Lake Hopatcong Commission Will Survive, Chairman Says
Termination notice submitted Wednesday, but chairman says operations will continue.
Although the Lake Hopatcong Commission has been denied funds by the state, chairman of the commission and Jefferson Mayor Russell Felter said he still sees the commission operating.
At Wednesday night's meeting in Mount Arlington, Felter said the commission submitted a termination notice to commission administrator Donna Macalle-Holly that is effective on Dec. 21.
He said, however, that because it's a state commission, the termination won't cease operations, and instead would terminate the employees.
"We're not quite sure where we're going to go, but we're going to have to do some volunteer things," he said. "We're really just trying to feel our way through the process here."
Felter said there are still more responsibilities, including water quality issues, that the commission will take on, which he said he believes will be discussed at the next meeting.
Lake Commissioner Richard Zoschak said testing the water—which is mandated by the state—also requires funding.
"You need someone to go out there and physically test it, you need the equipment to test it," he said. "We don't have that. Where we get the money is a good question."
Zoschak also added that some commissions throughout the state have the DEP handling responsibilities for them. Lake Hopatcong, he said, does not have that same benefit.
"I don't know what we're going to be able to do unless someone takes over responsibilities of the secretary, and I don't know how we're going to administer grants," he said. "We're not familiar with that. I don't think anyone is on the commission, other than the DEP people."
The process has been going on ever since the state has denied providing funds to the commission. The bill that would provide provide $150,000 for the lake was stalled earlier this month, when the Democrats on the committee argued that Gov. Chris Christie would veto any spending bill uness there was a proposal to cut spending.
However, sponsor of the bill state Sen. Anthony Bucco said he wanted the funding to help keep the lake—which generates tens of millions of dollars in revenue—pristine, and called it "very immature" to make the proposal a partisan issue.
The funding under Bill S 495 was originally appropriated at $400,000 for the lake maintenance, but was brought down to $150,000.
Now, the lake might not get any funding at all.
Felter said while the bill is still in the committee, he doesn't know if it will be passed.
The commission's assets also belong to the state due to the lack of funds.
"Right now the state has control of that because they do all the weed harvesting," he said. "We turned the funds over to them."
Some alternatives to fund the lake have been brought up, including adding user fees. But some residents felt that option was not a good solution.
Felter said residents probably wouldn't be in favor of them because they see the fees as another tax.
One lake resident echoed that same point earlier this month.
"You can call them anything you want, but user fees are a tax,” Bridge Marina owner Ray Fernandez said.
Zoschak said Friday he thinks having residents pay a fee for their boats would be a good option, and pointed out that the state raised fees for public parks several years ago.
"It's a viable way, and it's fair throughout the state," he said.
He said that the state's boat fees right now are $25, and suggested that most boat owners probably wouldn't mind paying that.
Felter added that there are still some grants that have to be administered, one of which should be done by the time Macalle-Holley leaves in December.
He also said he is waiting to meet with the commission's district attorney who will give an opinion on where to go from here.
While Felter said he's not sure if it's possible for the commission to start up a full operation again, he sees a future for the commission.
"I don't know if they'll ever give us enough to do the harvesting, he said. "I think as long as the state does that under the DEP I'm ok with that. But now, we can start looking for more grants, and just actually perform the mission of the commission. That's what we're looking for."