The Lake Hopatcong Commission is seeking new ways to raise funds to maintain the lake.

Consultant Bob Benecke of Benecke Economics, a firm with expertise in “special improvement districts,” gave the commission several alternatives for revenue streams. State statute allows creation of a special improvement district to levy fees on lakefront property owners, and the property owners would be represented on the district’s governing board. “The majority of the board would be the people most impacted by the fees,” said Benecke.

The lake could also be declared a redevelopment area and be eligible for funding through the state’s infrastructure trust. Benecke stated that only commercial properties are eligible, but the commission can look into including multi-family residential uses. Redevelopment areas can be staggered around a neighborhood rather than contiguous.

Dan McCarthy, the commission’s vice chair, noted that creating a scattered district could result in high overhead. Ron Smith, chair, added that there would be a good deal of administrative work. Benecke responded that the commission could cap the overhead. Robert Tessier, representing the state Department of Community Affairs on the commission, observed that the income stream would give the commission the ability to borrow for larger projects.

According to Benecke, most businesses like being in improvement districts. The governing board gives business owners the opportunity to discuss their problems, he pointed out.

Commissioner Mark Crowley, who is mayor of Roxbury Township, said that his municipality is looking for grant money to work on lake problems such as dredging Landing Channel. Residents would be reluctant to pay for anything that benefited only lakefront businesses, he noted.

Roxbury mayor and commissioner Mark Crowley listens to the discussion. (Photo: Jane Primerano)

A third revenue stream would be boat licensing fees – not launch fees, said Benecke, but fees based on storage at marinas and collected through marinas.

He added that the commission could apply for grants. Secretary Colleen Conover noted that the commission has received planning grants, but Benecke said that grants are available for other projects as well.

McCarthy questioned whether another layer of bureaucracy is necessary for the lake, pointing out that there is a citizens’ advisory council in addition to the Lake Hopatcong Commission. Benecke responded that a special improvement district could be governed by additional commissioners rather than a separate governing body. A new representative from each municipality’s business community could be appointed to discuss and vote only on special improvement district issues.

Smith said that the commissioners would read Benecke’s report thoroughly and continue the discussion.

In other business, the commission voted to hold meetings at the Drummond board of education building in Jefferson Township in the following months of 2019: January, February, March, July, and August. Other meetings will be held at the newly renovated Landing Railroad Station. All meetings will continue to take place on the second Monday of each month at 7 p.m. It is anticipated that most or all meetings will be in Landing after 2019.

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