to 117K in 2010 to get to that 75K/year average. http://www.guidestar.org/FinDocuments/2009/237/431/2009-237431805-06a6439b-Z.pdf
Ginger Hayes June 19, 2011 at 11:35 PM
You guess wrong George... we have countered many times and many ways. You just refused to listen. I absolutely DO NOT agree with you!

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