millington school ca. 1882
Class Photo 1882


What is this referendum about?

In Long Hill, there is a tiny segment of local property tax that has been collected since the late 1990s to finance an Open Space Fund. The state law, the "Open Space, Recreation, Farmland and Historic Preservation Trust Fund Taxing Districts P.L. 1997, C. 24  (N.J.S.A. 40:12-15.1 et seq.)", which allows the tax to be collected locally permits the proceeds to be applied to any or all of the following uses:
  • Acquisition of lands for recreation and conservation purposes; 
  • Development of lands acquired for recreation and conservation purposes; 
  • Maintenance of lands acquired for recreation and conservation purposes; 
  • Acquisition of farmland for farmland preservation purposes; 
  • Historic preservation of historic properties, structures, facilities, sites, areas, or objects, and the acquisition of such properties, facilities, sites, areas, or objects for historic preservation purposes; and, 
  • Payment of debt service on indebtedness issued or incurred by a county or municipality for any of the purposes set forth above. 

When Long Hill elected to start collecting the tax back in 1997, the local referendum question at that time didn't include historic preservation, so right now the local fund cannot be used for that purpose.

This 2006 referendum amends to wording of the 1997 referendum to include the historic preservation uses permitted under the state law.

What will this cost me on my tax bill?

There will be zero change to your tax bill. It will not cost one additional cent. You're already paying $.02 per $100 of assessed value for local open space, and have been doing so since tax year 1998. It will not change at all. All this will do is allow the same $.02 collected to be allocated with $.015 applied to open space and $.005 applied to historic preservation.

Why make the change?

Since 1998 the fund has been accumulating money, but very few open space parcels have been acquired. This year, consideration of a property for open space acquisition was withdrawn. The local fund, though, has a balance of about $800,000 as of 2005 and may be approaching $1,000,000 by 2007.

On the other hand, several potential historic preservation projects have emerged. The first candidate is our old Town Hall in Millington which is a significant part of our shared history. Since at least the 1870s, it has been a schoolhouse, library and then the Town Hall for 75 years. The building has been unoccupied since 2003 when the government moved to its new building on Valley Road.

Stabilizing and restoring the building for use as a local history museum and learning center will require money. Applying 25% the open space money collected will allow this project to go forward without imposing any new burden on the taxpayers.

Why not just demolish the old building, sell the property and put up a new tax paying house?

Aside from the cultural aspects of preserving our past, the cold facts are that the lot is small and would mean that only a small house could be built. It might generate $8,000 in property taxes. If a family with two children moves in, the cost of educating the new residents in our schools would be about $18,000. That, plus the new house's share of municipal services means that the town would lose about $10,000 a year by having the new house. We're better off keeping our old building.

How much historic preservation money would be available each year out of open space tax collections?

An estimate based on 2005 tax collections is about $60,000.
Won't this Town Hall restoration project cost a lot more than that?

It will. But there are other historic preservation funds available at both the county and state levels. For instance, Morris County's Historic Preservation Trust Fund has granted several million dollars to projects countywide in the last several years. The catch is that these grants require a 20% local match to the county grant. If Long Hill has $60,000 available for the local match, then it would be possible to apply for as much as an additional $240,000 in any one year. Many restoration projects go on for several grant cycle years. That kind of serious money would allow a significant restoration of the old schoolhouse.

Where does that Morris County Open Space and Historic money come from?

Morris County has been collecting a county open space fund tax since 1993. Last year every Long Hill property owner paid .05 per $100. assessed value into the county fund. That rate across all 39 towns in the county raises millions every year.

In 2002, Morris County, recognizing that it was accumulating open space money faster than it was granting funds for appropriate open space applications, allocated a portion of those funds for Historic Preservation under the same state law. A countywide referendum, just like the one we're doing locally, allowed for the change after the voters approved.

That sounds like we're sending a lot of tax money to the county for open space. As a town, why don't we stop paying into it?

We don't have a choice about that at the local level. We cannot unilaterally opt out of the county assessment.
What if we stopped collecting for open space locally?

That is the situation we had between 1993 and 1998. We paid into the county open space fund during those years, but by not having a local open space fund program Long Hill was not eligible to apply for open space grants from the county. That provided motivation for passing our own local open space fund in 1997 which went into effect in 1998.

Someday we'll want that county open space money, so it would be foolish to opt out of the funding system we worked to get into.

Do any other towns allow for the use of their local open space funds for historic preservation?

Yes. As of now there are 13 in Morris County alone; even more statewide. Parsippany also has a public question for historic preservation, just like ours, on the ballot this November.
What if every last dollar is needed for a particular open space acquisition?

It hasn't happened yet, but if it did, keep in mind that there is hardly a square inch of northern New Jersey that hasn't been influenced by human activity. Under the broadest interpretation of historic preservation, nearly every parcel of land can be interpreted to have historic links. Many open space applications have an old house, barn, stone wall, well or other constructed artifact. If there is a compelling reason to make an acquisition, the local open space committee and historic preservation committee would work together. Their county-level counterparts have already done exactly that on several projects in the last few years.

