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Town Council and residents wrangle over Strawbridge Lake repairs.

Should funds set aside for open space be used for repairing dams at Strawbridge Lake?

That question met with divisive opinions between council members and a handful of residents during Monday night’s Town Council meeting. The council approved a resolution to spend $22,000 on engineering, design and bid expenses for dam repairs to be paid from the Moorestown Open Space, Recreation, Farmland and Historic Trust Fund.

Before the vote, Acting Town Manager Tom Merchel informed council members and the audience that the dam repairs are ineligible for outside funding.

“At the last council meeting, I promised to look for outside money for repairs,” said Merchel. “There is no available funding for Class III dams.”

Class III dams are structures that would cause little or no downstream damage should they fail, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection. 

At the July 11 town council meeting, Merchel presented results of an inspection of Strawbridge Lake by the Alaimo Group, detailing needed repairs to Hooten Dam, Lower Hooten Dam and Moorestown Dam corresponding with the DEP's requirements. The inspection cost $11,000, which was paid for from the fund.

The open space tax was first approved in 1998, and currently collects 1¢ per $100 of assessed property value.

Most residents on Monday night agreed that the work needs to be done, but some felt council is misusing money set aside as open space funds.

Mark Hines, co-founder of Moorestown Save Our Space (SOS), told council that most voters want this fund used only for the acquisition of open space, not score boards or mowing land.

“Although Strawbridge Lake needs repairs,” said Hines, “this is not what the fund was raised for. We should not be borrowing from it.”

Agreeing with Hines, Monique Begg indicated this fund should only be used to preserve open space in Moorestown and asked council to reconsider proceeding with the project.

“What have we done in the past when we needed money for lake repairs?” said Begg. “I’d like to see other efforts.”

In the spring, Hines and his wife, Elizabeth Endres, after learning that Town Council had approved money from the open space fund to make repairs to and .

On July 19, SOS, along with Concerned Moorestonians and Save the Environment of Moorestown, filed a petition with enough signatures—1,493—to place a referendum question on the ballot in November on the use of open space.

"Recreation shall mean passive recreation, meaning leisure time activities, of an informal nature not requiring athletic equipment or athletic facilities and which are appropriate for sites which are minimally improved or in natural condition," states the petition that the groups filed with the town.

“The petition has been received, and the signatures are being reviewed,” said Township Clerk Patricia Hunt, who has 20 days to certify the petition to make certain all signees are registered voters.

“In the spirit of preserving Strawbridge Lake, I think repairs should be made,” said Endres earlier Monday. “But, Strawbridge Lake was not acquired using open space money. My understanding is that open space funding has been used to mow the grounds at Strawbridge Lake and pay salaries. I don’t agree with that thinking, either.”

These fees should be paid from the town’s operating budget, said Endres.

During the town meeting, Councilwoman Stacey Jordan said she thinks most people would agree that Strawbridge Lake is deemed open space.

“I feel we should use the [open space] funds to repair the dams,” said Jordan. “I think it is a good expenditure for a worthy cause.”

Councilman Chris Chiacchio concurred, “We can repair the dams now without raising taxes. I think we should move forward.”  

Mayor John Button said he continues to be taken aback with talk surrounding the open space fund, and that other towns are using open space funds for similar purposes.

“It is far better to maintain affordable taxes,” said Button. “I believe that we are taking appropriate action in using the funds for the repairs.”

Deputy Mayor Greg Gallo and Councilman Michael Testa were not present.

John J. Logue, chair of the Moorestown Republican Municipal Committee, and the group's other 39 members, had a meeting last week to discuss the petition filed surrounding the open space debate.

“Regardless of personal opinions, we [the members of the committee] support the proposal of the people of our town to be heard and clarify open space,” said Logue.  

Nearly a dozen members of the committee had signed the MSOS petition, according to Logue. 

“We strongly urge our council,” said Logue, “to support the people in Moorestown in clarifying the meaning of open space.”

