Burlington County board proposes reducing open-space tax rate

Posted: June 15, 2013

The Burlington County Board of Freeholders introduced a $184.2 million budget this week that slashes the amount traditionally collected for open-space programs as a way to keep the overall tax rate from rising.

The vote was 3-2 along party lines, with the Democrats criticizing a proposed cut in the tax for farmland acquisition, open space, and historic preservation that would reduce the amount collected from $19 million to about $7 million.

When the plan was unveiled at a board meeting Wednesday, about 30 residents objected, saying the county should continue to fund preservation efforts and create more hiking and biking trails, according to published reports.

The Republicans, however, said the decrease is necessary to make up for declining property values and a 70 percent increase in tax appeals.

"The freeholders wanted to hold the line on taxes overall," said Charlene Webster, spokeswoman for the board.

The open-space tax, first approved by voters in 1996, would be reduced from four cents per $100 of equalized assessed value to 1.5 cents in 2013. Since 1998, the freeholders have collected the four cents, the maximum authorized by voters to be set aside for preservation.

County officials say the reduction in this levy would eliminate the need to increase overall taxes to support the general budget.

Under the proposed budget, the tax rate would be 40.7 cents for $100 of equalized assessed property value. Under a state formula, the state surveys the market in each municipality and weighs actual property value against assessed value to come up with an equalized levy.

The overall amount to be raised by taxation would be $170 million, or nearly $8 million less than last year.

A hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m., July 10 at the freeholder meeting room at 49 Rancocas Rd., Mount Holly.

Contact Jan Hefler at 856-779-3224 or jhefler@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @JanHefler. Read her blog, "Burlco Buzz," at www.philly.com/BurlcoBuzz.

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