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.”