Measure Would Give Lake Officials Dedicated Revenue Stream for Environmental Cleanup
TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Bob Smith which would authorize the Greenwood Lake Commission to charge certain fees to permanently fund environmental cleanup of the lake was approved by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee today by a vote of 8-3, with 1 abstention.
“As New Jersey struggles to find funding for our State’s biggest environmental priorities, we need to ask other agencies to do more with less, and move towards self-sufficiency,” said Senator Smith, D-Middlesex and Somerset, and the Chair of the Committee. “The Greenwood Lake Commission would be able to support itself through a modest user fee imposed on those who enjoy the lake. Given our nearly chronic budget shortfalls and the diversion of funds away from environmental projects, user fees would be an important mechanism to allow the Commission to continue its work maintaining Greenwood Lake.”
The bill, S-1833, would give the Greenwood Lake Commission in Passaic County the authority to charge certain specified fees for docks, wharfs, moorings and boats on the lake. The funds collected would be deposited into a dedicated account, and would be used to fund the Commission’s activities in maintaining and cleaning up the lake, including stump removal and weed harvesting from the lake, and the implementation of stormwater and septic management plans. Senator Smith added that the bill is entirely permissive, and that the ultimate choice to adopt fees would be up to the Commission
“Through this legislation, we’re giving the Lake Commission the power to impose limited user fees to fund their work,” said Senator Smith. “This would take a lot of the guesswork out of year-to-year budgeting, ensuring dedicated funding for the maintenance and improvement of Greenwood Lake. If this bill is approved, we would ensure that even in extremely tight fiscal times, the Greenwood Lake Commission would be guaranteed funding to preserve and protect a major tourist attraction in Northern New Jersey.”
The lawmaker noted that as a bi-state agency, the Greenwood Lake Commission requires identical enabling legislation in both New Jersey and New York before it could begin charging user fees. The New York State Legislature has already approved a measure to allow the Commission to impose fees, but that legislation expires on June 30 unless New Jersey has a similar law in place.
“The clock is ticking on this initiative,” said Senator Smith. “Unless we get our bill approved by the June 30 deadline, we’ll be back to square one in identifying a funding source for Greenwood Lake.”
Senator Smith added that a previous version of the bill also contained language which would have allowed the Lake Hopatcong Commission in Morris County to charge fees, but that the language was removed at the request of Commissioners and State Senator Anthony Bucco, R-Morris, who represents Lake Hopatcong in his legislative district. Senator Smith said that he would honor the Commission’s wishes, but cautioned that the State is in a difficult position to provide funding for programs on Lake Hopatcong this year.
“I sincerely hope we can find some level of funding in the FY 09 budget to continue to support Lake Hopatcong, but everyone needs to recognize that there simply isn’t any money to spare,” said Senator Smith. “If the Lake Hopatcong Commission decides in the future that they want to have the authority to impose user fees, we can revisit the topic. But we can no longer fund the Commission’s activities from our State’s General Budget, particularly when so many other worthy programs are being left to rot on the vine.”
The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration. It was approved unanimously by the Senate Environment Committee last week.