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Mt. Laurel to seek referendum this fall on use of open space funds for upkeep of open space lands

The open space referendums previously passed by voters only allow the township to use open space money to acquire land and nothing more.

It’s looking like Mt. Laurel voters will have a choice to make this fall concerning the township’s Open Space, Recreation and Farmland and Historic Preservation Trust Fund.

Mt. Laurel Council passed an ordinance on first reading at this week’s meeting that would put a referendum before voters later this year where they would decide whether the township could use open space monies for the improvement and upkeep of existing open space lands.

Under the open space referendums passed by Mt. Laurel voters in 1998, 2001, 2002 and 2007, the township can use money generated by the annual open space tax levy only for the acquisition of property.

Township officials say if the referendum passes, the slight modification to the open space program would help the township with the upkeep of properties it has already acquired and any properties it might acquire in the future.

Officials also note the referendum would not affect the open space tax levy rate, with the referendum allowing only for a change in how the money is spent.

“This is a really minor change to an existing referendum,” said Tyler Prime, solicitor for the township. “This referendum and the existing tax rates have been previously approved four times in the past in 1998, 2001, 2002 and 2007. This update just allows the township to use the funds for improvements of existing lands as well as the acquisition.”

If approved by voters in November, Prime said the change would only allow the township to use the funds for the upkeep of lands purchased and designated as open space. Money would not go toward township-owned property that is not classified as open space.

Deputy Mayor Rich Van Noord said council and the township were seeking the update due to how narrowly the original referendum was written.

“It doesn’t make sense to go acquire it (open space) and have to raise additional money to try and upkeep it,” Van Noord said. “This allows us to use that pot of money to keep up with things that we acquire. It’s that simple. The tax rate remains the same.”

Acting township manager Meredith Tomczyk said if the referendum passes in November, some examples for uses of the funds could be building fences at properties, upkeep of trails, replacing roofs or other parts of historic buildings or upkeep for pavilions.

In other news:

Mt. Laurel Township is in the process of adding a new feature to its website listing the names, photos and other information of licensed solicitors allowed to go door-to-door at residents’ homes.

Township officials say the feature is meant to allow residents to quickly answer any questions they may have about the legitimacy of individuals who come to the their door claiming to sell various products and services.

Officials say as time goes on, the township will add more individuals until all licensed solicitors are on the website, along with the hours they’re allowed to operate.

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