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In a state that places as high a premium on asphalt as green grass, New Jersey’s state parks are languishing, according to an Associated Press report.
There’s been barely any money in the budget for maintenance in three years and the backlog for repairs now tops $230 million, according to the Sierra Club, a group that advocates on behalf of the parks and their users.
The only surefire fix for the state’s neglected parks is an elusive one: dedicating a permanent funding source for their upkeep. Despite the state’s chronic cash-flow problems, the idea may catch on.
“We do recognize the need for a stable source of funding,” said Elaine Makatura, spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the agency that oversees 42 state parks and 14 forests and recreational areas.
Joseph Roberts of the General Assembly agreed that lawmakers need to take a hard look at dedicating recurring funds to parks upkeep, similar in concept to the state’s hotel occupancy tax, which provides funding for the arts.
“It’s a difficult challenge, especially given the tough fiscal climate we’re in,” Roberts said. “The longer we defer, the more expensive the repair price tag is.”
Parks lately have fallen on hard times. Even as the number of acres dedicated as state parkland has increased and the number of annual visitors has risen – up 50% in 15 years – budgets for parks and staffing levels have decreased.
Jeff Tittel, executive director of the Sierra Club, hopes New Jersey would follow the example set by states like Missouri and Arkansas, which dedicate a portion of their sales tax to park maintenance and open-space purchases.