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October 1, 2003

Contact: Jack Kaskey
(609) 984-1795

DEP Commissioner Celebrates Increased Funding for Urban Parks
Campbell Reminds Voters of Opportunity to Approve $150 Million for Open Space and Park Projects

(03/137) TRENTON --- Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell joined Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo on Tuesday to celebrate the McGreevey administration's increased funding for urban park improvements, and he reminded voters that they soon will have an opportunity to approve up to $150 million more for open space and park projects.

"Under Governor McGreevey's reforms to the DEP's Green Acres program, we are substantially increasing the amount of money we provide for park improvements and acquisitions in densely populated areas of the state like Essex County," said DEP Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell. "By creating neighborhood parks where our children can play safely and adults can stroll along tree-lined paths, we make our cities and older suburbs more attractive places to live."

Joining Campbell and DiVincenzo for the announcement at Branch Brook Park were representatives of 10 nonprofit groups that are in line to receive grants ranging from $250,000 to $400,000 for county park improvements.

"Governor James E. McGreevey and DEP Commissioner Brad Campbell understand the great demands that are placed on our historic park system and the resources we need to maintain them," DiVincenzo said. "I truly appreciate the state looking favorably on what has been a unique and innovative community partnership that we used to file our applications this year."

The DEP has recommended to the Garden State Preservation Trust that Essex County receive $3 million in matching grants in the next funding round and that non-profit groups receive another $3.4 million to upgrade county parks. If approved by the Trust, the grant recommendations would be forwarded to the Legislature for approval. The money would be available after the governor signs the grants into law.

The proposed $6.4 million total far exceeds the $2.5 million in open space grants awarded Essex County and local park groups in the last funding round, including $500,000 awarded the Green Fields Foundation for improvements to Brookdale Athletic Fields.

In his State of the State speech, Governor McGreevey said he would create or improve 200 community parks. Last year, extra consideration was given to funding parks in urban and densely developed suburban neighborhoods. The DEP is placing even more emphasis on community parks in the recently proposed package of grants and loans sent to the Trust. The governor's Green Acres reforms put a higher priority on acquiring and upgrading parks in cities and densely populated suburbs. These are defined as areas with populations of at least 35,000 or with population densities greater than 5,000 people per square mile.

Campbell reminded voters that they will have an opportunity to approve an additional $150 million for park improvements and open space purchases on Election Day, Nov. 4. Public Question No. 1, a constitutional amendment, proposes to increase the bonding capacity of the Garden State Preservation Trust to $1.15 billion, an increase of $150 million from the $1 billion voters approved in 1998.

The increased capacity would place no additional tax burden on New Jersey taxpayers. The sales tax dedicated in 1998 to pay off Garden State Preservation Trust bonds would cover these additional bonds by taking advantage of today's lower interest rates.

"At least $50 million would be used to create and improve parks in our cities and suburbs over the next three years as part of Gov. McGreevey's Parks for People initiative," Campbell said. "Last year, we could provide only $1 in Green Acres funding for every $8 requested by local governments to acquire and upgrade local parks. This additional money would help meet New Jersey's growing demand for open space."

A minimum of $50 million also would be spent on open space purchases and farmland preservation in the Highlands, a critical environmental resource that is the source of drinking water for Essex County and more than a third of New Jersey's residents.

Governor McGreevey this year signed legislation into law that triples the priority value given to potential open space purchases that protect water quality and water supplies. Combined with $150 million from Ballot Question No. 1, the DEP will be placing greater emphasis on preserving watershed lands and other critical water supply areas in the Highlands.

"Raising the bonding cap by $150 million will not raise taxes or cost taxpayers anything additional," Campbell said. "Just as many homeowners have taken advantage of lower interest rates to take out larger mortgages without increasing their monthly payments, this constitutional amendment would allow the state to increase funding for open space, community parks and farmland without spending more than voters approved in 1998."

In 1998, voters approved a constitutional dedication of $98 million annually from sales and use tax revenue over the next 30 years to provide a stable source of funding for open space purchases, farmland preservation and historic preservation. Currently, the state may borrow up to $1 billion over the first 10 years, using the $98 million annually to pay off the debt. With today's low interest rates, $98 million annually is sufficient to cover payments on $1.15 billion in debt, allowing the state to expand its open space and farmland preservation efforts.

Since Governor McGreevey took office last year, the State Agriculture Development Committee has preserved 306 farms covering 25,174 acres statewide. The state Green Acres program has acquired another 43,492 acres of open space under McGreevey.


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