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Barnegat's Open Space Fund Spending Criticized by Resident

Township defends rec spending from tax-supported fund

Township officials responded to criticism at their regular meeting Monday night from a resident who says the spending from Barnegat's open space fund has gone off the rails.

Jake Taylor, a member of the township’s Open Space Committee, took the mic at the meeting to criticize the township’s use of the fund.

The open space fund is supported by a tax of a penny on each $100 of assessed value on a township property, and, according to the voter-approved ordinance governing its use, the money can be spent a number of ways: on the acquisition, development and maintenance of conservation land, recreational properties, farmland and historic properties.

But Taylor said he and others feel too much of the fund has been used for recreation and other purposes.

“It supports a sort of a slush fund for the township,” Taylor said. “These expenses are not approved by anybody. You just spend it. And it’s not where it’s a small amount any more.”

Spending some of the fund’s money on recreation isn’t objectionable, said Taylor.

“There is some flexibility there,” he said. When the township spent open space funds on the newly improved ball fields on Lower Shore Road, “we thought that was a good improvement. But it’s being carried away.”

Taylor said close to $1 million from the fund has been spent on a range of expenses he sees as inappropriate, from $5,000 for a Pirate’s Day fireworks barge to $2,200 worth of landscaping at Town Hall.

In the meantime, there haven’t been meaningful efforts to set aside land and protect it from development, said Taylor, which is what he believes residents were really voting for when they approved the statute.

“This fund is being fleeced in order to make people look good, and its wrong,” Taylor said.

But township officials said the expenditures fall well within the approved uses for the fund, and that the money is supporting a very real need in Barnegat.

When the open space tax was approved, said Barnegat Mayor Jeffrey Melchiondo, Barnegat’s recreational expenses were supported by special fees developers were required to pay before they could build in the township. 

That recreational assessment is no more, Melchiondo said. If not for the open space funds – which can, he pointed out, be used for things other than open space – money for recreation would have to come out of the general fund, “and that means it would be a tax increase.”

Township Administrator David Breeden said he took issue with Taylor’s “slush fund” description.

“The ordinance was approved by this township to address an urgent need, and right now, that need is recreation,” Breeden said.

Deputy Mayor Al Cirulli said it’s a need that applies to all residents.

“We’re talking kids, young adults, seniors,” he said. And the purchases are reasonable, he said. “We’re not building amusement parks here.”

Other points discussed and decided at the meeting included the following

–  Two adjacent lots at the southwest corner of Bengal Boulevard and Pennsylvania Avenue were officially acquired by ordinance last night, a gift from a property owner who lives in Pompton Plains. The township had approached the landowner, said Breeden, asking for right-of-way permission so it could build sidewalks necessary for the Safe Routes to School Program. Instead, he said, the owner made a gift of the two lots, which are 25 feet by 100 feet and 50 feet by 100 feet.

–  The committee approved expenditures made possible by various grants. These included:

