Park grants aid township maintenance

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At the Aug. 18 Medford Town Council meeting, the lone discussion item pertained to the 2015 Municipal Park Development Grant.

Burlington County notified the township officials it would again be offering its annual grants to municipalities, up to $250,000 for park and recreational facility improvements, open space and farmland preservation.

“Medford, with its financial limitations, was not able to do capital projects at all for a couple years, so it is nice to receive some aid to maintain and advance the stuff that we have,” said Beth Portocalis, assistant to the township manager.

The Board of Chosen Freeholders established the Burlington County Municipal Park Development Program to assist municipalities in the development and improvement of parks for outdoor passive and active recreation to preserve open space and farmland.

Through this program, the freeholders will offer grants to build or improve municipal parks, to offset the local cost share required by the county’s Farmland Preservation Program or to provide additional financial assistance for acquisition of locally important open space along with the county’s Local Open Space Preservation Program.

However, rather than add new infrastructure, Medford has focused on maintaining the park system already in place by spreading the grant money around.

“One year we did the skate park, as the wood material had served its life expectancy. Another year we did Bob Bende park, replacing the septic system and expanding the parking lot. One year we did a farm project that resulted in the preservation of a farm, and last year we focused on Freedom Park,” Portocalis said.

Medford was aided by this grant in 2014 when it put $22,000 into Freedom Park to address the handicap accessibility, enhance the drainage system around the playground area and to replace the playground equipment that needed to be updated after experiencing the natural toll of an 18-year-old playground that is used frequently.

“The utilization of this playground is wildly popular,” Portocalis said.

Freedom Park is not just admired by Medford residents; it extends well beyond the township in its popularity. USA Today mentioned it in its list of top 10 dog parks in America.

“The recreational assets are one of those things that residents value more so in Medford,” Portocalis said. “The quality of the parks is big for our residents, so maintaining and even enhancing them is extremely important.”

Every township in Burlington County is eligible to apply for this grant. Applications are due by Sept. 25 at 5 p.m.

The council has been able to fund the engineering portions of the projects, if required, as they are not an eligible expense.

As the council requested, staff have maintained a list of projects for this year that would be eligible for funding, with priority given to projects improving existing infrastructure.

This list was given to council for review and approval as to which project(s) to make application for.

A subsequent resolution will be placed on an upcoming council agenda formally authorizing submission of the grant application.

In other news:

• George Snyder was honored at the meeting upon his retirement after 25 years of service in the neighborhood services (public works) department.

• David Lewis, a U.S. Navy serviceman and Medford resident, was also honored after he was welcomed home last week following Middle East deployment. He is re-deploying to Spain.

• The Neighborhood Services Department has expanded hours at the township garage on Commonwealth Drive for resident drop off of recycling, bulk trash, brush and leaves to Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. until Sept. 30. It will also remain open on the third Saturdays from 7 a.m. to noon.