What is Newark up to now?

| 14 Aug 2012 | 05:09

    While the citizens of West Milford are still busy dealing with the effects of the property tax reevaluation, it seems that the City of Newark is engaged in some back room antics involving the land they own in West Milford’s backyard.
    In a nutshell, Newark is trying to play the classic New Jersey ‘debt for deficit’ shell game. To help fill a $180 million budget gap, the city wants to sell the 35,000 acres of watershed land it owns in West Milford and surrounding communities to a newly formed Newark Municipal Utilities Authority (Newark MUA). As a separate authority, the Newark MUA can get the millions needed to purchase the watershed by issuing bonds, sparing Newark the trouble and stigma of balancing its budget with a big wad of debt of its own. Also at stake is $24 million in state aid the city will get only if the deal goes through.
    What does this mean to the people of West Milford? At present it’s hard to say. But if the history over the past century is any omen of the future, it might not be good. While the Newark Watershed Conservation and Development Corporation (NWCDC), currently under state investigation over alleged fiscal irregularities, has not exactly been a stellar steward of the watershed, it at least had ‘conservation’ in its name, and made an effort to promote recreational use of the land. Will the Newark MUA have any benevolence towards the land and our community? The ongoing struggle the Pequannock River Coalition (PRC) has with the NWCDC over maintaining adequate and temperate water levels for the Pequannock River’s native trout population may give a hint of things to come. The NWCDC has held steadfast that its needs, i.e., selling water, is its priority, not trout or the quality of life for the people of West Milford. Thus our community’s needs may be even less of a priority for an MUA. Likewise, prior back door budget stunts between the state and Newark did not bode well for West Milford. Case in point, in the mid to late 1990s, the state used Green Acres funds to purchase a significant amount of watershed acreage and annex it to Wawayanda State Park. All this accomplished was to give Newark a one-time budget plug, and take the land, which could not be developed anyway, off the tax rolls, saving Newark big bucks but costing West Milford substantial funds for years to come.
    As candidates for West Milford council, we, John Richards and Dave Ofshinsky, support the resolve shown by the mayor and council at the Aug. 1 council meeting to take on the issues presented by Newark, and pledge to continue these efforts if elected. West Milford has a history of being ‘collateral damage’ in order that the City of Newark’s needs are met, and this needs to stop. The watershed is a wonderful treasure in our community that needs to be preserved, but it is time for exploitation of the township to end and meaningful compensation to us to begin. While this has been, and will likely continue to be, a long and arduous effort, it is one we are willing to undertake in order to secure a better future for West Milford.

    John Richards
    Dave Ofshinsky
    West Milford
    Democratic candidates for township council