  • $3,066.66 for the Alcohol Rehab Fund, which pays for special court sessions in DWI cases.
  • $4,400 from the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety, which supports “Over the Limit, Under Arrest” police patrols.
  • $20,000 from a Recreational Opportunities for Individuals with Disabilities grant, which pays for various recreational programs in the township.
  • $1,600 from a Cops in Shops grant, which pays for plainclothes police officers to be stationed in liquor stores to combat underage drinking.
  • $25,400.06 from a Recycling Tonnage grant from 2009.
Xavier October 05, 2011 at 11:57 AM
So, back to Jake's original statement... The $5000 fireworks barge and $2200 landscaping for Town Hall are recreational uses? Just want to make sure I correctly understand our town leaders. Either they glossed over what he said, or the patch left that part out.
Jerry Harper October 05, 2011 at 12:47 PM
Jake has correctly pointed out the fact that the Open Space Fund is essentially never used for open space. It is acknowledged that the fund has a duel role as a recreation as well as open space support. Not all residents of the township are so in need of sports activities that we wish to spend all of our limited funds on sports projects. The last couple of years have seen this fund used to pay for some very questionable items that are neither sports nor open space related. The township has a group, the "Open Space Committee", that should be allowed to have some input as to the use of these funds. It has been a very active group and was appointed by the township committee to monitor our open space requirements and recommend opportunities for acquisition of land for the use of the entire population. At one time there was a member of the township committee that actively attended the monthly meetings and would therefore act as an interface between the two groups. This unfortunately has not been the case in over a year.
Howard Effron October 05, 2011 at 12:53 PM
I figured I would re-post this link to the document that Jake Taylor had given me at the meeting. It contains all of the purchases that have been made from the open space fund since it's inception. I have also added the actual ordinance that was passed so that the public can read what it contains, and make an informed decision on whether they feel the money was used for it's intended purpose. This is what public information and transparency are about. Also remember that there was a vote on a public question a few years ago by the people that shot down a 1 cent increase per 100 in taxes that was to be used to fund a "recreation fund". Do I make some comments, yea, but they are just my opinion. Here is the link to my blog post: http://www.letstalkbarnegat.com/2011/10/blog-post.html
Diogenes October 05, 2011 at 01:49 PM
Will I ever find an "honest man?" It does not seem so in Barnegat. Voters soundly rejected a "recreation fund" to build a sports complex at the Watts property. Do our officials fool themselves into believing that voter rejection of such spending only applied to Watts? Mr. Cirulli has a Masters Degree and presumably Mr. Breeden has at least a BS, so surely at least these two should be able to think clearly. The voters did not want to spend large sums on sporting fields. Further, Mr Cirulli is incorrect in suggesting that these fields are for everyone. If past predicts future, they are for specific teams, not for the general public. And the Committee is wrong in thinking everyone wants to spend precious leisure chasing a ball around. What the general public wanted from an open space fund was to remove acreage from development in order to reduce construction of housing that creates need for services, especially schools, which cause huge tax increases. It would seem the Committee is more interested in taxing everyone to please a few. Shame on the Committee, the Administrator, and the professionals who contribute to this sham. Barnegat needs an honest and educated woman on the Township Committee.
Xavier October 05, 2011 at 03:32 PM
I voted in favor of the open space tax when it was on the ballot and I just read the list of appropriations and I'm absolutely infuriated. Everyone needs to read the list for themselves.
Xavier October 05, 2011 at 03:34 PM
While I agree with most of your points, I hope the voters of Barnegat are focused more on the candidates' stance on issues and integrity than what reproductive organs they were born with.
Maxine Blumenthal October 05, 2011 at 04:21 PM
Recreational facilities can be created on open space we already have to serve residents with other interests: why not recondition the tennis court at Meadowedge and offer beginner lessons or senior round robins through the Recreation Department; where are the shuffleboard courts that could be created if the hard surface at Lower Shore Road Park were resurfaced and painted with perhaps a few benches; and how about volley ball or a simple putting green? Recreation for Barnegat is a necessary resource, but facilities for all ages and interests need to be considered with an eye on cost. Maxine
Diogenes October 05, 2011 at 04:38 PM
Chris, Although I have been unable to find the object of my ages long search, the elusive "honest man," I have found an honest woman, one with Brains, Integrity, Tenacity, and Experience. I am referring to Maxine Blumenthal. Put BITE in your vote, push the button for Maxine.
Leroy Souveroff October 05, 2011 at 05:10 PM
I see almost 22,000 for the football/Softball fields. And then there is the 12,500 for two days of fireworks. That money could be better used. For example the "Can not disturb" lands around Blue Claw Drive were once used as dumping grounds before homes were built on Blue Claw. There are all sorts of debris , as well as problems with the trees . It is beyond what individual homeowners can deal with.
Leroy Souveroff October 05, 2011 at 05:14 PM
Good points Diogenes ! Money should be spent on items that are likely to benefit most residents, not a special group.
Xavier October 05, 2011 at 07:30 PM
Blech. Patch turning into political stomping grounds. Lovely.
Ray October 05, 2011 at 08:32 PM
The GOP gets elected by catering to the Mirage.The Mirage has an over the hill softball team that was in need of a field to play on. So, money was taken front the Open Space Fund tobuild the field. Marty Lisellaplays on the Mirage Team. Get the picture. It's time to vote the GOP out. That includes "the bulldog" whois being recycled.
Bob Wise October 05, 2011 at 09:03 PM
I have been reading the Patch for some time and you never said anything about the softball field that was pushed here. We were told that it was built with no taxpayer money. Looks like you didn't want to step on anyones toes (or lose votes). It's guys like Jake Taylor that should be running. Thanks Jake. You have guts! Morano was against it. I don't know what Mike Howard has to say, but you were AWOL.

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