Bill to Give Lake Hopatcong $400K Advances
The state Senate Environment and Energy Committee OK'ed a bill that would fund preservation and cleanup of lake.
Lake Hopatcong has moved a step closer to receiving badly needed funding.
The state Senate Environment and Energy Committee approved a bill, S-495, that would give the cash-strapped Lake Hopatcong Commission $400,000 to pay for preservation and cleanup of Lake Hopatcong. The money, which would come from state pleasure boat registration fees, would go into a newly created "Lake Hopatcong Fund."
Sens. Anthony Bucco (R-25) and Steven Oroho (R-24) sponsored the legislation. Lake Hopatcong Commissioner Russell Felter, also Jefferson's mayor, was expected to travel to Trenton back the bill before the committee Monday.
"The condition of Lake Hopatcong has deteriorated without a dedicated stream of revenue to fund its upkeep and management," Bucco said in a statement. "The lake is important to the environmental and economic interests of New jersey, and we need to ensure that preservation efforts receive their share of state funding."
Said Oroho in a statement: "The Lake Hopatcong Commission is an excellent steward of this environmental resource, but it can only do so much without a dedicated funding stream. Using a portion of existing boat registration revenues to pay for essential needs identified by the commission makes both fiscal and environmental sense."
Felter and administrator Donna McCalle couldn't be immediately reached for comment Monday.
The commission, however, could still vote to hand over control of its weed-harvesting operation to the state Tuesday night. The commission can't afford the costs of maintaining the machinery and paying the workers, and Felter said at last week's meeting that even if the bill passed, the commission might not see the money until well into the summer or early fall.
The commission would vote to give the state Department of Environmental Protection control of its six weed harvesters, but only if the equipment is used at the lake and that the commission can back out of the agreement if it feels the state doesn't hold up its end.
One of the most pressing unresolved issues of the agreement to hand over the operation, however, has been employee compensation.
The state hopes to hire the commission's full-time foreman and six seasonal employees. But at last week's commission meeting at the Hopatcong State Park, Felter said the employees have been offered much less than their initial salaries due to civil service rules. NJ.com said one employee was offered just more half of the $23/hour the commission paid him.
Felter said that though the civil service commission was expected to mak a decision on the salaries within weeks, the commission had little choice other than to enter into the agreement.
"Either we do this and we harvest," Felter said at last week's meeting, "or we don’t do this and we don’t harvest. We can close our doors."