Mark Hines July 27, 2011 at 10:49 AM
Thanks Patch! That is close to what I said, but not exactly (just like my name). I pointed out at the council meeting that the Open Space Fund was used almost exclusively for Open Space acquisition for ten years, and in the past two, have now been used heavily for other uses, with half of the annual recurring funds just to mow grass. Three months ago, $218,000 was taken for the KIDS initiative, and some on Council want to use $1.5 - 2 million for the the remainder of the KIDS project Phase 1. On Monday, I echoed a previous comment that asked how such studies, as the dam study, were financed in the past before the Open Space fund was available. My comments to the Moorestown Council recommended caution when using Open Space funds for non-acquisition expenditures, because Council has strongly tipped the balance of acquisition/maintenance, to non-acquisition expenditures. When we purchase open space with OS funds, we normally receive 3 dollars in matching funds to every dollar Moorestown contributes. When we spend it on mowing grass or KIDS, or dam repairs, we get no matching funds. I agree with Ms. Jordan, and Mr. Chiacchio, that although Strawbridge Lake was not purchased with Open Space funds, it fits the traditional definition of open space.
Catherine Laughlin July 27, 2011 at 11:23 AM
Mark, My apologies on your first name inaccuracy. (A correction will be made.) At the Town Council, you and other concerned residents were concerned about the use of the fund's money. That is what I reported. Thank you for adding further on your stance.
Ginger Hayes July 27, 2011 at 11:31 AM
Mark, we have been on opposite sides of the issue from the beginning but what you said above sounds a tiny bit different and I just want to be sure I understand because part of what you said makes sense. Are you worried about the unbalanced spending of OS money for approrpriate uses other than purchases? Also, it was my understanding that KIDS was suggesting the OS money cover debt service not the entire $1.2 mill budget. Has that changed?
krl July 27, 2011 at 11:49 AM
please also check to see if all 39 members of the committee that Mr. Logue chairs were in attendance and agreed with his comments. I agree with him but I dont think the statement in the article is correct. those meetings are poorly attended and i question if their was complete support.
Lenola Rules July 27, 2011 at 01:44 PM
krl or kl are you trying to be kathy again? perhaps your comments on that committee are correct, but what's up with that alias again? (apologize if somehow by you have the same initials)
KJL July 27, 2011 at 02:15 PM
Lenola Rules - If you are assuming that "krl" is me, you are incorrect. Regardless of my opinions on the subject of the article, I agree with you that if someone is selecting screen names to imply they are Mrs. Logue, it is in appropriate.
Good mtown July 27, 2011 at 03:11 PM
No Kevin we wouldn't think it would be you. I'm sorry, they were putting "Kathy L" and now "krl". Go thing you put your middle initial on yours. Have a great day!
Lenola Rules July 27, 2011 at 03:20 PM
Interesting how that person hasn't responded, bizarre.
Jacquely July 27, 2011 at 05:11 PM
I also attended Monday night's Town Council meeting when Resolution 129-2011, regarding the authorization of $22000 OS funds for repairs of Strawbridge Lake was unanimously passed. I also made a public comment explaining that the fund would actually lose $88000 of buying power because for every dollar taken from the fund for purchasing of land the county contributes $1 and the state contributes $2. There are no matching funds for repairs or maintenance. So OS and the residents of Moorestown lose $44000 from the state and $22000 from the county. So this Resolution does not make any economic sense.
KJL July 28, 2011 at 12:42 AM
Done WithIt – You aren’t really looking for a debate on facts are you? It is all about what people want and has nothing to do with facts. I have posted several times the facts about the growth of the Open Space Fund, with and without KIDS expenses, yet no one ever addresses the facts. I will try one last time ….. At the end of 2011, there will be $1.6M in the OS Fund, after the KIDS and the Dam Repair engineering costs are subtracted. OSAC indicated at its meeting on June 30th that the typical acquisition deal takes roughly 5 years to conclude and there is nothing currently in negotiations for acquisition. With that in mind, look at the growth of the OS Fund between now and the end of 2016. In those five years, the fund will grow to $4.0M with no additional expenses other than those for Rec Dept and debt repayment. However, if Council were to approve a Bond Ordinance for KIDS and use OS Funds to pay the portion of the debt service remaining after the club contributions are subtracted ($180k/yr), the OS Fund will grow to $3.1M. What all of that means is that even if OS Funds are used to fix our fields, the Township will still have in excess of $3.0M to use towards acquisition/preservation in 2016. In short, fields are fixed and the Township can acquire Open Space parcel(s) valuing in excess of $12.0M given the state & county contributions, all of which is possible WITHOUT RAISING TAXES! So why is it a bad idea?????
