Sparta releases tax data maps to Highlands Council

| 28 Sep 2011 | 03:01

    Sparta was last municipality to comply with the state’s request SPARTA - After weeks of waiting, the Highlands Council received some welcome news when Sparta Township officials voted last week to turn over computerized property maps to the state governing body in charge of the newly-established region. Sparta was the only one of 88 municipalities that had not yielded to the council’s request for the tax data maps. Officials said the township council was concerned with protecting costly proprietary information and was looking for assurances from the Highlands panel that the data would be protected. For their part, the Highlands Council contends that the digital tax maps are public information necessary to plan programs for the region, including developing a master plan and instituting programs that would benefit each individual municipality. “We’re at a point where we need to cooperate with the Highlands commission,” said Sparta mayor Alish Hambel. “We’ve done our open space, our town center. We really need to opt-in from a legal standpoint.” The Highlands Act protects about 800,000 acres of northern New Jersey property to ensure that water supplies are preserved and kept clean for half the state. The legislation mandates that the council finish its 18-month master plan by June 2006. Hambel, who met recently with Highlands officials, said the commission is reaching out to municipalities within the region and appears receptive to an exchange of ideas regarding issues concerning the township. “They seem to be on target,” she said. “I don’t find them to be so staunch. We can ask them questions. Common sense will prevail.” The Sparta school board is attempting to build a new high school on property bound by Highlands restrictions and is awaiting approval from the Department of Environmental Protection before moving ahead with the plans. As part of the approved agreement to share data, the Highlands Council will provide the township with training, assistance and resources related to the act. Township manager Henry Underhill said he and township council members plan to meet soon with Highlands officials to discuss issues of concern to Sparta. “I’m hearing different interpretations (of the legislation),” he said. “I want to hear it from the horse’s mouth.”