Berkeley 2020: A Final Look Back

Berkeley Town Hall (Photo by Jason Allentoff)

  BERKELEY – As the new year spreads out before us, we like to take a moment to recall the stories that impacted people in 2020.

  Except that one.

  You know the one. The story that impacted every single person in the world.

  You’ve heard enough about that one. Let’s talk instead about the smaller, localized stories. Because despite the 24-hour news coverage, real life still happened.

South Seaside Park To Stay

  After five years of testimony, the Planning Board made a recommendation to the township that South Seaside Park should not de-annex (secede) from the township.

  South Seaside Park (SSP) is located between Island Beach State Park and Seaside Park. Residents have claimed that they have more in common with these beachfront communities than the rest of the town. They have also noted that they pay more in taxes for what they have said is less services.

  In a unanimous 7-0 vote, the Planning Board recommended to the Township Council that SSP should stay.

South Seaside Park is located next to Island Beach State Park. (Photo by Chris Lundy)

  After half a decade, the decision was not much of a surprise. Mainland Berkeley residents would see an increase in taxes if SSP left. One study said that it would raise taxes about 8.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. The example given was that the average homeowner would pay $156 more a year.

  The attorney for the South Seaside Park Homeowners and Voters Association, Joseph Michelini, has been building a case for the courts. He said after the vote that neither side will be able to present evidence to the court. The court will read the transcripts from those five years to make their decision.

  “We knew from the beginning the town would be against losing 10 percent of their tax base,” he said.

Schoolhouse Grant

  After many years of disuse, the Manitou Park schoolhouse might get new life breathed into it after the township receives a grant for restoring it.

  The one-room schoolhouse on Third Avenue in the center of the neighborhood wouldn’t become a school again. Those days have passed. It would be a community center, something residents have wanted for years.

  The township is going to be receiving a Manitou Park Schoolhouse Historic Preservation Grant in the amount of $656,000.

  Business Administrator John Camera said it is a 50/50 matching grant, and that Berkeley will make their portion of it from sale of property.

Councilwoman Resigns

  Councilwoman Judith Noonan resigned from the Township Council resigned in August after 10 years. She thanked the workers of every department, praising them for serving the people.

  “We make the phone calls but the people in town do all the work,” she said.

  “Unfortunately, I am resigning due to many unsatisfying factors which have caused me to become increasingly disappointed with unprincipled political decisions over the past several months,” she wrote in a resignation letter, questioning hiring practices and spending.

  “It has been a privilege to represent my ward and the people of Berkeley Township for nearly a decade. I will miss helping you as your councilwoman, but I will always be there for you,” she said.

Councilwoman Judith Noonan (Photo courtesy Berkeley Township)

  The mayor and council members did not respond to her comments during the meeting.

  Noonan moved to Manchester but will remain active in the community as part of a new Senior Alliance of New Jersey which will be a voice for seniors throughout the state.

  Michael Signorile, the president of Holiday City South, was tapped to take her place on the council. He then won election to the governing body in November.

  He will be representing Ward 3, which includes neighborhoods like Holiday City South, Silver Ridge Park, and Manitou Park.

Performing Arts Academy Opens

  The Ocean County Vocational-Technical School Performing Arts Academy building opened on the campus of Ocean County College.

  It used to be in Hanger 1 at Joint Base Lakehurst, which due to security reasons made the civilian school facility difficult to access.

  The project has a 20-year bond for $27 million. County Commissioner Joseph Vicari said that 40% of the cost of the new facility was provided by the state while the county’s portion was $8 million. Another $8 million was provided by the Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation.

MONOC Intensive Care Ends

  MONOC’s Mobile Intensive Care Unit program closed on April 1. Local officials had to make sure that residents had a replacement lined up.

  Not all ambulance crews are the same. Basic life support is often manned by volunteers. Advanced life support requires more training and is used in more life or death situations. Most towns have a volunteer squad, and a company like MONOC takes up the more critical cases. Sometimes, both will arrive at a serious car crash to see what is needed.

  “MONOC has experienced a challenging financial environment caused by declining reimbursements and increasing payor restrictions, while the costs of running a high quality, high performance EMS and medical transport program continued to rise over the last few years,” a statement from the company said. It explained that member hospitals acquired their own EMS programs.