Carmen H. von Wrangell July 28, 2011 at 11:34 AM
I think I'm finally getting a much more balanced idea on this debate, not thanks to the rancor and pettiness of some of these responses that add nothing to the discussion, but to bare facts and figures. How much land is there to be acquired and preserved as open space in all of Moorestown? How much will that land cost? How much is in the fund? Would there be a surplus if ALL the land is acquired? Do the state and federal governments match funds or give grants for open space acquisition? After every LAST parcel of open land is acquired for open space, how is the land preserved? Where do the funds come from for the maintenance of those open space preserved sites? Now, let us all cool down and have a mango ice at Rita's.
KJL July 28, 2011 at 11:52 AM
Carmen - The answer to some of your questions can be found in Open Space Master Plan document, link below. It is, I blieve, intended as a guide for Council in how to puruse an effective Open Space Program. I will also re-post some of my observations from the Mater Plan. Here is the link to the Open Space and Recreation Plan Element document. http://www.moorestown.nj.us/pubs/161/3480.pdf
KJL July 28, 2011 at 11:53 AM
I attended the Open Space Advisory Committee meeting on 6-30 to try to understand how that group works. I posed a question the Chair, Mr. Shaw about how the properties are selected for OS acquisition and he directed me to a document, entitled “Open Space and Recreation Plan Element”, as prepared by the Planning Board. I found the answer to my question but I also found a lot of very interesting information such as: •Page IV-11: “Facility Needs” – This section discusses the high level of usage on the township’s fields, the dire need for maintenance and the need for rest, acknowledging rest is unlikely given the usage. • Page IV-12: “Guidelines for Adequacy of Open Space” – It appears that the desirable goal for an Open Space Program, according to Green Acres, in Moorestown based upon future population projection is 180 acres. As of 2009, we had 666 acres of Open Space, which is more than three times the desirable amount. It goes on to say that it recommends 3% of municipal land area is set aside of Open Space. Moorestown as of 2009 was at 7%, more than double the desirable amount. There are similar numbers using the National Park Association guidelines.
KJL July 28, 2011 at 11:53 AM
Page IV-20: “Recommendation for Open Space and Recreation” – This section begins with the statement “The following recommendations are made to fulfill the goals and objectives for Open Space in Moorestown” and goes on to list, among others, the following recommendations: o Part 3 – “..meet the demand in the future through adequate budgets for capital improvements and maintenance….” o Part 5 – “Continue the roles of RAC and OSAC in the planning for recreation and Open Space acquisitions in relation to this document” o Part 6 – “Utilize professional site planning assistance…to create a consensus plan for the development of recreational facilities” – The township did this with Taylor Design and it is basis for the KIDS recommendations. o Part 10 – “Continue to upgrade and maintain the existing park facilities and to develop a capital projects plan” – Isn’t this what KIDS is all about???? Please read the entire document so that nothing is taken out of context. What I don’t understand is why, if such a document exists to direct the Open Space Program in Moorestown, are we arguing about doing things that this guidance document tells Council to do??????
Ginger Hayes July 28, 2011 at 01:34 PM
I've asked the Hine's that question no less than half dozen times. All we get in response is they don't want to use it for rec. never why or how it would factually effect the OS fund or it's ability to do as THEY wish.
KJL July 28, 2011 at 09:04 PM
DoneWithIt - I understand and agree with your point. I just went off on a tagent, sorry about that. What seems to be confusing people is this concept of state and county matching. You are correct in that by spending money from the Fund for purposes other than acquisition, the Towbnsip not losing money. The money is still there but it cannot be accessed until land is acquired....which won't be for 4 or 5 years. The Township already has vastly exceeded the recommendations for Open Space acquisition and there are no deals currently in process and I do not believe there is even a seller that is interested...so what are we saving millions of dollars for?

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