Highlands ‘Enterprise Zone’ may be Township Council topic

West Milford. State legislation creating an "Enterprise Zone" in communities regulated by the Highlands Act could provide economic incentives for local businesses, if adopted.

30 Oct 2019 | 12:05

Renewed support for action by a group of state legislators who continue to work on a proposal to establish a 50 percent state sales tax reduction in West Milford, and other municipalities within, or partially within, the New Jersey Highlands Region, might be a future topic for victors in next Tuesday’s election and council members who are still completing terms on the Township Council to consider addressing.

Supporters hope that the proposal will come up for a hearing before the end of the year but there are no guarantees.

The council members who were in office on Sept. 5, 2018, adopted a resolution to back an effort to establish a Highlands Enterprise Zone (HEZ).

The successful request for support was made by Vernon Township Mayor Harry Shortway.

West Milford’s resolution of a year ago asked Gov. Phil Murphy, the New Jersey League of Municipalities, US Senators, and the Passaic County Legislative Delegation, to look into creation of a HEZ zone for areas in municipalities, or groups of municipalities, who have been suffering from economic distress stemming from the existing Highlands Act legislation.

Water survival needs of about 2 million people, over 70 percent of the state’s population, are supplied by the region, West Milford’s resolution said.

It also pointed out that the Highlands Act placed an undue burden on the municipalities falling under its jurisdiction, resulting in economic struggles and loss of millions of dollars in ratables.

In June of the current year, State Sen. Steve Oroho, (R-24), and State Sen. Joseph Pennacchio, (R-26), jointly introduced bill S3941 that would apply a 50 percent sales tax reduction to most retail purchases made in the Highlands Preservation Area municipalities except for purchases that involved vehicles, alcohol and cigarettes.

The bill, also listing State Sen. Anthony R. Bucco, (R-25), has been referred to the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, where it is waiting for a hearing.

A companion bill (A5692) with the same provisions as the Senate bill was introduced by Assembly members Parker Space and Hal Wirths, (both R-24).

The Assembly bill has the co-sponsorship of nine more Republican legislators, and has been referred to the Assembly Environmental and Solid Waste Committee to wait for a hearing.

Oroho said he continues to seek Democratic support for bi-partisan action to benefit West Milford and the other Highlands Region municipalities.