BERKELEY – The Manitou Park’s schoolhouse and the Berkeley Historical Museum both have a place in history, but if people want them to be around in the future, some new ideas have to come in.
The museum on Route 9 was once the town hall. The schoolhouse is closed down, rendered unsafe from time and asbestos.
Councilman John Bacchione suggested trying to see if the county’s open space fund could be used to rehabilitate either building.
The Ocean County Natural Lands Trust Fund is supported by a 1.2-cent tax. A referendum in November asked people if they wanted open space tax funds to be used for the acquisition and maintenance of property for historic or recreational purposes. There were 55,851 people who agreed with this, and 44,883 who disagreed.
The trust brings in a lot of money, and “I know it’s going to go fast,” Bacchione said. He is a member of the committee that advises the Ocean County Freeholders on open space purchases.
After the referendum passed, Freeholder Director Virginia Haines, who serves as liaison to the county’s program, said that open space acquisition would still be the main priority of the fund. They would not go out of their way to look for historic purchases.
However, they had one historical building in mind, which is the Cox house near the intersection of Route 9 and West Bay Avenue in Barnegat. The county is making this the anchor for the Barnegat Branch Trail, a biking and walking trail that will wind through several towns.
In order to fix this property up, for example, the county would first rather receive grants, she said. If the county is not successful in receiving grants, they’d rather use these open space funds before money is taken from other accounts.
The fund was approved by Ocean County voters in 1997, and established a 1.2-cent tax to fund land acquisitions. The program generates about $8 million per year.
Currently, a little more than half of the county is preserved through some combination of this program, and state and federal programs, officials have said.
The way it works is a property owner would offer the land up for sale to the county as open space. The county has an appraiser determine its value and a sale is made. The county also waits for approval from a town. This is because any sale takes that property off the tax rolls of the town.