  Ocean County Sheriff Michael G. Mastronardy said his department was meeting with local officials and hospital staff to ensure a smooth transfer of service.

Rise Up Shut Down

  The controversial Facebook page Rise Up Ocean County was shut down, but rose again.

  The owner of the site has said that it is against development. Critics pointed out that it is a haven of anti-Semitism.

  On February 5, Facebook removed it from its site for “using hate speech.”

  However, remnants of it still exist in some form on that social media platform.

Tolls Increase

  The Turnpike Authority issued a plan to increase tolls throughout the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike which will include improvements in Ocean County and beyond.

  The tolls increased by 27 percent on the Parkway and 36 percent on the Turnpike for passenger vehicles. Commercial vehicles will see an increase as well.

  In Ocean County, the Barnegat toll increased from $1.50 to $1.90 and the Toms River toll increased from 75 cents to 95 cents. The tolls on the ramps in Waretown, Lacey, Berkeley, Lakewood and Brick increased from 50 cents to 65 cents.

GOP Boss Sentenced

  George Gilmore, 71, of Toms River, was sentenced to one year and one day in Fort Dix Federal Correctional Institution. He had also been sentenced to three years of probation after that.

  He had previously been convicted of not paying federal income tax and lying on a loan application. During the appeal handled by his attorney, Kevin Marino, he alleged that the trial did not include expert psychiatric testimony regarding his claim of having a hoarding disorder that made him spend lavishly on personal expenses rather than pay his taxes.

  The appeal process is still underway for Gilmore, an attorney who worked with lots of local municipalities.

Boat Yard Causes Problems

  Scott Estate residents wondered why a bunch of trees in their back yard got cut down and boat racks went up. The area is between Scott Drive and Browning Avenue.

  The boat yard is being used by NJ Outboard. Calls to that business by this newspaper were never returned.

A boat yard went up this summer in a wooded area. (Photo by Scott Estate Residents)

  The neighbors’ complaints were many: Acres of trees were cut down. The trees were buried on the property, so they will eventually break down and cause whatever’s on top to come crashing down. The racks weren’t installed tightly, and can come apart easily. Paint cans were being left open. Oil was draining from the property into the nearby wetlands. There was no protective fencing.

  There’s no dedicated entrance for it from Route 9, so boats are towed out of an area across from Wawa and Sonata Bay. Now that the woods are cleared residents can hear Route 9.

  And one of their biggest complaints of all: Why hasn’t the town stopped this?

  At one Township Council meeting, Mayor Carmen Amato said that the property owner has received 6 violations from the construction department and 4 from code enforcement.

  Officials said that the fines got the owner into court and now due process has to take over.

  The owner of NJ Outboard said through his attorney that he had a reputable contractor who assured him that everything was being done above board. He also said he had a stroke earlier and did not remember what was done.

  NJ Outboard came before the Zoning Board, which is a governing body which oversees how property can be used. At issue was control. If they flat-out refused to allow anything, the property owner could legally appeal to the State Supreme Court. Then, it would be out of their hands. The town would no longer have control over what went there.

  Ultimately, the Zoning Board allowed NJ Outboard to split the application. One part of it was whether the boat yard could be allowed on the residential area. That part was approved.

  The other part was the actual plan to build and operate on it. That part was kicked back for the owner to come up with a better plan.

  Critics have pointed out that the homeowner continues to use the land as he sees fit for profit, while paying a few fines. It recalled when a homeowner sold property and a 7-Eleven was built in a residential lot across from Central Regional schools, despite it being right next to homes.

Flood Insurance Discount

  Shore homeowners saw a discount in their flood insurance rates because Berkeley officials improved their flood management program in town.

  This discount applies to the roughly 2,700 homeowners that have flood insurance policies, Mayor Carmen Amato said. Berkeley residents’ flood insurance policies are going down another 5 percent, to a total discount of 25 percent. 

  The mayor said the average Berkeley Township flood policy holder’s total discount will now average $189. Township-wide, the nearly 2,700 policy holders will receive nearly $500,000 in discounts.

  The National Flood Insurance Program is run by the federal government. It also creates a Community Rating System. A town is rated on how they prepare and respond to floods. These changes fall into categories like public information; mapping and regulations; flood damage reduction; and warning and response.

  If a town goes above and beyond the federal recommendations, the town’s residents get a discount on insurance.