Benecke Economics will assist the Lake Hopatcong Commission in finding alternative sources of funding.
The commission receives $500,000 annually from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Most of that goes toward weed control, commissioner Fred Steinbaum said at the meeting on Monday, July 9. Previously, the commission contracted with Benecke to look for more funding.
Bob Benecke outlined to the commission some alternatives. His firm sets up Special Improvement Districts (SID) or Business Improvement Districts. Generally these are in municipalities rather than a multi-municipality area such as Lake Hopatcong. They have evolved from their origins as a way to preserve downtowns from the threat of shopping malls.
Each of the four municipalities must adopt an enabling ordinance for the SID, Benecke explained. He will approach Jefferson first, since he has worked with that township in the past on the redevelopment district around Katz’s Marina. Once the ordinances are in place, Benecke will identify and contact the lake area businesses based on a recent map. Each business will be asked to pay a fee that will go directly into a fund for the commission.
“It’s a sustainable funding source from people who get their business from the lake,” Benecke said. The businesses can contribute through each municipality’s SID fund and the money can be used for weed control, stormwater quality management, or anything the commission deems vital.
A boat user fee is also possible, according to Benecke. “A license fee sponsored by the state but channeled to the commission is one possibility, as is a dock charge or a fee for launching a boat.”
Steinbaum noted that a user fee was proposed years ago, but the public feared it would end up in the general fund of the DEP. Benecke said that is where the Department of Community Affairs’ arrangement to collect the fees through the municipalities comes in. In the view of commission vice chair Dan McCarthy, there are not enough marine police to enforce safety regulations, let alone address licenses and fees.
A suggestion from both the commission and the Citizens Advisory Council (CAC) to change the fill schedule after the lake is lowered for its five-year, five-foot drawdown was rejected by the DEP. This could impact the cooperation of some of the businesses.
Ray Fernandez, owner of Bridge Marina, told the commission he opposes the drawdown because the state does not have a plan for refilling the lake. The commission and CAC asked for the drawdown to run from September 15 through October 15, and for the refill to begin on December 1. This would ensure that the lake is at a usable level for the 2019 season. The state said it would not consider any changes in the lake management plan until 2021.
Fernandez, the lake’s regional representative to the Marine Trade Association, said that if his group joins the commission and the Lake Hopatcong Foundation to petition for the new plan, perhaps the state would agree. The commission as well as the foundation board president, Martin Kane, agreed to meet with DEP representatives with the commission as the lead agency.