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Lake Hopatcong Commission Will Be Broke Without Bill, Chairman Says

LHC says it needs passage of Bill S 495.

If the state government does not pass Bill S 495 that would provide $150,000 to maintain Lake Hopatcong, the Lake Hopatcong Commission would be “out of money by the end of the year,” according to its chairman Russell Felter.

Senator Anthony Bucco said he held the bill in the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on Monday.

“The problem is that I felt that the Democrats were going to kill the bill. So rather than have it voted down, I held it, because if it got voted down I would have to start all over again with a new bill,” Bucco said.

“This is strictly a political move by the Democrats,” he continued. “They are annoyed at the governor because he told them he wouldn’t pass any spending bills unless they passed his tax cut legislation.”

Felter didn’t disagree with that sentiment, but has a more pressing need in mind—keeping the Lake Hopatcong Commission afloat.

“Right now we have no other way to get the money,” Felter said. “User fees won’t go over. People see them as just another tax, and they don’t want to pay any more taxes.

“We are exploring options, and discussions are ongoing, but we just don’t know exactly what’s going to happen at the moment.”

Bucco said that he already reduced the bill from $400,000 to $150,000, because the state is already spending about $125,000 for weed harvesting and the equipment and manpower that go with it.

"I thought it would work if we cut the appropriation and put language in the bill requiring the DEP to continue maintenance of the weed harvesting equipment and present and future personnel,” he said.

Bucco also noted that he believes the Democrats are playing politics with a piece of property that the state owns and derives a financial benefit from.

“The state gets millions of dollars in revenue from the lake,” he said. “People from all over the state come to the lake and buy gas and eat at restaurants, and buy bait and pick up a sandwich. It’s ludicrous that the Democrats are holding this up.”

Bucco said that the state already receives about $4 million a year from fees for non-tidal boats. Non-tidal boats pay an extra license fee to the Motor Vehicle Commission.

“I wanted the $150,000 to come from the non-tidal boat fees,” Bucco said. “These boaters are already paying a fee. I’m not asking for an increase in that fee, or to take the money from anywhere else.”

Lake Hopatcong resident John Kurzman agreed that those fees should go back to the lake. He also thinks that with or without the money from S 495, the Lake Hopatcong Commission still has a job to do.

“There are many grants the commission can apply for, and then those grants have to be administered. There are projects that can be done to maintain the water quality of the lake.”

John Kurzman October 04, 2012 at 08:20 AM
Just to clarify my comment about grants needing to be administered, my point was that when we get grants, they need someone on the 'staff' to administer them, and thus the LHC can't afford to be broke. Also, since many grants require or pay more for a 'match' of funds, having their own funds in the LHC is critical even if we get grants, to get their full value. And of course, grants are hard to come by, and certainly not something that can sustain the LHC. The LHC does certainly have requirements for activities to be done, by law. But that same law also requires the LHC to be a line item in the DEP budget each year. That the DEP has already taken ownership of the LHC assets, even ones they are not operating for the LHC, such as the emergency boat, the 2 small harvesters, and the 2 transport barges, why the LHC cannot retain those in order to sell/auction/rent them as assets they have, still confuses me. And that the DEP now owns the equipment that is used, such as the 4 large harvesters and the 2 conveyers plus trucks is also troubling - because if there is no legal requirement for them to be returned to the LHC if they do get funding anytime in the future (as a line item in the DEP budget, or via a bill like S495 or the prior bills Sen. Bucco has attempted continually since 2002), then Lake Hopatcong may lose its equipment forever and Lake Hopatcong is done. See http://hopatcong-sparta.patch.com/articles/bill-to-help-lake-hopatcong-stalls-in-committee-4cce8b4e
John Kurzman October 04, 2012 at 11:27 PM
Btw, see http://jefferson.patch.com/articles/lake-hopatcong-commission-loses-state-funding#comments from july 2011 for more perspective on funding for Lake Hopatcong. Back then, the state decided NOT to start collecting an up to $45 saltwater fishing user fee even though the federal government was requiring states to start a user registration. At the same time, the state found $44Million for barnegat bay and saltwater project grants, none of which lake hopatcong can apply for. Also at the same time, the state turned down $400k to lake hopatcong, less than 1% of what they were giving to saltwater areas while not bothering to collect a user fee they were authorized to collect. And at the same time the state was pushing for user fees at lake hopatcong and working on taking ownership and control of lhc equipment and not funding the line item in the dep budget for the lhc, that is supposed to let them manage the harvesting and other projects for the lake. And this year, even $150k was too much while those other saltwater grants are still out there and without the saltwater fishing user fee, while freshwater still pays freshwater boating license fees (non-tidal) and freshwater fishing fees, etc.... Of course, pointing out things like this might be why my nomination by Governor Christie to serve on the LHC as a state rep still languishes for final approval in the Senate....
DD6479 October 05, 2012 at 01:55 PM
I can't help wondering if community volunteers could help with the harvesting, I know a fair amount of people (fisherman & boaters) who would jump at the chance of lending a hand just to clean up the weeds. I know I would give up a few weekends just to help with the weeds.....Just an idea here

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