Open Space Study Committee Sets Sights on Raising Revenues

UPPER SAUCON – The Open Space Study Committee hired a professional consultant here Monday night to make recommendations on future ballot initiatives related to open space and recreation.

Public land consultant Tom Gilbert from The Trust for Public Land will conduct a feasibility study and public opinion survey as part of the project.  Discussion here Monday night centered around which of three funding options for open space acquisition Upper Saucon voters might prefer.  Southern Lehigh School Board Vice President Michael Eddinger strongly recommended not asking for a bond issue because, in his opinion, people don’t understand how bonds work.  The other two funding sources the committee considered were earned income taxes or property taxes.  Members pointed out that senior citizens on fixed incomes would be more inclined to vote for a tax on earned income, while middle-aged working families might vote against an increase in earned income taxes.

Gilbert said that gauging public opinion is a very important step before launching any ballot initiative.  According to him, many ballot initiatives fail because voters and committee members often have different ideas of what is truly worthy of a tax increase.  If the township wants to develop parks and recreational space, a general obligation bond would be one option.  Earned income taxes and property taxes cannot be used for development, only for acquisition.

Supervisor Jack DeMatos pointed out that the township will be asking for a bond issue to fund water infrastructure.  DeMatos said the township currently has three sources of water: the City of Bethlehem, the zinc mines, and two artesian wells at Colonial Crest.  The new bond will allow the township to acquire a fourth water source at the gun club property on Blue Church Road.  He said that because Bethlehem’s water is expensive, and the zinc mine water is very heavy with minerals, the township limits its use of those two sources, leaving it dependent on the aquifer at Colonial Crest.  The township wants to acquire the fourth source to have a backup aquifer.

Gilbert said an open space-related initiative could be put on the 2011 ballot if recommendations are made by May and presented to supervisors for their consideration by the fall.  Because the township cannot openly support or oppose a ballot initiative, he advised forming a citizens’ group during the summer to conduct a campaign during September and October.

The next Upper Saucon Township Open Space Study Committee meeting will be held on Jan. 24 at 5:30 p.m. at the Township Municipal Building.


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