Can we afford to take rateables off the tax rolls for historic preservation?
When we talk about acquiring acreage for open space, that is an important consideration and must be taken into account. Once land goes from private ownership to protected government ownership, it is no longer generating property tax revenue.

That is not necessarily the case with historic preservation. Many likely candidates are either already owned by government (like our old town hall), or are not paying taxes, like churches. Restoration grant programs, which could be considered locally, but are not specifically a part of this referendum, trade restoration grant dollars to private owners in exchange for historic preservation deed easements. After the project, the property is still privately owned and taxes are still paid. The deed easement protects the historically significant building or property from being altered beyond accepted historic architectural standards, or being torn down for replacement by a modern investment-developer project.

Another use would be to temporarily buy an endangered historic property off the market to save it from demolition, but sell it back into new private ownership with protective easements when a buyer can be found. The building would be protected and the new private owner would continue to pay taxes on it.

If the referendum passes and work is eventually completed restoring the Old Town Hall for use as an Historical Society museum and education center, how will the ongoing costs of the building be paid? There are several possible answers depending upon the will of the governing body and the public. Money could be allocated every year for basic expenses as a budget line item. This is probably not an expense that the government would want to pass along to the taxpayers in light of the current high property taxes, even though many other towns do exactly that with their historic properties. (Harding Township has even floated a controversial seven figure bond for one of their historic property's restoration.)

We do know from past experience that the building is not terribly expensive to operate if it is not used full time, on the order of several thousand dollars a year for heat, electricity and other utilities. The building is in good shape and minimal maintenance by the DPW will keep it stable for a long time. Any restoration project would likely enhance the infrastructure and probably lower energy costs going forward. Therefore, it is feasible to earmark a small portion of the historic preservation fund to maintain the building each year and still leave plenty of funds for other projects. Though technically this is paid by the taxpayers, it comes from the open space fund that is already collected and is there for exactly these kinds of purposes.

There is the possibility of an offset in expenses by a "rent" contribution from the Historical Society, similar to the contribution that the Society currently makes for its use of meeting space in the First Aid Squad building. This would be far from covering all of the costs, but it would provide some small degree of help. If other groups wish to use the building for meetings or gatherings, fees could be charged.

An additional possibility is to rent the existing office wing of the building to an appropriate organization. A regional nonprofit would be ideal. The impact on the neighbors would be minimal, the times of use would dovetail nicely with museum and civic meeting hours, and the rent, even at below market rates, could cover the entire annual cost of utilities and other necessities.

Assuming the referendum passes, what would be the next steps? The building would be thoroughly inspected by an architectural firm specializing in historic preservation. This is similar to a house inspection, only with any eye to assessing the state of the structure and how much of the original historic fabric of the building survives. An historic sites survey report would be issued and a period of interpretation would be selected for restoration. Period of interpretation means that from the long life of the building, a specific time window would be selected to which the building would be returned. This is important because a building that has existed in parts of three centuries has seen many different historic eras and additions. Restoration shouldn't be a hodge-podge of different eras thrown together, but rather a thought-through snapshot in time that best shows off the historic structure accurately.

The next step would be to generate a preservation plan. This would be the playbook from which the restoration would be guided. Architectural plans would be developed based on the preservation plan.

Simultaneously, application would be made for inclusion of the building on the National Register of Historic Places which would also automatically include it on the New Jersey Register. Our site is a very good candidate for inclusion and we'd hope that with a properly filed application, generated by a firm specializing in these matters, that a Certificate of Eligibility would be issued by the NJ State Historic Preservation Office followed by Register listing.

How would these project phases be funded? The preliminary historic site assessment and the National Register application would require using historic preservation professionals. Their services will cost several thousand dollars each and are prerequisites to applying for county and state historic grants. If the referendum has passed, there will be money in the new historic preservation fund as of the February 1 tax collection. These local funds could be used so that the important behind-the-scenes work could begin as soon as possible.

When the report is done and a Certificate of Eligibility granted, then the project will meet the qualifications to apply for an outside grants and get money to pay for the more expensive preservation plan. Once that plan is developed, the next grant round could fund the first phase of restoration construction.

Who would manage the funds for the project? Money would be under the control of the Township's Chief Financial Officer under the direction of the governing body and the Township's professional staff. Guidance and development of the project would be overseen the existing Long Hill Township Historic Preservation Advisory Committee which by statute includes architectural and historic specialists working in conjunction with the governing body and the Township's professional staff.

How is it decided what can and cannot be done with this restoration? The Long Hill Historic Preservation Advisory Committee adheres to what are known as the Secretary of the Interior Historic Preservation Guidelines. These rules are well-established national guidelines for historic preservation. They provide unified guidance from historic preservation professionals about how restoration should be carried out.

Adherence to the Secretary of the Interior guidelines is a requirement for county, state and many other preservation grant programs.

If you have more questions, please email them to us.

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