Candidate says change zoning on Newark watershed property

| 11 Oct 2012 | 01:16

    There is no acknowledged large-scale commercial business in West Milford, leaving our residents hard hit with property taxes. But Newark Watershed is, in fact, a large-scale commercial business which owns about 60 percent of the property in this town. Between $40 million and $70 million a year is being made by Newark from selling water. Besides consumption by their residential customers, Newark also sells water to other water companies, including companies that sell water to some West Milford residents. Newark also sells water to Budweiser and to Newark Airport for cleaning their planes, etc., making Newark Watershed a large-scale, commercial business.
    In addition, Newark Watershed and Development Co. sold their development rights to the State of New Jersey for $10 million. Then they declared a hardship because of diminished value and won a tax appeal based on that diminished value. They created their own hardship, for which they were extremely well-compensated, and then reduced their property taxes because of their self-imposed hardship! Subsequently, with the passage of the Highlands Act, development rights in West Milford were curtailed for all land owners without compensation, except, of course, for Newark.
    Past efforts to tax the water users, as opposed to the business owner, were not successful. There is constitutional prohibition on the taxation of a water source, so our state officials were unable to pursue such tax measures; nor would a user tax benefitting one or two towns pass muster in Trenton, in any event, as a remedy for relieving the tax burden of West Milford residents caused by the inequities of the Newark Watershed tax and zoning status.
    Furthermore, the watershed property in West Milford is zoned differently than in surrounding watershed towns such as Jefferson, Andover, etc. West Milford watershed is zoned residential 4-acre lots, and in the other towns the watershed property is zoned commercial conservation. All the other towns collect a higher tax rate per acre from Newark as a result. Councilman Joe Smolinski and former Councilman Dan Jurkovic previously proposed changing the zoning to permit the land to be used for green technology such as the installation of removable solar panels, wind turbines and water turbines. Newark would then profit from selling the electricity it generated and West Milford would be allowed to tax the property at a higher rate. However, Smolinski and Jurkovic were advised by legal counsel to hold off while Newark’s tax appeal was pending. That tax appeal has now ended.
    I suggest that we now pursue changing the zoning of the watershed property to either commercial conservation or green technology, and/or pursue taxing Newark Watershed as a large-scale commercial business to ensure they pay their rightful share of taxes to West Milford. This cannot be accomplished by our town council alone because this is a state legislative issue. We need our mayor, council and our new lobbyist to work with our state officials to effect this change at state level and pursue whatever other remedies are necessary in order to bring economic relief to the taxpayers of West Milford who are the real hardship victims, not the Newark Watershed.

    Vivienne Erk
    West Milford
    Candidate for township council